The Rockets’ Red Ink: from EELV to a Competitive Space Launch Future
October 12/18: A new generation of rockets 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)
The EELV program was designed to reduce the cost of government space launches through greater contractor competition, and modifiable rocket families whose system requirements emphasized simplicity, commonality, standardization, new applications of existing technology, streamlined manufacturing capabilities, and more efficient launch-site processing. Result: the Delta IV (Boeing) and Atlas V (Lockheed Martin) heavy rockets.
Paradoxically, that very program may have forced the October 2006 merger of Boeing & Lockheed Martin’s rocket divisions. Crosslink Magazine’s Winter 2004 article “EELV: The Next Stage of Space Launch” offers an excellent briefing that covers EELV’s program innovations and results, while a detailed National Taxpayer’s Union letter to Congress takes a much less positive view. This DID Spotlight article looks at the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, emerging challengers like SpaceX and the new competition framework, and the US government contracts placed since the merger that formed the United Launch Alliance.Displaying 690 of 16,146 words (about 41 pages)
The EELV System
Military Satellite Payloads
EELV Budgets & Structure
Competition Again? The New “Open” Launch Framework
Going Forward: Block Buys in a Broader EELV Program
Contracts & Key Events
FY 2014 – 2015
FY 2008 – 2009
FY 2006 – 2007
Firms & Platforms
Official Reports & Legal
News & Views
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