The US Air Force is awarding a series of contracts for the development of a Launch System Prototype for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle
program. The contracts are part of a portfolio that aims to leverage commercial launch solutions to meet National Security Space requirements. This includes the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads the US military has to offer.
The first contract
is awarded to United Launch Alliances and is valued at $967 million. This covers the an initial investment for the development of ULA's Vulcan Centaur launch system. The Vulcan
is being developed to replace both the Atlas-5 and Delta-4 families which will be phased out beginning in 2018. By 2023 ULA plans to introduce a more powerful Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) to the Centaur second stage. ACES
, assisted by six solid rocket boosters will be able to outlift the existing Delta 4 Heavy. ULA's work will be performed at it's factories in Centennial, Colorado; Decatur, Alabama; and at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Vulcan is expected to be ready for launch by end of March 2025.
The second contract
is valued at $791.6 million goes to Orbital Sciences Corp, which will develop the OmegA
launch system. Orbital's OmegA rocket's initial intermediate-payload configuration consists of a solid-rocket booster a second stage powered by the company's Castor 300 or Castor 600 solid-rocket motor, and a third stage powered by two Aerojet RL-10C engines. By adding up to six strap-on boosters, OmegA will be capable of launching payloads of up to 22,266 lbs. to a geostationary transfer orbit, and payloads of up to nearly 17,200 lbs. to geostationary equatorial orbits. The OmegA
will be produced at a variety of Orbital facilities including Chandler, Arizona; Magna and Promontory, Utah; Iuka, Mississippi; West Palm Beach, Florida; Sandusky, Ohio; and Michoud, Louisiana. The OmegA will be launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Orbit is expected to complete the rocket by December 31st, 2024.
The third contract
is being awarded to Blue Origin
LLC owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The $500 million order covers the initial development of the company's New Glenn
launch system. New Glenn is a new reusable rocket family, the three-stage version is 313 feet tall. The first stage is modelled after the reusable booster New Shepard and significantly reduces cost and maintenance. A single, vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powers its third stage. Work will be performed at the company's factories in Kent, Washington and Huntsville, Alabama. The New Glenn will have its launch facilities at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg AFB and is expected to be ready by July 2024.
In the coming months the companies will create launch system prototypes; ultimately, the Air Force will narrow the field from three to two developers, who will continually compete for national security rocket launch opportunities from fiscal year 2020 onward. Elon Musk's SpaceX
is currently left out of the competition but may be able to join the program at a later stage. Under the EELV program, the competitors must develop or source domestically-produced propulsion systems — a reversal of the current status quo. (end)