US Air Force backs Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket with $500 million contract
Jeff Bezos has high hopes for his New Glenn rocket and its development has just received a nice helping hand. The US Air Force today announced it will handing Bezo's space company Blue Origin half a billion dollars as part of its plan to usher in a new generation of heavy lift boosters.
The US military is looking for new ways to get its ever-advancing national security satellites into orbit, and these Launch Service Agreements are ways of investing in the development of rockets to do the job.
More specifically, through this program and several rounds of awards, the US Department of Defense aims to help establish at least two US-based launch service providers capable of firing the military's complex and increasingly heavy payloads into the required orbits. This is part of the ongoing effort to maintain US access to space, with earlier recipients including SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
This time around, the Air Force has awarded Northrup Grumman US$791,600 million for the development of its OmegA Launch System, $967,000 million to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the development of its Vulcan Centaur Launch System, and a nice even $500 million for Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket.
This is a significant show of faith in the direction of Blue Origin, which hopes to use New Glenn to not just deliver orbital payloads, but also carry astronauts into space. It is powered by Blue Origin's BE-4 engines that burn liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen to generate 3.85 million pounds of thrust. Coincidentally, last month ULA selected Blue Origin's BE-4 engine to power the first stage of its Vulcan rocket.
Standing 313 ft (95 m) tall, New Glenn would be eclipsed only by the legendary Apollo Saturn V rocket and is designed to feature a fully reusable first stage. Its first flights will depart from Cape Canaveral, with the first stage to return and land on a ship in the ocean 400 mi (650 km) away. But with this new award, Blue Origin will also pursue a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Blue Origin has previously targeted 2020 for the first flight of the New Glenn rocket.