WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force will delay a planned bulk order of Atlas 5 and4 rockets from ( ) 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.