Air Force Taps Northrop, ULA, Blue Origin for Rocket Prototype Dev't OTAs

Air Force Taps Northrop, ULA, Blue Origin for Rocket Prototype Dev't OTAs

Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin each multi-hundred million dollar contracts on Wednesday to develop a launch system prototype by 2021 for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

The main assembly of the New Glenn launch vehicle will occur in the Blue Origin rocket manufacturing facility in Florida, near Launch Complex 36 which the company leased from Spaceport Florida.

Orbital Sciences, recently acquired by Northrup Grumman, won a $791.6 million contract to develop the company's Omega launch system, a rocket that will be "capable of launching the full range of national security missions required by the U.S. Air Force, as well as science and commercial payloads for other customers", the company says on its web page. Finally, Blue Origin will receive $500 million to help in the development of its future New Glenn rocket, which are supposed to be able to come back to earth in one piece after launching their payloads - a technology SpaceX has already developed, and almost perfected.

Northrop will perform work in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi, Florida, Ohio and Louisiana through December 31, 2024, while Blue Origin will carry out prototype development in Washington and Alabama through July 31, 2024.

The Defense Department has the option to narrow it to two companies no later than 2020 that will then compete for future launches.

The Vulcan's first stage engine compartment can be jettisoned in flight for recovery, refurbishment and re-use. The company will also be providing the engines to power the first stage of ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The company said in a tweet that the Air Force contract will help it get certified to launch national security missions.

"Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow's Air Force faster and smarter", said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in a statement.

United Launch Alliance in 2015 announced it plans to retire the Delta IV variant.

Currently, ULA and SpaceX are the only launch providers for national security payloads.

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