U.S. Air Force Awards Three EELV Launch Service Agreements

The U.S. Air Force announced the award of three Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service Agreements to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Launch Service Agreements will facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two National Security Space launch service providers for future procurements, planned for no earlier than fiscal year 2020.

Through public-private partnership agreements, the goal of the acquisition strategy is to satisfy federal law by ensuring that the U.S. maintains assured access to space, with at least two domestic launch service providers and without reliance on non-allied rocket propulsion systems.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “We’re making the most of the authorities Congress gave us and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.”

With the Congressional mandate to transition away from reliance on foreign rocket propulsion systems, and the planned Delta IV retirement, the Air Force developed an acquisition strategy to accelerate National Security Space launch requirements.

The EELV program has successfully launched 72 NSS missions, dating back to 2003, using the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles. While the prototypes are being developed, the Air Force will continue to competitively award commercial launch services contracts to providers who demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify and deliver launch systems and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver National Security Space satellites to orbit.

The awards will be contracted through Air Force Space Command’s (AFSPC) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. SMC is the U.S. Air Force’s center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System (GPS), Military Satellite Communications (SATCOM), Defense Meteorological Satellites, Space Launch and Range Systems, Satellite Control Networks, Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) and Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capabilities.

Blue Origin New Glenn Launch System

New Glenn is a two- or three-stage heavy lift orbital launch vehicle in development by Blue Origin since 2012.

New Glenn is a single-configuration, operationally reusable launch vehicle whose first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 (Blue Engine 4) liquefied natural gas rocket engines. BE-4 engines are also being designed and manufactured by Blue Origin. The second stage will be powered by two upper stage versions of the BE-3 tap-off cycle liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engine.

Blue Origin intends to launch the rocket from Launch Complex 36 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Blue Origin New Glenn
Artistic rendering of Blue Origin New Glenn heavy-lift launch vehicle. Blue Orgin Photo.

Northrop Grumman OmegA Launch System

OmegA is a launch vehicle in development by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (earlier Orbital ATK) as an EELV replacement program intended for U.S. national security and commercial satellites.

The rocket configuration consists of first and second solid rocket stages and strap-on solid boosters manufactured by Northrop Grumman, and a cryogenic liquid upper stage powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10C engine.

After initial flights of its intermediate configuration in 2021, OmegA will be certified for operational EELV missions starting in 2022 with initial heavy configuration flights beginning in 2024. OmegA is intended to be launched from Launch Complex 39B (LC-39B) of Kennedy Space Center in Florida or Space Launch Complex 2 (SLC-2) of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Orbital ATK OmegA rocket
An artist’s concept of Orbital ATK’s OmegA rocket in flight.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur Launch System

Vulcan Centaur is an American heavy-payload launch vehicle under development since 2014 by United Launch Alliance (ULA), funded by a public–private partnership with the U.S. government.

It was announced last month that Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine has been selected by ULA to power the first stage of Vulcan rocket. T he Vulcan Centaur upper stage will be powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine.

ULA expects the first launch of the new rocket to occur no earlier than mid-2020. The rocket can be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

ULA Vulcan Centaur heavy-lift launch vehicle
Artistic rendering of Vulcan Centaur heavy-lift launch vehicle developed by United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA Photo.

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