Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin won a $500-million U.S. Air Force contract for development of its New Glenn rocket, marking a major vote of confidence by the U.S. military in the Kent, Wash., space company.
Blue Origin was one of three companies to win an Air Force contract award under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, which intends to ensure there are domestic providers to launch national security payloads. The awards were announced Wednesday afternoon.
Northrop Grumman Corp., which acquired Orbital ATK Inc. this year, won a $791.6-million contract for development of its Omega rocket. A joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. known as United Launch Alliance won the largest amount — $967 million — for work on its Vulcan Centaur rocket.
Each company will initially be allocated $181 million.
Currently, ULA and SpaceX are the only launch providers for national security payloads.
Bezos, who also serves as Amazon.com Inc.’s chief executive, said in September he would personally invest $1 billion in New Glenn. Bezos tweeted a thank-you message Wednesday to the Air Force for its “confidence in the Blue Origin team.”
“We are proud to serve the national security space community and are committed to providing safe, reliable access to space for the nation.”
Work on the launch system is expected to be completed by July 2024, according to a Defense Department contract notice. New Glenn is expected to reach initial launch capability in 2020.
The company said in a tweet that the Air Force contract will help it “pursue a Vandenberg launch site” and get certified to launch national security missions. Blue Origin is developing a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Wednesday’s contract award notice is a double victory of sorts for Blue Origin. The company will also be providing the engines to power the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket.
The funding awards, however, are not necessarily a guarantee that these companies will win launch contracts in the future, the Air Force said in a statement. SpaceX and other companies that did not receive one of Wednesday’s awards can still bid for future launch contracts.
The Air Force said it would not discuss which companies submitted bids for the funding agreements.
4:15 p.m.: This article was updated to include comment from Blue Origin and more details of the competition.
This article was originally published at 3:15 p.m.