Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin will build rocket prototypes under three separate other-transaction agreements with the U.S. Air Force in support of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
"These awards are central to the Air Force goal of two domestic, commercially viable launch providers that meet National Security Space requirements", said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Air Force's Program Executive Officer for Space and SMC commander, in a release.
The three contracts are part of a Department of Defense initiative to assure constant military access to space and curb reliance on foreign-made rocket engines, like ULA's flagship Atlas V rocket that uses Russian-made RD-180 boosters.
Northrop Grumman, which recently acquired Orbital ATK, will receive almost $800 million for its OmegA Launch system. The EELV program has successfully launched 72 NSS missions, dating back to 2003, using the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles. The Air Force has committed through 2024 a total of $500 million in OTA funds for Blue Origin, $792 million for Northrop Grumman and $967 million for ULA. "Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer". The New Glenn is a reusable orbital vehicle created to land back on Earth after launch. Bezos tweeted a thank-you message Wednesday to the Air Force for its "confidence in the Blue Origin team". Its first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 engines that are also being designed and manufactured by Blue Origin.
"These awards are a leap forward in space launch capabilities, ensuring continued US dominance in space", said Dr. William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. The company is receiving $791.6 million to develop their Omega rocket. SpaceX recently announced plans to launch a Japanese billionaire and a half-dozen artists on a flight around the moon.