3 companies win major Air Force rocket contracts

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According to the Air Force, it had to develop a strategy that can accelerate domestic companies' quest to get National Security Space launch requirements.

"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 Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

OmegA will provide intermediate - to heavy-class launch services for the Department of Defense, civil government and commercial customers.

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance to develop and test three launch system prototypes that could deliver future military space payloads.

Blue Origin Blue Origin will take home $500 million to aid in the development of its future New Glenn rocket. The contracts are to develop rockets and carry defence payloads into space. With major propulsion and structural elements of OmegA already complete, Northrop Grumman is on schedule to complete propulsion system ground tests in 2019 and conduct its first launch in 2021.

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Blue Origin has announced on Twitter that it will pursue a launch site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, so the New Glenn can blast off either from the California base or from Cape Canaveral in Florida. And United Launch Alliance - a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing - received a $967 million award for development of its Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

"Since the early days of the space program, the Air Force has been a world leader in space launch", said Air Force Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein.

The Atlas 5's use of Russian-built RD-180 first stage engines has generated widespread controversy in recent years, but the new Vulcan Centaur will use two of Blue Origin's BE-4 engines in its first stage and Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engines in the Centaur second stage.

The Air Force said it would not discuss which companies submitted bids for the funding agreements.