Air Force awards contracts to ULA, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin

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The competition heats up: The Air Force today announced contract awards to ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin to help further the development of their new rockets.

The award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Launch Service Agreements will facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two National Security Space launch service providers for future procurements, planned for no earlier than fiscal year 2020.

The press release makes no mention of the amount of money being granted to these companies. Personally, I’d rather the government gave nothing until it actually bought real launch services from these companies, but it can only help the Air Force to have four different launch companies (when you include SpaceX) to draw upon. And the competition will force all four to reduce their costs and be creative.

Update: One of my readers in the comments below provided this link outlining the money granted for each contract, with ULA getting just under $1 billion, Northrop Grumman getting just under $800 million, and Blue Origin getting $500 million. This is not chicken-feed, and is in essence a subsidy for all three companies. The large amounts will act to discourage cost-savings, and in my opinion is a mistake. Whenever government bodies provide these kinds of subsidies prior to the deliver of services, the cost for the services inevitably is higher.


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  • James Crockford

    Link with more details regarding the money being granted:

  • James Crockford: Thank you. I will update the post.

  • wodun

    It looks like the COTS approach is being co-opted by the traditional contractors. It may not exactly be cost plus but it looks close.

  • Edward

    This is disappointing news.

    SpaceX did not accept any offered government funding, and I think this is why they were able to develop their rockets in such a cost effective manner. Musk had limited funds (unlike Bezos) and was forced to find efficiencies for SpaceX’s development process.

    Unlike SpaceX, Blue Origin is going through about a billion dollars per year and is not showing very much for that money, at least not yet. Also unlike SpaceX, Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket is likely to cost multiple billions of dollars to develop. I see a lot of efficiency and effectiveness at SpaceX, but not so much elsewhere. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner seems to be an exception, because it is being developed for a cost only slightly more than SpaceX’s manned Dragon. It seems that even the heritage space companies are able to do efficient development, if the incentive is right.

    It is unfortunate that the Air Force is so eager to keep the old inefficient methods in place. Blue Origin would do much better if it were to learn how to be efficient. At this rate, SpaceX will (disappointingly) be the dominant player much longer than I had expected. My hope now is that Sierra Nevada will be the real competition for SpaceX.

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