The U.S Air Force on Wednesday, announced that its Space and Missile Systems Center had awarded OTAs (Other Transaction Agreements) to Orbital ATK and SpaceX. Orbital ATK won a $47 million contract to develop three rocket propulsion system prototypes, while SpaceX won a $36 million contract to develop Raptor rocket engine prototype.
Orbital ATK will be using the three rocket propulsion systems on its next-generation Orbital ATK vehicle, while SpaceX’s Raptor rocket engine will be used for the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Launch vehicles. The total value of the contract including all options stands is $180 million. Under the contract, Orbital ATK would develop prototypes of the Common Booster Segment solid rocket motor, GEM 63XL strap-on solid rocket motor and an Extendable Nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U engine. The Blue Engine (BE) class of engines from Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is being used as a homegrown alternative to the RD-180.
“Having two or more domestic, commercially viable launch providers that also meet national space requirements is our end goal,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Air Force’s Program Executive Officer for Space and SMC commander.
SpaceX is testing the Raptor upper stage raptor engine for the Falcon 9 rocket, which has been included in the EELV contract. Currently, the EELV program has two launch vehicles — United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV series of rockets. This will now change to two unique boosters by two companies — United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan and SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The Vulcan system has to be certified, before it is brought under the EELV.
Development of new domestic engines gained a boost after U.S lawmakers passes a ban on Russian-180 engines, citing Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. ULA has announced that it would switch to Orbital ATK motors for Atlas V by late 2018, while the new Vulcan booster is set to make it first launch in mid-2019.
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