U.S. Air Force Awards Launcher Development Contracts to ULA, Blue Origin & Northrop Grumman

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth more than $2.2 billion for launch vehicle development to United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.

ULA of Centennial, Colo., will receive $967 million for the development of a launch system prototype of the Vulcan-Centaur booster. 

The agreement includes shared cost investment by ULA. The work is expected to be completed by March 31, 2025. 

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Northrop Gumman was awarded a contract worth $791,601,015 for development of the OmegA launch system. The company expects to to complete the work by Dec. 31, 2024. 

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin has been awarded a $500 million contract for the development of the New Glenn launch system. The booster will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The work is expected to be completed by July 31, 2024.

  • passinglurker

    Uh oh… (frantically starts stuffing wads in ears before the spacex crowd shows up)

    But man those time tables I assume that’s the date for first military launch and not first test launch right?

  • windbourne

    Weird. I would expect money for BFR.

  • passinglurker

    you forgot your “/s” there’s no way the airforce would pay for the jesus rocket when falcon heavy already does most of what they’d ask for for the next decade.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You’re kidding right? The government has no idea what to do with BFR. It has no idea what to do with SLS. Space X already can survive in the wild and if SX is serious about retiring Falcon, then New Glenn will be there to take its place.

    A lot of folks wanted to see what would happen if the government ignored Space X. This is what it looks like.

  • Jeff Smith

    It’s the END of the final test launches for the heavy variants. Mediums have to launch by 2021 and heavies by 2024.

  • Jeff Smith

    Congrats to everyone that won, and congrats to SpaceX for already having a great Falcon family. This is going to be a VERY exciting few years to come!

  • windbourne

    Air Force wants a space force and they would love to put 150 tonnes into leo, or better yet, 50-80 tonnes into llo.
    And esp if it is cheaper than falcon.

  • windbourne

    If falcon is retired, that will be because BFR is cheaper / tonne into leo. I doubt new Glenn will come close to competing.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Why would SpaceX want USAF or NASA insight into the BFR? Insight that requires a few razed forest plus the USAF and/or NASA signing off on development “Milestones”. If SpaceX think they can do the BFR without government cash, so much the better. Just look at the mess the commercial crew program is now with NASA oversight under a FAR agreement.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Don’t forget SpaceX’s statement that was let to stand for a few months that SpaceX was going to shut down the Falcon line and run off stock until BFR flies. Also keep in mind, no matter how wonderful BFR is, if it’s not certified by the military, they won’t fly on it.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    You mean the BFR taking the place of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Since the BFR and the New Glenn should enter service around the same time.

    The government just need a launcher that is relatively cheap to launch and fly somewhat on schedule with a reasonable expectation of reaching the required orbit. Doesn’t matter the excessive payload capacity as longer as the new launchers are cheaper then the Atlas V and the Delta IV.

    Somehow ignoring SpaceX is going be very hard. Especially if the @yousuck2020 excursion flight goes as planned.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    If New Glenn is certified and BFR is not, then the government will fly on New Glenn. As we see with this contract, New Glenn will be certified. Remember what SpaceX had to do to certify Falcon? If BFR comes online, then they’ll likely have to do that again.

  • Aerospike

    I’m pretty sure, SpaceX has not sent any proposals for this program. FH is already finished and BFR is designed for a completely different use case.

    One of their lead developers (Koenigsmann iirc?) recently stated during a talk, that SpaceX had basically declined money from the government to develop Falcon Heavy and choose to develop it with their own funding.

    As long as they have private funding sources (see #dearMoon), they will avoid having government agencies mess with their design decisions.

    Once BFR flies they will probably get it certified for national security launches, just as they had done with F9 and are doing with FH.

  • ThomasLMatula

    You are assuming that the BFR/BFS was even proposed to the USAF. More likely, after learning his lesson about what it’s like to work with the government on launchers, Elon Musk is avoiding getting BFR/BFS pulled into those tar sands by going it alone. He has the money now, and since SpaceX is far ahead of the USAF/NASA on launch technology there is no value to be gained getting entangled in government contracts for it so why even bid on it?

    Think of Boeing and the Dash 80, in the days when Boeing was on the cutting edge. The USAF had awarded the contract for the first jet tanker to Lockheed. But with the Dash 80 flying and already demonstrating all jet air to air refueling, while Lockheed’s plane was on the drawing board, the USAF changed it mind to go with an aircraft already flying.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Exactly. Elon Musk has seen what it’s like to be a government contractor. With the Falcon he needed the money and technology insight. But SpaceX has the money and technology to go it alone, which is why I expect the BFR/BFS to be developed on Internet time rather than government time with SpaceX putting its efforts into bending metal instead of writing reports.

  • Robert G. Oler

    you are handwaving some false facts.

    The initial “contract” to Lockheed for their KC 121 (a tanker version of the Constellation) came well after the KC 97 was flying…the 121 was an attempt to get a slightly faster tanker AND to diversify the tanker fleet as Boeing was having trouble meeting the demand for the C377 in both military and airline versions

    The Dash 80 was developed well after the development of the B47 and B52…There was no doubt Boeingcould develop a “jet” transport, the question was “what would it look like” and what would it do.

    Boeing had the money to develop the Dash 80 because the USAF was buying the B52 (and had bought the B47) but development of the Dash consumed massive amounts of money and as is typical for Boeing…it came close to breaking the company

    The issue with the Dash 80 was really not technical. it was could Boeing produce a plane which was suited for the non military market in terms of cost and reliability. For instance the B47 had no high lift devices on its wing hence it landed very fast and wth the aid of a parachute to do drag. that would not work on a commercial market

    BOeing understood the issue that killed the Comet, or at least caused a lot of crashes. They had been building pressurized airplanes for a long time, and hd a great deal of experience with pressure vessels

    BFR has no real equal in modern technological development. It is a massive leap in product design, it is doing so without the knkowledge that the Falcon 9 ffirst stage is actually resuable…and Musk has no where near the customer base Boeing did with the Dash 80…and the Dash 80 was no where near the leap that BFR is going to be

    My guess is that the USAF wanted no part of BFR for two reasons

    1. its mostly vapor ware with a two big a leap and 2) they wanted to spread the wealth around to companies who were trying to make “logical leaps” in technology

  • Robert G. Oler

    why? its vapor ware…and the USAF wants to spread the wealth around to get rocket verhicles that are likely to happen

  • Robert G. Oler

    because they know BFR is vapor ware

  • windbourne

    How is BFR vaporware, but the other rockets also under development, is not vaporware?

  • Robert G. Oler

    in so many ways.

    BFR requires three things work that have not been even remotely proven

    1. that SpaceX has mastered reusability on the Falcon9 first stage SINCE that is the key for the BFS/BFR states to be reusable. they may have but so far they have just mastered refurbishment and for only two cycles

    2. that SpaceX knows how to reenter a second stage and make the stage reusable. there is no evidence that they are anywhere close to making this work

    3. that SpaceX has the money to do a 5-8 billion dollar development program

    NONE Of the rockets picked required this massive leap into the dark

    they range from very conservative (ie Northrup is making a big Scout (OK the final stage is a liquid) to “somewhat aggressive” ie Blue’s entry with Vulcan typically in the middle

    and they are all for a customer base launch requirement that is well established.. BFR is well for Dear Moon

  • Robert G. Oler

    “money and technology to go it alone” that is far from clear. at least the money

  • envy

    Oh, and the three funded projects are what, exactly? They sure aren’t flying hardware.

  • envy

    You’re getting a little ahead of yourself. New Glenn will be certified when it flies and Blue completes all the paperwork. This contract makes it more likely that that will indeed happen, but there are no guarantees.

    Only 2 vehicles will get funding next year, and they aren’t necessarily even the vehicles that were funded this year.

    This is a big step, but nothing is certain.

  • envy

    SpaceX already had 2 certified vehicles a whole pile of USAF contracts for both of them. They don’t need money for Falcon and the EELV competition was always a poor fit for BFR.

  • envy

    BFR would work just fine with a low cost expendable Raptor upper stage. Booster reuse is a proven technology.

    I doubt SpaceX bid an expendable upper stage, though. There’s really no point in that over Falcon Heavy. And without an expendable upper stage, BFR would not hit many of the EELV RFP requirements like direct GEO insertion. So it was unlikely to ever get funding for EELV.

  • envy

    That’s not happening anytime soon. They want to build 30 to 50 F9 cores and only have 9 built at the moment. And they need many, many upper stages. That F9 line will be open and cranking out Falcon parts for at least 5 years.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The strange thing is that the USAF more or less told SpaceX where they wanted them to “be” to be on the list…and SpaceX ignored that. the USAF all but told them “put a high energy upper stage on the Falcon9 first stage (and heavy) and we are there.” they even paid for some of it

    why Musk turned them down, I dont get

  • Robert G. Oler

    A lot of folks wanted to see what would happen if the government ignored Space X. This is what it looks like.

    the government wanted a high energy upper stage on the Falcon9 and FH…they didnt get it…

  • Vladislaw

    What is there not to get .. Musk has plans for those workers and they do not include the Falcon 9 – Falcon Heavy. He doesn’t want that manpower working on the obsolete systems?

  • Vladislaw

    LOL and the others are NOT vapor ware?

  • Vladislaw

    Technically vaporware is a power point presentation. People behind vaporware, in general, do not do the following.
    Build a factory for the vaporware.
    Build a launch pad for the vaporware.
    Buy all the manufacturing equipment needed to build the vaporware.
    Build engines for the vaporware.
    etc etc etc etc…

    Because in traditional vaporware the company is trying to get the government to fund the entire project.

  • Robert G. Oler

    yes how droll…working on the ones that make money 🙂

  • duheagle

    That we definitely know of… yet.

  • duheagle

    I wouldn’t. SpaceX intends to do BFR its own way and doesn’t want to be beholden to any part of the government for the doing of it. When it’s flying, USAF will, no doubt, find plenty of uses for BFR. Its certification will not be a big deal either. USAF took 14 months to certify F9, but certified FH after a single test launch.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Booster reuse is a proven technology.

    that is the SpaceX fantasy. they have proven they can recover the booster but that “moving” the price point and/or getting reuse instead of refurbish is not much less that it moves that it works on a much larger new material vehicle

  • Robert G. Oler

    by any of the standards of the folks who have been chosen…SpaceX and BFR are vapor ware. SpaceX has a tent. the other people seem to have production facilities.

  • duheagle

    That isn’t what SpaceX said. It said the Falcons would remain in production and service so long as customers wanted them. The decision to build BFR in San Pedro eliminated any need to shut down any part of the Falcon 9/H production lines in Hawthorne.

    As for BFR, as with FH, USAF will very likely certify it after one or two all-up missions to orbit. SpaceX has long since ceased to be terra incognita to USAF.

  • duheagle

    Because it is extremely unlikely SpaceX made any bid for entry into the new round of development money awards. As with FH, SpaceX wants to do BFR on its own. Also as with FH, USAF will probably certify it for missions very early in its flight testing regime.

  • duheagle

    The precedent for USAF certification of BFR is going to be FH, not F9.

  • duheagle

    1. As I’ve noted to you many times before, “haven’t yet” is not equivalent to “can’t.” This threadbare objection will be thoroughly demolished by events over the next few months.

    2. Dragon 1 refutes this point. The TPS technology for BFS will not be a sink of development capital except perhaps for even bigger ovens to cure even bigger segments. But even that may not prove necessary. BFS could easily be tiled with PICA-X segments no larger than those now comprising the Dragon heatshield.

    3. SpaceX isn’t hurting for money. In addition to whatever 9-figure deposit it got from Mr. Maezawa, SpaceX made roughly $900 million in gross launch services profit last year and will do well over a billion this year. By the time BFR first flies to orbit it will have been mostly paid for on an ongoing basis.

    Building BFR requires no leaps into any sort of dark, technical or financial.

  • duheagle

    The tent apparently is a production facility, pending completion of more permanent digs.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX has already lowered its price point for launch on a reused F9 booster. I hope this is an answer to the assertions made in your last sentence, but you were getting kinda word-salady there at the end. Slow down and get your coherence back.

  • Robert G. Oler

    number 1 is meaningless. until it has been done, something has not been done. and Musk getting up and saying “BFR will cost less than Falcon 1 to operate” is well wishful thinking until it has been done.

    2. Dragon 1 refutes nothing. As best I can tell a Dragon 1 heat shield has NEVER been reused. have I missed something?

    3. you are making a claim as to finances that well is yours to make because no one has any figures or real paper work to confirm what youa are saying. You have no idea of the money Maezawa contributed or what the “terms” were

    BFR will probably be easy…assuming they can make F9 first stage “reuse” work…we have not seen that yet (I know you believe it will but then we are back to 1) BFS …who knows. thats a vehicle in complexity to the orbiter…

    we will see how it works out. I amquite confident that when 2022 rolls around BFR BFS will be no where near ready to go around the moon…nor 23. nor 25…nor….

  • Robert G. Oler

    for test and manufactor check articles.

  • Robert G. Oler

    LOL the last sentence is a laugh

    they have lowered their price point, how much no one knows…but it is not enough to stimulate a new market… ok I can add a comma 🙂

  • envy

    We’re not even going to be able to see those goalposts pretty soon, at this rate. Keep moving them along, though.

  • duheagle

    “Knowledge that the Falcon 9 first stage is actually reusable” seems to be pretty well in-hand by SpaceX, its customers – including USAF – and even the general public. For some incomprehensible reason, you have recently taken to promulgating elaborate conspiracy theories to the effect that it’s all lies and smoke and mirrors. You’re not quite into Flat-Earther territory yet, but you will be if you’re still carrying on like this in six months.

  • duheagle

    Have already done with FH.

  • duheagle

    It’s only unclear to those who deliberately keep their eyes closed.

  • duheagle

    Counsel assumes “facts” not in evidence. A Raptor-based upper stage for FH and maybe F9 could well be well along in development. SpaceX knows how to keep its collective mouth shut when it must. That would certainly apply in spades if the project dovetails with some other black project USAF has in the works. Both SpaceX and USAF have “sprung” things into public view with little or no advance notice.