The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday said that it had awarded a total $2.3 billion in contracts to develop rocket launch systems for national security missions.
The Launch Service Agreements are for the development of Blue Origin's New Glenn, Northrop Grumman's Omega and ULA's Vulcan Centaur rockets. SpaceX was not listed among the award recipients.
ULA was awarded almost $1 billion for its new rocket, the Vulcan Centaur. Unlike the Atlas V rocket that the company now uses, the new rocket will use engines made in the United States.
Jeff Bezos' private space company will build the New Glenn rocket to ferry a 50-ton payload into low-Earth orbit, with its reusable first stage returning to the surface and landing.
Northrop Grumman, which recently acquired Orbital ATK, will receive almost $800 million for its Omega launch system. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The award is the first major government contract for the company, which has for years relied nearly exclusively on Bezos's fortune.
The funding is for the development of competing launch system prototypes geared toward launching national security payloads. The Vulcan is now set for first launch in 2020, with two Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engines powering its first-stage booster. SpaceX didn't win a share of the money in the contract round announced today, but has benefited from earlier rocket development programs.
The awards will be contracted through Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in California. While it remains to be seen if Congress would approve a new bureaucracy in the Pentagon, the measure has elevated the concerns over national security space issues.
The three contracts are part of a Department of Defense initiative to assure constant military access to space and curb reliance on foreign-made rocket engines, like ULA's flagship Atlas V rocket that uses Russian-made RD-180 boosters.