Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win $80 Million in Air Force Rocket Propulsion Agreements

Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win $80 Million in Air Force Rocket Propulsion Agreements

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has awarded Orbital ATK and SpaceX a total of $80 million in “Other Transaction Agreements” (OTAs) for work connected to its efforts to develop a U.S. alternative to Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines.

SMC characterized the awards of $46.9 million to Orbital ATK and $33.6 million to SpaceX as “initial government contributions” for Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) prototypes.  The OTAs are similar to NASA’s Space Act Agreements and are part of the move towards public private partnerships for developing new space hardware.  SMC says that it is still negotiating with other offerors and all of the awards are part of a portfolio of planned investments “in industry’s RPS solutions.”   Companies could submit proposals for addressing a range of requirements for the national security space sector from developing a new RPS to modifying an existing RPS to addressing high risk items for an RPS or subcomponents, or testing of qualifying a new or existing RPS.

The award to Orbital ATK is for development of the Common Booster Segment main stage, the  Graphite Epoxy Motor 63XL strap-on booster, and an extendable nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U/EN upper stage engine.  SpaceX’s award is for development and testing of its Raptor upper stage.

The national security sector currently relies on the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV and Atlas V Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).  The Atlas V is powered by Russia’s RD-180 engines and the strained U.S.-Russian relationship following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other actions in Ukraine galvanized political pressure to end that reliance on Russia.   The Air Force and ULA agree on the need to build a U.S. alternative, but disagree with those, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who want to set 2019 as a firm date for ending use of the RD-180.

Orbital ATK said in a statement that the $47 million award has options valued up to $133 million and “the company will also contribute additional development funds.”  The SMC announcement stated that for all of these awards “at least one third” of the total cost would be paid by “parties to the transactions other than the federal government.”

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