U.S. Air Force Awards Launcher Development Contracts to ULA, Blue Origin & Northrop Grumman

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth more than $2.2 billion for launch vehicle development to United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.

ULA of Centennial, Colo., will receive $967 million for the development of a launch system prototype of the Vulcan-Centaur booster. 

The agreement includes shared cost investment by ULA. The work is expected to be completed by March 31, 2025. 

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Northrop Gumman was awarded a contract worth $791,601,015 for development of the OmegA launch system. The company expects to to complete the work by Dec. 31, 2024. 

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin has been awarded a $500 million contract for the development of the New Glenn launch system. The booster will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The work is expected to be completed by July 31, 2024.

  • Robert G. Oler

    “Knowledge that the Falcon 9 first stage is actually reusable” seems to be pretty well in-hand by SpaceX, its customers”

    according to you. the USAF passed on SpaceX for a reason…we are seeing “none” of the indicators of what you are saying…ie price point moving.

    ” For some incomprehensible reason, you have recently taken to
    promulgating elaborate conspiracy theories to the effect that it’s all
    lies and smoke and mirrors.”

    that is how you are characterizing them. my statements are clear. nothing is proven yet. when it is I will cheer until then. I am not a fan boy. I am a test pilot. 🙂 I need to see proof. there are a lot of people who share that belief and that includes folks I know in the USAF.

    “You’re not quite into Flat-Earther territory yet, but you will be if you’re still carrying on like this in six months.”

    which means of course that hopefully in six months they will prove all the things you accept as fact…and if they do, then I will cheer along very loudly

    It will be a massive step if they prove that refurbishment and eventual reuse of first stage boosters works economically. I “think” that they can get to it

    BUT unlike you I need facts to accept that. I’ve heard enough of Musk “aspirational” sayings that you seem to latch on to as reality

    see I work for a living 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    the last sentence is speculation

  • Robert G. Oler

    they didnt make any bid because its clear they dont have what the USAF wanted…ie a high energy upper stage. as for BFR…we will see when it gets built. I predict 10 years min away but lets see

  • duheagle

    How the heck you can fly airplanes when you don’t seem able to see beyond the end of your nose is one of the wonders of our age.

    You interpret SpaceX’s absence from the list of recipients of these new EELV awards as evidence of some deficiency – which assumes, in turn, that SpaceX even applied for said money. Why would it have done so? F9 and FH are both essentially done, developmentally – save possibly for that Raptor-powered upper stage that may be gestating somewhere in a dark corner at Hawthorne. SpaceX has already taken USAF money for the latter.

    These new grants are for three would-be competitors of SpaceX to build vehicles that, in the best case – New Glenn – won’t be any more reusable than the F9 and FH already are. In the other two cases – Omega and Vulcan – one will never be reusable and the other will not achieve even a less-than-F9 level of reusability until the middle of the next decade.

    USAF, here, is essentially building three wheelchair ramps for the disabled among the ranks of current and would-be launch vehicle makers. I don’t blame USAF for doing so. They need assured access to space and are willing to pay for it at least within reason. But SpaceX refused government money for FH and seems intent on maintaining its autarky when it comes to BFR.

  • duheagle

    No, it isn’t. It’s just observation and memory. USAF spent a contentious 14 months getting to know SpaceX and the F9 before certifying it to carry national security payloads that were within its performance envelope. That was in 2014 – 15. Since then, USAF has awarded contracts to SpaceX for a number of national security launches, including a breaking of ULA’s erstwhile monopoly on launches of the rare and expensive X-37. This year, USAF declared that it had certified FH roughly a month after it flew for the first time. I don’t see USAF making any big deal of certifying BFR quite soon after its maiden flight to orbit.

  • duheagle

    Yes, yes, 10 years. I would be preemptively weary if I thought I was going to have to read that constantly for the next decade. Fortunately, that purgatorial experience is likely to last only a couple more years.

  • duheagle

    I don’t know if what is being made there is for ground testing or for flight. In either case, that tent is now the equivalent of the Michoud works anent SLS until an actual building gets built. In any event, the output of “the tent” is definitely a lot more corporeal than “vapor.”

  • duheagle

    If a ballplayer who has hit 48 homers by late July says he thinks he’ll hit 64 for the season, I would be inclined to think he could. Sure, he might get hit by a bus or shot by his wife or killed by a falling meteor or just suffer some garden variety injury in the meantime, but, statistically, betting on him actually hitting 64 would be a good bet. For some incomprehensible reason, you seem to see Elon and SpaceX as some 13 year-old Little Leaguer boastfully pointing his bat at the fence. This, I utterly do not get.

    There’s also the matter of reconciling your notion that SpaceX can’t possibly build BFR in less than 10 more years, while it should already have flown a Block 5 booster a whole bunch of times and cut launch prices to a few million per. Is your unreasonable impatience about the second set of things the basis for your pessimism about the first thing? That would at least constitute a sort of consistency. Still irrational, in my view, but at least consistently irrational.

  • duheagle

    No one knows? SpaceX has stated that the price of a launch on a reused F9 is $50 million. That’s a $12 million discount from list for a launch on a new booster. As I think $12 million is the cost of building an F9 booster stage, it would seem SpaceX is willing to give all its savings over a first flight to the customer for a second flight and figuring the third and subsequent flights – at the same price – are where the real gravy starts rolling in.
    This also suggests that all the costs associated with recovering the booster after a first use and turning it around for a second are probably already built into the $62 million price of a first-use mission so the total number of dollars SpaceX realizes in gross profit on a first or a second use remains about the same.

    SpaceX has already expanded the launch market. Over the next few years, the majority of launches will be for constellation deployments of increasing diverse sorts. That will prove true of government national security launches too, but there may be more of a lag for that than for the strictly commercial stuff. SpaceX isn’t going to garner all this new business, but absent SpaceX, none of said new business would be forthcoming.

  • duheagle

    I can guarantee you that Boeing has a lot fewer engineers working on the next refinement of those triple-7’s you fly than they had working on the original version of same. Why should Falcon 9/H be any different?

  • passinglurker

    I’m just making a bit of humor, but I understand your points

  • Robert G. Oler

    I do…BFR and BFS are a completely different vehicle with no flight history from the Falcon series nothing is the same

  • Robert G. Oler

    As I think $12 million is the cost of building an F9 booster stage

    far tolow. 30 million if it is a dollar

  • windbourne

    the last time that Boeing bet the company was the 747.
    Even 787 did not come close to ‘betting the bank’.

  • duheagle

    This is one of those situations in which the only settlement of the argument is going to be via actual events. You have your basis for predicting the future and I have mine. They differ radically anent SpaceX and its activities. We can usefully revisit this whole issue in about three years, by which time, if I am correct, the facts on the ground – and off the ground – should be sufficient to call this controversy settled.

  • duheagle

    I have repeatedly laid out my reasons for supposing what I do about SpaceX’s actual vehicle component costs. What makes you think the cost of an F9 1st stage is actually $30 million?

  • Robert G. Oler

    LOL the Dreamliner was very very expensive…it is the technology of the next generation of Boeing planes but it consumed massive amounts of money…the technology is amazing and well Its the future but it cost a lot

  • Robert G. Oler

    neither you or anyone has pointed to a logic train or source for the 12 million dollar cost of the first stage

    Its all handwaving. what makes me come up with that number? standard construction cost, 9 engines, avionics package

  • windbourne

    Yes, but it was not considered a ‘bet the bank’, like past aircraft.
    And the 787 is a POS. Stonecipher and McNerney trashed Boeing and the 787 was just part of the damage that he did.
    Stonecipher was the idiot responsible for outsourcing of the MD-11, which caused the collapse of MD. Then he rose to the level of ineptness and he, and McNearny BOTH followed the same approach of outsourcing which almost destroyed Boeing.
    Even now, it looks like 787 will not be profitable unless they manufacture over 1600 (yeah, no problem there. …).

  • Robert G. Oler

    you contradict yourself or you dont know what you are talking about

    the 787 has profitability problems precisely because Boeing nearly broke the bank in it, and has to recoup that money through sales…an airplane is not profitable until it pays back its “development cost” (this is true for rocket vehicles as well 🙂 ) and that is a problem with the Dreamliner because well its development cost nearly broke the bank 🙂

    in the end it will work out for Boeing (and I agree some with your analysis of some of the people) because the technology learned was just amazing…it is as if they completly reinvented the internal system of the plane…away from what had been since well some trace their lives back to the B29…but most to the B47-B52 Dash 80

    and what they have today is just amazing…but it was costly

    have a great whatever time zone you are in. Off to take my triple for a bit of flying…trying to dodge at least now being assigned to the 787 🙂 really like the 77X

    be cool

  • windbourne

    No, bet the bank means that the company went all in and likely had to borrow. We did that with the 747. Boeing is big enough that it was not the case for the 787. However, because we had 2 idiot CEOs, it made it so that R&D costs would not be re-couped for more than 1500 planes, when it was originally supposed to be 500-750. Internally, most of the engineers rate the 787 equal to the MD-11, esp. since both were built in the EXACT SAME WAY. The MD-11 took down MD. The 787 did not do that to use because we were big enough to survive that. BUT, as an aircraft, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Most Boeing Employees rate it as one of our worst crafts since the 737-[12]00

    Boeing COmmercial was heavily destroyed by McNeary. He sold off our Avionics division which used to do a decent job.

  • Robert G. Oler

    whatever you want to say. I dont argue strawmen

    ” Internally, most of the engineers rate the 787 equal to the MD-11,
    esp. since both were built in the EXACT SAME WAY. The MD-11 took down
    MD.

    then you know nothing about the airplane…the systems are going to be in every Boeing new build and populate new versions for 1/2 or more a century. the FBW is simply amazing in how it is (and a massive improvement on the Triple which was just stunning)

    Boeing has mastered composite construction and is poised to start making very innovative airframes and foils

    the cost were a combination of bad management and innovation…but the profit number really doesnt matteer…1) they will produce far more than 1500 and 2) Boeing usually sells them with the 37 which gives them enormous leeway to negotiate.

    the 737 is the piggy that went to the bank. its day is nearly over (well 15 more years or so) but its made the company a lot of money

    be cool