The US Air Force is reportedly close to making a decision on an extremely important set of contracts covering future ‘Launch Service Agreements’.
NASA has just held a series of Advisory Council meetings, where administrator Jim Bridenstine briefed that NASA believed not just in reusable rockets, but that “private” companies would be playing a major role in future space developments.
A report in trade publication Space News says that a delayed suite of three key contracts, initially expected in July, will now likely be announced this month.
The US Air Force, in the past, has made extensive use of the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the 2005 joint-venture between the rocket divisions of Boeing and Lockheed Martin back in 2006, and bringing together the twin favorites and work-horses of Boeing-designed Delta rockets, and the Atlas rockets of Lockheed. Both were extremely reliable and popular with NASA, but expensive.
More recently, there are three new entrants: SpaceX, Northrop Grumman’s Orbital ATK, and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, each seeking governmental orders.
The appeal of SpaceX and Blue Origin is in their dramatically lower cost helped by their core reusability.
Space News reports that ULA is a strong contender for one of the Agreements. SpaceX, already a favoured contractor by NASA, is also a probable finalist. The final list is expected to name a third ‘finalist’ but there might be a fudge, in that the Air Force might help fund projects at both Northrop Grumman as well as Blue Origin.