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The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built For the Next Decade

The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday awarded funds to three rocket companies to help them complete development of their boosters. The three winners include:
United Launch Services: $967,000,000 for the development of the Vulcan Centaur launch system.
Northrop Grumman: $791,601,015 for development of the Omega launch system
Blue Origin: $500,000,000 for the development of the New Glenn launch system
The obvious company missing from the list is SpaceX, which did not win an award. Aerojet Rocketdyne also failed to win an award since it “does not appear to have a customer for its AR1 rocket engine, which the military initially supported,” Ars Technica reports. From the report: These are hugely consequential awards for the rocket companies. Essentially the U.S. Air Force, which launches more complex, heavy payloads than any other entity in the world, believes these boosters will have a significant role to play in those missions during the next decade. And when the military has confidence in your vehicle, commercial satellite contracts are more likely to follow as well. After speaking with a couple of aerospace sources, Ars has a few theories as to why SpaceX didn’t win an award: For one, SpaceX has already built and flown a rocket that can reach all of the Air Force’s reference orbits — the Falcon Heavy. Moreover, the Falcon Heavy is already certified for the Air Force and has won contracts. Air Force officials may also feel that, through NASA contracts for commercial cargo and crew, the government already facilitated development of the Falcon Heavy — which uses three Falcon 9 rocket cores. It also depends upon what SpaceX bid for. The government would have been more inclined to fund development of an advanced upper stage for the Falcon Heavy or vertical integration facilities. But it seems like the military would not have been as interested in the Big Falcon Rocket, which is more booster than it deems necessary at this time. So if SpaceX bid the BFR, that is one possible explanation for no award.

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