Chandler Rocket Company Receives $800M Air Force Contract

Cristina Cross
October 13, 2018

"As space becomes more contested and our adversaries develop new capabilities to thwart our advantage, we are fielding our space capabilities to ensure we remain the best in the business". In a surprise to some observers, SpaceX, the ambitious rocket company founded by Elon Musk, was not among the latest winners in the Pentagon's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

The Space and Missile Systems Center will obligate at the time of award $109M in fiscal 2018 funds to each company under the cost-share agreements.

Blue Origin, which has a launch site east of El Paso in Van Horn, Texas, has entered into a Launch Services Agreement partnership with the U.S.

The three companies will develop competing domestic launch vehicles to carry defense satellites, with commercial contracts likely to follow. "We're making the most of the authorities Congress gave us, and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine". The service's goal is to move away from use of Russian-made RD-180 engines. Strap-on solid-fuel boosters also can be attached to the rocket for additional liftoff power depending on payload requirements.

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The awards go to billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin; United Launch Services, part of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp; and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

Artist concept of Northrop Grumman's OmegA Rocket, which is built in Chandler, Arizona. A single BE-4 will power the rocket's second stage and a third stage, using a BE-3 engine, also can be used depending on payload requirements. New Glenn is expected to reach initial launch capability in 2020. The Air Force has committed through 2024 a total of $500 million in OTA funds for Blue Origin, $792 million for Northrop Grumman and $967 million for ULA.

The U.S. Air Force is putting its money in three rockets.

In a statement, Bob Smith, the company chief executive officer said that the contract "allows us to further expand our launch manifest beyond our existing commercial customers to fly vital national security space missions". Unlike the Atlas V rocket that the company now uses, the new rocket will uses engines made in the United States. The company is receiving $791.6 million to develop their Omega rocket.

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