"These awards are a leap forward in space launch capabilities, ensuring continued USA dominance in space", said Dr. William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.
The public-private partnerships will ensure "the USA maintains assured access to space, with at least two domestic launch service providers and without reliance on non-allied rocket propulsion systems".
The awards go to Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin; United Launch Services, part of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp; and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.
Blue Origin's and Northrop's prototype vehicles for military launches are expected to be ready to fly by late 2024 and ULA's Vulcan rocket development should be completed by March 2025. The company is receiving $791.6 million to develop their Omega rocket.
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International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom also said to have "deep concerns". Earlier on Thursday, May told Northern Ireland journalists that Irish border talks would likely continue until November.
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Two of the new rockets will be selected in a second competition, providing assured access to space through the next decade and beyond. 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 LSA partnership enables rapid buildout of NSS-unique "New Glenn" infrastructure such as vertical payload integration capability and a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base as well as completion of NSS certification activities. Design work on the vehicle began in 2012.
Blue Origin won a $500 million contract to help develop its New Glenn booster, a rocket with a fully reusable first stage powered by seven BE-4 engines burning liquefied natural gas. Like the New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle that preceded it, the New Glenn's first stage is created to be reusable. Finally, Blue Origin will receive $500 million to help in the development of its future New Glenn rocket, which are supposed to be able to come back to earth in one piece after launching their payloads - a technology SpaceX has already developed, and almost perfected. SpaceX was not listed among the award recipients. This does not mean the company will not be able to launch satellites for the Department of Defense (DOD), though.