Spaceflight Insider

Air Force contracts with Blue Origin for use of New Glenn reusable rocket

An artist's rendering of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket during an ascent into orbit. Image Credit: Blue Origin

An artist’s rendering of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket during an ascent into orbit. Image Credit: Blue Origin

The U.S. Air Force has contracted with commercial spaceflight company Blue Origin for the use of its New Glenn reusable rocket to launch its National Security Space (NSS) missions.

Known as a Launch Services Agreement (LSA), the contract should facilitate development of a unique New Glenn vehicle that will meet NSS program needs. These include vertical payload integration capability, a fully reusable first stage, a single configuration for all missions, a capacity for carrying two times the payload of any current launch vehicle, highly reliable all liquid propulsion, and 95 percent weather availability.

Additionally, it is hoped that the contract will leverage private investment in the development and commercial competitiveness in the New Glenn rocket.

NSS missions using New Glenn are planned to launch out of Vandenberg Air Force Base located in California.

Federal law requires that the U.S. to maintain a minimum of two domestic launch service providers via private-public partnerships, a goal this contract will meet.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter. 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,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer.”

Congress is requiring an end to reliance on foreign rocket propulsion systems and a speeding up of NSS programs. Since 2003, the Air Force has launched 72 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service Agreements, which made use of the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.

“Since the early days of the space program, the Air Force has been a world leader in space launch,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in a press release. “As space becomes more contested, and our adversaries develop new capabilities to thwart our advantage, we are fielding our space capabilities to ensure we remain the best in the business.”

Contracts for EELV mission launch systems were also awarded to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The NSS was established to carry national security satellites to Earth orbit.




Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Reader Comments

Absolutely zero mention of SpaceX ? Hmmmmmm…… Falcon 9 was certified for NSS launches in January 2016 , and the Falcon Heavy was certified in June of this year. New Glenn and it’s BE-4 methane engine haven’t even flown.

Sounds like SpaceX is being punished for doing the same thing on their own dime, while Blue gets all that money they don’t need for screwing around for 18 years.

Is it me, or does anyone else think part of this decision was to ensure NASA wasn’t the only player with a vaporware rocket? Kinda of a “Hey, yea, the SLS is nowhere to be found, but see, that’s normal for the industry” type thing.

It boggles the mind that Bezos can fly a non-orbital rocket to just barely the edge of space… and then get a contract for a full-on re-usable, orbital, heavy launch vehicle.

Agree – sounds extremely fishy – SpaceX has a track record and blue has been playing catchup – money talks

James Lunar Miner

SpaceX has been getting Prompt Global Strike and other military rocketry contracts and easy government development money and valuable technical and other government help almost from its beginning and years before it put anything into orbit.

Nonetheless, by December 2008 SpaceX was a financial disaster and then our always ‘wonderfully clean, proper, and trustworthy’ government insiders quickly stepped in to offer potentially billions of dollars in government contract money to SpaceX.

A never to be answered question is, “Did any government insiders, or their ‘good friends’, make millions (or billions) of dollars from insider knowledge about the significance and strength of SpaceX’s political, national security, or military insider connections?”

Is President Donald Trump going to clean up our amazingly
‘profitable’ Insider Deep State?

Time will tell.

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