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ULA and SpaceX win shares of Space Force launches

The U.S. Space Force designated United Launch Alliance and SpaceX as the winners of a multibillion-dollar competition for national security launches over a five-year period, passing up a proposal from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in the process.

Northrop Grumman and its OmegA rocket also lost out in the Phase II competition for the National Security Space Launch program.

ULA will receive a 60% share of the launch manifest for contracts awarded in the 2020-2024 time frame, with the first missions launching in fiscal 2022, said William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

SpaceX will receive the other 40%.

The competition extended through the creation of the U.S. Space Force, whose Space and Missile Systems Center will be in charge of executing the launches in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office.

The five-year Phase II program provides for fixed-price but indefinite-delivery contracts, which means there isn’t a specified total payout. But Roper said it’d be reasonable to estimate that somewhere around 32 to 34 launches would be covered, which would translate to billions of dollars in business.

Three launches were assigned today: ULA is scheduled to launch two missions known as USSF-51 and USSF-106 for the Space Force in 2022, while SpaceX has been assigned USSF-67 in mid-2022.

ULA’s two contracts amount to $337 million, and SpaceX’s contract is worth $316 million. Roper said details about the payloads are classified.

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Vulcan rocket chosen for 2021 moon launch

Vulcan rocket illustration
An artist’s conception shows United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket lifting off. (ULA Illustration)

United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket – and Blue Origin’s next-generation BE-4 rocket engine – have been chosen to send Astrobotic’s Peregrine moon lander as well as Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle to the final frontier in 2021.

Neither of the past week’s announcements is all that surprising, because Astrobotic and SNC both had previous agreements to use ULA’s current-generation Atlas 5 rocket. But both announcements underscore the importance of holding to the current schedule for rolling out the BE-4 as well as the Vulcan, which is designed to use two BE-4 engines on its first-stage booster.

Blue Origin, the privately held space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is thought to be in the final stages of testing the BE-4’s performance – not only for ULA’s Vulcan but also for its own orbital-class New Glenn rocket, which is also due for its maiden flight in 2021.

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Air Force backs three new kinds of rockets

Jeff Bezos and New Glenn
Jeff Bezos shows off the concept for the New Glenn orbital rocket during a Florida news conference in 2015. (Blue Origin Photo)

The U.S. Air Force says Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance have won its go-ahead for the development of new rockets that could be used for national security launches — a boost that could eventually add up to billions of dollars.

Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash.-based space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, was awarded a launch service agreement for its New Glenn rocket, which is due to be launched from Florida starting in 2021. The agreement provides for as much as $500 million through 2024, but Blue Origin is expected to contribute to a cost-sharing arrangement.

Through its recently acquired Orbital ATK subsidiary, Northrop Grumman won a $791.6 million agreement with similar terms for its OmegA launch system. ULA, meanwhile, won a $967 million agreement for its Vulcan Centaur rocket. The Vulcan is currently set for first launch in 2020, with two Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engines powering its first-stage booster. OmegA is to enter service in 2021.

Each of the companies will be getting $109 million in funds from fiscal year 2018.

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