Published: Sat, October 13, 2018
Science | By Celia Watts

Blue Origin wins US Air Force contract for heavy orbital rocket

Blue Origin wins US Air Force contract for heavy orbital rocket

Awarded under the United States government's Launch Service Agreement, these contract form part of the USA government's attempts to reduce reliance on Russian rockets for launches that are of national importance from a security standpoint.

The Air Force previous year released a request for proposal for its next iteration of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, known as EELV, to be used on space lift such as the Atlas V, Delta IV and Falcon 9 rocket systems.

Under the terms of the contract, the United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and Blue Origin, will work towards developing rockets capable of taking national security satellites into orbit around the earth. The program aids in the development of commercial rockets and ensures that the USA government has constant access to space for its national security payloads. With major propulsion and structural elements of OmegA already complete, Northrop Grumman is on schedule to complete propulsion system ground tests in 2019 and conduct its first launch in 2021.

Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance received contracts of $500 million and $967 million, respectively. "Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer".

The company's development team is working on the program in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi and Louisiana, with launch integration and operations planned at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. New Glenn is expected to reach initial launch capability in 2020.

Named after Astronaut John Glenn, "New Glenn" is a single-configuration, operationally reusable launch vehicle - built right here in Kent - powered by seven BE-4 liquefied natural gas rocket engines, and it offers significant performance margin for all NSS missions. The "nontraditional acquisition arrangements" are typical for prototyping and "allow for shared investment", the Air Force said.

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