Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.
There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:
Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.
GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.
SPARKS, Nev., August 14, 2019 (Sierra Nevada PR) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader, owned by Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen and CEO Fatih Ozmen, selected United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the launch vehicle provider for the Dream Chaser®spacecraft’s six NASA missions to the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser will launch aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets for its cargo resupply and return services to the space station, starting in 2021.
The U.S. Air Force has awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) a contract modification worth $156.7 million for a Delta IV Heavy launch of a reconnaissance satellite in 2024.
“This modification provides for launch vehicle production services for National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Launch Mission Three, the last of three planned NRO launch missions under this contract,” USAF said in announcing the contract.
The modification increases the cumulative value of the contract for the three launches from $310,784,574 to $467,537,345. The $156.7 million is about half of what the third launch will cost.
The launch could be the final one for ULA’s Delta IV family of rockets. The company is phasing out use of the booster as it develops the Vulcan booster.
As we previously reported, Stratolaunch is up for sale. Paul Allen’s sister Jody Allen, the executor of her brother’s estate, has no interest in continuing the development of the giant airplane, which is designed to air launch rockets.
CNBC reports on the eye popping price tag:
Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.
Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.
Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.
CENTENNIAL, Colo., May 20, 2019 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance leaders and engineers completed an important milestone with the conclusion of the system Critical Design Review (CDR) for the company’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket. The system-level CDR is the final review of the design for the overall rocket.
Centennial, Colo., April 8, 2019 (ULA PR) – Today, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno gave an update on the continued progress of the Vulcan Centaur during a ULA media event at the 35th Space Symposium.
“As the nation faces growing threats in the space environment, ULA is unleashing the energy of American ingenuity by developing the Vulcan Centaur,” said Bruno. “Purpose built to meet our nation’s needs for expanding space missions, the Vulcan Centaur’s innovative technology is transforming the future of launch and will advance America’s superiority in space.”
SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.
In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.
Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala., January 25, 2019 (Blue Origin PR) — Today we broke ground on the construction of a world-class rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, extending the city’s rich legacy in liquid rocket engines.
Here are excerpts from today’s groundbreaking ceremony given by Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith:
It’s a great day here in Rocket City. Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.
SpaceNewsreports the first launch of ULA’s new Vulcan booster will slip from 2020 to spring 2021.
During a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Symposium here Oct. 24, John Elbon, chief operating officer of ULA, said the company was making “good progress” on the vehicle, an effort aided by winning one of three Launch Service Agreement (LSA) awards from the U.S. Air Force Oct. 10.
“We’re making good progress on the development” of Vulcan, he said. “Our first certification flight is targeted for April of ’21. We were really excited about the results of the Air Force’s LSA procurement. We’re off and marching.”
As recently as last month, though, ULA said the first Vulcan launch was scheduled for 2020, a date the company had bene holding for some time. In a Sept. 27 release about its selection of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan’s first stage, the company said the vehicle “is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020.”
Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen — who funded private spaceships, one of the largest aircraft in the world, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe – has died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of @PaulGAllen, our founder and noted technologist, philanthropist, community builder, conservationist, musician and supporter of the arts, All of us who worked with Paul feel an inexpressible loss today,” Allen’s company, Vulcan, Inc., announced in a tweet.
Allen poured the billions he made from Microsoft into a number of business and philanthropic ventures, including three space projects. He spent $28 million to back Burt Rutan’s entry in the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice within a two-week period.
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.
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.
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.
Centennial, Colo., Sept. 27, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation rocket – the Vulcan Centaur – is making strong progress in development and is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020. The Vulcan Centaur rocket design leverages the proven success of the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles while introducing advanced technologies and innovative features.
The Wall Street Journalreports that Blue Origin has won a contract from United Launch Alliance to supply BE-4 engines for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. An announcement is expected today.
The decision would be a defeat for Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has been developing the AR1 engine.
The long-term, potentially multibillion-dollar agreement could provide a boost to Blue Origin’s eventual goal of becoming a major military launch provider itself. The company plans to use the same engines to power its own heavy-lift launcher, called New Glenn, which is currently under development.
Competition in the satellite-launch business is heating up. The Air Force is considering how to divvy up hundreds of millions of federal dollars to develop a fleet of lower-cost, more versatile rockets. Blue Origin, United Launch, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Innovation Systems unit, formerly known as Orbital ATK, are all in the running. The Air Force is preparing to shortly announce the first-stage winners….
Negotiations between United Launch and Blue Origin dragged on for months, with both sides bargaining hard over price, delivery schedules and production reliability. Other hurdles, according to two people familiar with the details, included United Launch’s concerns about relying on a prospective rival for its most important engine supply. It couldn’t be learned what provisions were hammered out.
Blue Origin beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc., which had sought to sell its AR1 engine as the primary propulsion system for the Vulcan. A spokesman for Aerojet, which previously was picked to provide smaller, upper-stage engines for the ULA rocket, said “we are committed” to the AR1 engine and “will have a test-ready engine in 2019.” The spokesman also said that regardless of the decision, Aerojet’s “liquid engine business is thriving,” and the AR1 remains an option for possible smaller launch vehicles on the drawing board.