WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force will delay a planned bulk order of Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets from United Launch Alliance (ULA) at least a year, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Air Force was expected to award ULA a contract this summer for a total of 46 rockets to cover military launch needs from 2013 to 2017. However, the service now plans to award a single-year bridge contract no sooner than October, according to the July 26 report, “Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle: DOD Is Addressing Knowledge Gaps in Its New Acquisition Strategy.”

The bridge contract is meant to give the Air Force enough time to complete a review of Atlas and Delta costs before making a long-term contractual commitment. Preliminary findings are expected this summer, the GAO said.

Air Force spokeswoman Christina Greer declined immediate comment on the report.

The block buy strategy was touted as a way to stabilize the spike in satellite launch costs the military has experienced following the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, which for 30 years had been a steady customer for the U.S. rocket propulsion industry and its suppliers.

However, the strategy has drawn criticism from some in Congress — and from potential ULA competitors — who say a block buy would lock the Air Force into higher-than-necessary launch costs.



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.