Pentagon chose launchers of new generation to replace Atlas V

WARSAW, (BM) – The US Department of Defense selected contractors in a tender to service the next multi-year cycle of national security and defense space launches, learned citing Space24.

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Two operators have been selected, whose new generation systems will make it possible to withdraw from use the rockets of United Launch Alliance, which have been in operation for many years – with particular emphasis on Atlas V systems, based on the Russian RD-180 engine.

The long-lasting and “turbulent” tender under the National Security Space Launch (formerly Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) program concerned the implementation of 34 priority missions in the area of ​​security and defense, planned for the budget years 2022-2027. Four bidders took part in the second phase of the competition, announced in March 2019: United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin. Three of them had previously obtained development contacts in the first stage of the order – in October 2018.

In that procedure, Blue Origin received USD 500 million for the development of the New Glenn rocket, United Launch Alliance – USD 967 million for the Vulcan-Centaur rocket project, and Northrop Grumman – USD 762 million for the development of the OmegA carrier system (formerly NGL, developed even during by Northropa in 2018 by Orbital ATK).

In the second round of the tender, the Pentagon focused on obtaining specific services with the use of previously considered rocket proposals. A total of USD 653 million was allocated for this purpose. Most of this amount ($ 337 million) will go to United Launch Alliance, which has been allocated 60 percent. the entire number of planned flights (their specific build-up is subject to change).

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The ULA consortium (including Lockheed Martin and Boeing) has entered into a tender for the aforementioned Vulcan-Centaur two-stage rocket, a new design powered by Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. The remaining 40 percent. the mission was entrusted – for the amount of USD 316 million – to be fulfilled by SpaceX. Elona Muska wants to use the existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy load-bearing systems for this purpose – the only ones so far certified by the American government from the entire pool of designs submitted.

So when it comes to the selection of contractors for national space missions, the situation in the USA remains unchanged. Both ULA and SpaceX are already state-owned operators of launches with military satellites (also as part of the next-generation GPS constellation deployment program). In the currently implemented formula, ULA was based on Atlas V and Delta IV missiles. SpaceX, on the other hand, obtained the Falcon 9 approval for flights with military equipment in 2015 – and the same happened in 2019 with the Falcon Heavy.

The replacement of the valued Atlas V missiles is dictated not only by the commercialization and implementation of reusable technologies, but primarily by the abandonment of the use of the Russian RD-180 engines, which are the main propulsion unit for these ULA missiles. The second stage of the NSSL tender marks a decisive point in the transition to new rocket engines.

This is also enforced by legislation designed to end the Pentagon’s dependence on Russian-powered missiles. By law, the Department of Defense will not be able to use carrier systems based on Russian technologies after December 31, 2022.

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In the context of the announced results of the recently completed tender, two of the unselected companies expressed their disappointment. Jeff Bezos’s company, Blue Origin, which is partially on the contract as a subcontractor and engine supplier for the new ULA rocket, already voiced protests last year about the alleged “flaws” of the tender and its flawed competitiveness. At the moment, however, there are no confirmed reports that Blue Origin or Northrop Grumman planned to file complaints about the outcome of the proceedings announced on August 7.

It is known, however, that despite the negative result for itself, Blue Origin does not intend to stop developing the New Glenn super-heavy rocket. Although the cost of its development and implementation was calculated at USD 2.5 billion, the company has a growing pool of commercial orders and a strong financial background of its founder, who is also the head of Amazon. The OmegA project with the Northrop Grumman logo, which is associated with the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) program for the NASA Space Launch System, is in a slightly different situation. As the representatives of the company themselves emphasize, the participation in the lost order was secondary to its main projects.

American commentators pay attention in particular to the rapid rise in the importance of SpaceX to the role of the favorite of government commissions, which often had to apply in courts for admission to previous orders. In the end, in the newest one, Elon Muska started as the sole owner – out of four suppliers – of the latest generation flying carrier system.

Still, it was ULA – managed by Tory Bruno since 2014 – that retained the position of the main operator. In this case, the ongoing work on the new system does not constitute a particular limitation, taking into account the long-term, effective and failure-free provision of services to the US Armed Forces.

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