Capitalism in space: The U.S. military on December 17th signed an agreement with Blue Origin to add it to its point-to-point space cargo development program.
The command last year signed similar agreements with SpaceX and with Exploration Architecture Corp. (XArc). Blue Origin is the third company to ink a CRADA [as these development contracts are called] for the rocket cargo program.
Under CRADAs, companies agree to share information about their products and capabilities but the government does not commit to buying anything. U.S. TRANSCOM’s analysis of industry data will inform the newly created “rocket cargo” program led by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Space Force. The Air Force in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 is seeking $47.9 million to conduct studies and rocket cargo demonstrations. [emphasis mine]
I highlight the total budget of this program to show that this is a very small government program. The cash it provides these three companies is nice, but it is chicken feed when compared with the total cost of development. It certainly will not result in a faster pace at Blue Origin in developing its New Glenn rocket, which is presently two years behind schedule with further delays almost certain because its BE-4 rocket engine is not yet ready for mass production.
Whether the program itself is a good thing, or merely another example of government crony capitalism, is open to question. The practicality of using either Starship or New Glenn for cargo transport remains very unproven, especially for New Glenn, which was not designed with such a purpose in mind and cannot land its upper stage on Earth as Starship can.
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