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