United Launch Alliance has picked Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine to power the upper stage of its next-generation Vulcan rocket, the second such contract Aerojet has secured in as many months.
The Launch Service Agreement fits the Air Force’s broader goal to get out of the business of “buying rockets” and instead acquire end-to-end services from companies.
United Launch Alliance plans to increase its activities in the commercial launch market using both the current Atlas and future Vulcan rockets, while acknowledging that the U.S. government will remain its major customer for the foreseeable future.
As Blue Origin continues tests of its BE-4 engine, United Launch Alliance is keeping quiet about when it might select that engine or an alternative for its Vulcan rocket.
The chief executive of United Launch Alliance said Nov. 9 that he doesn’t feel any urgency to select a main engine for his company’s next-generation Vulcan rocket, despite an impending deadline for an Air Force launch competition.
The new chief executive of Blue Origin told the National Space Council his company is in discussions about certifying its New Glenn rocket for government missions, a shift in strategy that could put the company in competition with a customer.
Research and development (R&D) costs for the AR1 rocket from the program’s inception through June 30 have reached about $228 million, according to recent Security Exchange Commission (SEC) filings by Aerojet Rocketdyne, the engine's manufacturer.
Air Force leaders didn't definitively say if they'll cut off funding, but said they're more interested in launch services than engines.
Lockheed Martin has ended its effort to return a small-to-medium-lift launch vehicle to market, and plans to keep the Atlas 5 rocket in flight concurrently with United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket for the first five years of operations.
In a letter, the representatives said the service should not provide funding for ULA's development of Vulcan unless it has "full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making."
United Launch Alliance and the U.S. Air Force signed an agreement Sept. 27 that will guide the military's certification of the Vulcan rocket ULA is developing as the successor to its Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launchers.
United Launch Alliance says reuse of its future Vulcan rocket’s first-stage engines — featuring an inflatable hypersonic decelerator to protect the engines on atmospheric reentry, then a parafoil to glide them into position for a mid-air pickup by helicopter — is far more cost-effective than SpaceX’s planned recovery and reuse of the Falcon rocket’s entire first stage.