Orbital ATK and SpaceX win Air Force contracts

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

The competition heats up: The Air Force has awarded Orbital ATK and SpaceX contracts to develop new rocket engines to help end the U.S.’s reliance on Russian rocket engines.

The Orbital contract is initially worth $47 million, with the company committed to spend $31 million of its own money., according to the Defense Department’s daily digest of major contract awards. Eventually the government could pay the company $180 million. SpaceX’s contract meanwhile was for $33.6 million initially for the development of its new Raptor upper stage engine, with a total government payment to be $61 million.

And that’s not all. Later today NASA will announce the winners in its second ISS cargo contract. The competitors are SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada. I am hoping the latter two win, since that would allow the construction of a fourth American spacecraft, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, capable of lifting cargo and crew into space.



  • Des

    I agree that the Dream Chaser is a really cool looking project and I would love to see it developed. It will almost certainly cost substantially more than the SpaceX bid. Also, SpaceX are almost certain to use any profits from this contract to help develop their Mars plans so it would be a pity to see them miss out.

    It would be good for competition in the long run to have four independent vehicles. However, four vehicles might be too many and prevent any one company making a reasonable profit from its investment. It is a pity that the Boeing bid won the commercial crew contract, I think Dream Chaser would have been a better fit for crew than cargo. The Boeing space division is too wedded to cost plus development, it is hard to imagine them competing successfully in New Space. Only their substantial lobbying effort and long term (very expensive) record of delivering could have resulted in their winning the commercial crew contract.

  • wodun

    Just had a reply typed up but then read the comments at the link and it looks like all 3 got awards, which is for the best IMO. Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK are flying right now and NASA probably can’t wait for Dream Chaser to come online. However, Dream Chaser has capabilities that neither of the incumbents do and will be very useful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *