Space Force opens door to Blue Origin with new partnership deal

With this new CRADA, the Space Force is signaling it wants to see Blue Origin challenge ULA and SpaceX

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Administration announced Nov. 18 that it has signed an agreement with Blue Origin that “paves the way” for the company’s New Glenn rocket to compete for national security launch contracts once it completes the required flight certification.

The cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) does not include any government funding and is largely symbolic, as New Glenn is still under development and Blue Origin has there is no target date for the first launch.

The National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program requires new entrants to complete at least two successful orbital launches to become certified.

The agreement was signed by Brig. General Stephen Purdy, Program Executive Officer for Assured Access to Space. and Jarrett Jones, senior vice president for New Glenn at Blue Origin.

Purdy said the CRADA “signals the restart of certification activities for Blue Origin’s New Glenn that began in 2018 when Blue Origin won a Launch Services Agreement.”

Space Systems Command terminate the LSA in December 2020, after Blue Origin lost out to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX in the NSSL Phase 2 launch services competition.

The 2018 LSA Agreements awarded to Blue Origin and other companies were public-private partnerships where both parties agreed to invest in the rocket development and infrastructure needed to compete for national security space launch contracts.

From October 2018 to December 2020, Blue Origin was paid $255.5 million. The original six-year deal was worth $500 million.

In return for the investment, Blue Origin was to grant limited rights to data and hardware developed by the companies under the agreements.

With this new CRADA, the Space Force is signaling it wants to see Blue Origin challenge ULA and SpaceX when their five-year contracts are up for re-competition in 2024. Requests for bids for NSSL Phase 3 could go public sometime in 2023.

“This agreement paves the way for Blue Origin to compete for the next NSSL launch services competition and is an example of how we are enhancing competition and leveraging industry innovation,” said Purdy. “I look forward to Blue Origin completing the development of New Glenn and competing for the opportunity to win NSSL launch services.”

Having more competitors “will help us meet an important national defense imperative to develop advanced capabilities in space and get capabilities into the hands of our warfighters faster,” he said.

To qualify for NSSL awards, New Glenn “must successfully complete certification flights and provide design and certification data to enable AATS [assured access to space program office] to conduct the independent verification and validation process,” the Space Systems Administration said.

Jones said Blue Origin “is proud to partner with Space Force on our journey to become a fully certified National Security Space Launch provider.”

Blue Origin in recent months has not commented on when New Glenn is expected to complete development or when it might make its first launch. The heavy load reusable rocket — first introduced in 2016 — is slated to take off from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The booster will be powered by seven BE-4 engines that Blue Origin co-developed with ULA. The first two BE-4s were recently delivered to ULA for the company’s first Vulcan Centaur launch. CEO of ULA Tory Bruno said it the engines so far are performing well and expects to launch the Vulcan in the first quarter of 2023.

Blue Origin in 2020 announced plans to build BE-4 and other engines in Huntsville, Alabama.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *