A new law gives Air Force some wiggle room in picking its new rockets

Enlarge / Blue Origin's BE-4 engine hot fire test could have major implications for the next round of Air Force contract awards. (credit: Blue Origin)

On Monday, US aerospace companies submitted their final bids to capture some of the $1.2 billion on offer from the Air Force over the next five years to develop new launch systems for military purposes. The “Launch Services Agreement” competition has been closely watched in the aerospace industry, because the winners will help determine the future of US rocketry.

Through the competition, the Air Force seeks to end its dependence on Russian-made engines to get its spy and communications satellites into space. It wants commercial companies to provide two US-manufactured launch systems that can meet all of the national security requirements, including the launch of complex and heavy payloads.

Previously for this program, the Air Force has invested in technology development, and in 2016 it provided rocket engine development awards to SpaceX, Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance, and Aerojet Rocketdyne. In future awards, the Air Force is likely to eventually winnow the number of participants. But which way would it go?

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