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Space Force Awards Launch Prototype Awards to SpaceX, ULA, Rocket Lab, and Blue Origin

By Rachel Jewett | September 27, 2021

Seal of The United States Space Force

The U.S. Space Force‘s Space Systems Command (SSC) has awarded about $88 million in development contracts to U.S. launch providers for next generation rocket engine testing and upper stage resiliency enhancements. SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA), Rocket Lab, and Blue Origin received the awards announced Sept. 24. 

SpaceX will receive $14.47 million for Raptor rapid throttling and restart testing; liquid methane specification development and testing; and combustion stability analysis and testing. ULA will receive $24.35 million for uplink command and control for Centaur V. Rocket Lab will receive $24.35 million for development of the Neutron rocket upper stage, and Blue origin will receive $24.35 million for cryogenic fluid management for the New Glenn rocket second stage. 

These were awarded under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program using the Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC). Further prototype projects for orbital transfer and maneuver are anticipated to be awarded in fiscal year 2022, pending congressional approval. 

The open procurement competition for NSSL Phase 3 will take place in fiscal year 2024. SpaceX and ULA came out on top in Phase 2 to launch missions through 2024. 

For Rocket Lab, this award means the Neutron rocket could be a contender for an NSSL launch contract. Rocket Lab announced plans for the medium-lift Neutron rocket along with its plans to go public through a special purpose acquisition (SPAC) in March 2021. The company is targeting a first launch for Neutron in 2024.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck commented: “We’re dedicated to building a next-generation rocket that will transform space access for constellations through to the most critical missions in support of national security, and it’s an honor to be partnering with the U.S. Space Force to develop Neutron. This award is a vote of confidence in Neutron.”