US Space Force awards $87.5M to Rocket Lab, SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA for next-gen rocket testing

The U.S. Space Force, the military branch spun out of the Air Force in December 2019, has announced its next batch of awards for projects related to next-gen rocket engine testing and upper-stage improvements.

The awards were granted by the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), a program managed by the Space Force’s Space Systems Command. SpEC facilitates engagement between the U.S. Department and Defense and the space industry, by allowing its nearly 600 members to compete for contracts. The awards, which total $87.5 million, were granted to four launch companies:

  • Blue Origin, which will receive $24.3 million to develop cryogenic fluid management for the upper stage of the New Glenn rocket.
  • United Launch Alliance, which will get $24.3 million for uplink command and control for its new Vulcan Centaur two-stage heavy-lift rocket.
  • Rocket Lab, whose contract award is also $24.3 million, one of the highest in the company’s history. Those funds will go toward upper-stage development of the company’s forthcoming Neutron medium-lift rocket.
  • SpaceX, which will get $14.4 million for combustion stability analysis and testing of its Raptor rocket engine.

SpaceX and ULA are already established launch providers for the U.S. government under the Space Force’s National Security Space Launch program. Both Rocket Lab and Blue Origin will be able to compete for the next series of launch procurement contracts in 2024. These latest contracts are a sign that the two companies are gearing up to submit their bids. (Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman lost to SpaceX and ULA in 2020.)

Regarding the new award, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement that it is a “vote of confidence” in the Neutron rocket. “We’ve built a trusted launch system with Electron, and we’ll do it again with Neutron to continue providing unfettered access to space with our new heavier-lift vehicle.”