Northrop Grumman Tests Advanced Solid Motor for ULA’s Vulcan Booster

PROMONTORY, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) conducted its first ground test of an extended length 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63XL) today in Promontory, Utah. This variation of the company’s GEM 63 strap-on booster was developed in partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide additional lift capability to the Vulcan Centaur vehicle.

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Blue Origin BE-4 to Support ULA National Security Launches, Continue New Glenn Development

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Today, Blue Origin issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Space Force’s National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP) announcement: 

“We are disappointed in the decision that New Glenn was not selected for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP). We submitted an incredibly compelling offer for the national security community and the U.S. taxpayer. Blue Origin’s offer was based on New Glenn’s heavy-lift performance, unprecedented private investment of more than $2.5 billion, and a very competitive single basic launch service price for any mission across the entire ordering period. We are proceeding with New Glenn development to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts. We remain confident New Glenn will play a critical role for the national security community in the future due to the increasing realization that space is a contested domain and a robust, responsive, and resilient launch capability is ever more vital to U.S security. 

Blue Origin is very proud that our BE-4 engine will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle in support of the Space Force’s NSSL program and end reliance on Russian-built engines. The BE-4 is the most powerful liquefied natural gas-fueled rocket engine ever developed and the first oxygen-rich staged combustion engine made in the U.S. We look forward to supporting ULA’s long-standing role in launching national security payloads.” 

– Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin

WFIRST Continues to Make Progress Despite Cancellation Attempts

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) continues to making steady progress toward an October 2026 launch despite the Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to cancel it, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Dynetics to Develop NASA’s Artemis Human Lunar Landing System

Artist concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Dynetics)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Dynetics PR) — Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos (NYSE: LDOS), has been awarded a contract under NASA’s Artemis program to design a Human Landing System (HLS) and compete to build a system to take the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024.

Dynetics is one of three prime contractors selected.

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Blue Origin Fact Sheet on New Glenn, Engine Development

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

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin released a fact sheet about its programs when it opened its new Huntsville manufacturing facility on Monday. Below is an excerpt on the company’s New Glenn rocket and its BE-3, BE-4 and BE-7 engine development program.

BLUE ORIGIN FACT SHEET

New Glenn

Named after John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, New Glenn is a single configuration, heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to low Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, cislunar and beyond. Its first stage is fully reusable and built for 25 missions initially.

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2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.
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GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

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.

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SNC Selects ULA’s Vulcan Centaur for Dream Chaser® Spacecraft Launches Beginning in 2021

Dream Chaser lands (Credit: NASA)

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.

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ULA Receives USAF Contract for Delta IV Heavy Launch

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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.

First Vulcan Booster Heads for Structural Qualification Testing

For Sale: The World’s Largest Airplane*

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

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.

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ULA Completes Final Design Review for New Vulcan Centaur Rocket

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

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.

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ULA Progresses Towards Purpose-Built Vulcan Centaur for National Security Space Missions

The Centaur enters the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. (Credit: NASA)

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.”

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Lawmakers Seek Review of U.S. Air Force Decision Not to Award Funding to SpaceX

BFR in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

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.

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Blue Origin Breaks Ground on Huntsville Engine Factory

Blue Origin groundbreaking. Pictured left to right: Greg Canfield, Alabama Secretary of Commerce; Kim Lewis, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber 2019 Board Chair; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Alabama Governor Kay Ivey; United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno; Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith; Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; U.S. Senator Doug Jones; U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks; Clayco CEO Bob Clark. (Credit: Blue Origin)

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.

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