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The Space Force has awarded contracts to Rocket Lab, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA for rocket technology initiatives

ByJerzy Nawrocki

Sep 26, 2021

The United States Space Force Space Systems Command stated on September 24 that Rocket Lab, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance had been chosen to engage in technology research initiatives to boost launch vehicle upper stages and rocket engine testing.

The Space Enterprise Consortium has announced awards for prototypes that the government and contractors will jointly finance through OTAs (other transaction authority) agreements. The contracts were split between incumbent national security launch suppliers SpaceX and ULA, as well as newcomers Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, which may compete for national security launch service deals in 2024.

  • Blue Origin will be awarded $24.3 million for the cryogenic fluid management for the second stage of its New Glenn rocket.
  • SpaceX receives $14.4 million for evaluating technologies for the next-generation Raptor engine, including rapid throttling as well as restart testing, liquid methane specification advancement and testing, and combustion stability monitoring and analysis.
  • Rocket Lab receives $24.3 million, which is for the upper stage development of Neutron’s future launch vehicle.
  • Uplink command and control, which is meant for Centaur 5, the upper stage of ULA’s new rocket Vulcan Centaur, will cost $24.3 million.

On May 11, the SpEC consortium issued a request for bids for these projects.

Colonel Rob Bongiovi, who serves as the director in charge of the Space Systems Command’s Launch Enterprise, said, “We are thrilled to engage with industry to enhance transformational space access capabilities.” The Raptor testing contract was supported by a $15 million expenditure added to the year 2021 defense spending for next-generation engine testing, which was granted to SpaceX. The SpEC consortium stated, “This prototype endeavor will enhance state-of-the-art in the rocket engines, incorporating new technologies to allow space access and mobility.”

The remaining three upper-stage technology initiatives will be financed in the fiscal year 2022. According to the Space Systems Command, the contracts will be given early next year, assuming congressional authorization of the 2022 budget proposal. The SpEC describes these programs as “orbital transfer prototype initiatives to enhance space access capacity for national security launch systems.” “Anticipated benefits include cost savings from the acquisition of lower-energy launch vehicle variants, as well as improved mass-to-orbit capability” for routes beyond geosynchronous orbit.

The United States Space Force may be traced back to the beginnings of the Cold War, with the very first Army Air Forces space projects beginning in 1945. The Western Development Division that was under by General Bernard Schriever, was the first dedicated space unit within the United States Armed Forces. It still exists today as the Space and Missile Systems Center of the Space Force. Military space forces were originally organized under three different Air Force major commands before being unified on September 1, 1982, when the Air Force Space Command was established.

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