Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, ULA win Space Force contracts for rocket technology projects

The Space Enterprise Consortium’s proposals are for prototypes that will be funded jointly by the government and the contractors.

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

The Space Enterprise Consortium has issued awards for prototypes that will be jointly funded by the government and contractors through OTAs (other transaction authority) agreements. Contracts were awarded to existing national security launch providers SpaceX and ULA, as well as newcomers Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, which may compete for national security launch service contracts in 2024.

  • Blue Origin will be awarded $24.3 million for cryogenic fluid management for the second stage of its New Glenn rocket.
  • Rocket Lab has been awarded $24.3 million for the development of the upper stages of its future launch vehicle Neutron.
  • Rapid throttling and restart testing, liquid methane specification development and testing, and combustion stability analysis and testing are among the technologies that SpaceX will test for its next-generation Raptor engine.
  • Uplink command and control 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.

Col. Rob Bongiovi, head of Space Systems Command’s Launch Enterprise, said, “We are delighted to work with industry to achieve revolutionary space access capabilities.”

The Raptor testing contract was supported by a $15 million provision added to the 2021 defense budget for next-generation engine testing, which was given to SpaceX. The SpEC collaboration stated, “This prototype endeavor will improve the state-of-the-art in rocket engines, including new technologies to allow space access and mobility.”

The remaining three upper-stage technology initiatives will be funded in the fiscal year 2022. The contracts will be given early next year, assuming congressional approval of the 2022 budget proposal, according to the Space Systems Command.

The SpEC describes these programs as “orbital transfer prototype projects to improve 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.

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