The United States Space Force, which was set off from the Air Force in December 2019, has revealed the recipients of its latest round of contracts for projects including next-generation rocket engine testing and upper-stage enhancements.
The Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), a program run by the Space Force’s Space Systems Command, bestowed the prizes. By allowing its approximately 600 members to bid for contracts, SpEC encourages cooperation between the US Department of Defense and the space industry. The awards, worth a total of $87.5 million, were given to four start-ups:
- Blue Origin will be awarded $24.3 million to develop cryogenic fluid management for the New Glenn rocket’s upper stage.
- United Launch Alliance will receive $24.3 million for its new Vulcan Centaur two-stage heavy-lift rocket’s uplink command and control.
- Rocket Lab, whose deal is also worth $24.3 million, making it one of the most lucrative in the company’s history? This money will go toward the company’s upcoming Neutron medium-lift rocket’s advanced development.
- SpaceX will receive $14.4 million to conduct combustion stability testing and analysis on its Raptor rocket engine.
Under the Space Force’s National Security Space Launch program, SpaceX and ULA are already established launch providers for the US government. In 2024, both Rocket Lab and Blue Origin will be eligible to bid on the next round of launch procurement contracts. These new contracts indicate that the two corporations are getting ready to submit bids. (In 2020, SpaceX and ULA defeated Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.)
In a statement, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck described the new prize as a “vote of confidence” in the Neutron rocket. “With Electron, we built a reliable launch system, and with Neutron, we’ll do it again to continue giving unrestricted access to space with our new heavier-lift vehicle.”
Blue Origin, the space company established by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has informed the FAA that it intends to conduct an uncrewed flight test of a brand-new New Shepard rocket ship at its West Texas spaceport this week.
The FAA issued a “Notice to Airmen,” or NOTAM, informing pilots of the forthcoming test.
The notification warns aviators to avoid the testing area, which is located on Bezos’ ranchland north of Van Horn, Texas, between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. PT Monday through Thursday.