Blue Origin wins contract to power top secret Air Force space missions

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Air Force to "leverage its commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space missions", according to a news release. Finally, Blue Origin will receive $500 million to help in the development of its future New Glenn rocket, which are supposed to be able to come back to earth in one piece after launching their payloads - a technology SpaceX has already developed, and almost perfected. What would further add to the sting for Elon Musk's company, is the fact that the DOD will be selecting two of these three companies to become official launch providers for the United States government.

Orbital Sciences, recently acquired by Northrup Grumman, won a $791.6 million contract to develop the company's Omega launch system, a rocket that will be "capable of launching the full range of national security missions required by the U.S. Air Force, as well as science and commercial payloads for other customers", the company says on its web page. The service's goal is to move away from use of Russian-made RD-180 engines. (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.

Following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Congress mandated through the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act - as well as succeeding NDAAs - that the EELV program function as the transition from RD-180 engines to American-made launch solutions.

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Blue Origin is profiting from the retirement of the United Launch Alliance's Delta IV, which first experienced flight in 2002. Officials said its replacement should be ready by the 2023 timeframe.

The Air Force said it would not discuss which companies submitted bids for the funding agreements.

In all, the new contracts amount to almost $2.3 billion in financial support for the three companies and set the stage for the rockets to become major players in future satellite launches, now that they have the backing of the US military to one day launch national security payloads.

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