Pentagon awards United Launch Alliance, SpaceX launch contracts

Intense competition for Pentagon contracts amid a US mandate to curb dependency on Russian technology saw Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance win big. Left: the ULA Vulcan Rocket. (AP)
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Updated 09 August 2020

Pentagon awards United Launch Alliance, SpaceX launch contracts

  • The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years

WASHINGTON: The US Air Force said it awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX $653 million in combined military launch contracts under the Pentagon’s next-generation, multibillion-dollar launch capability program.

The contracts are for launch service orders beginning in 2022 and allocate $337 million to ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., and $316 million to SpaceX for the first missions of roughly 34 total that the two rocket firms will support through 2027.

ULA will receive a contract for approximately 60 percent of those launch service orders using its next-generation Vulcan rocket, while Musk’s SpaceX, using its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, will receive approximately 40 percent, the Air Force’s acquisition chief Will Roper told reporters on Friday.

The awards are part of the Pentagon’s 2014 mandate from Congress to curb its dependency on rockets using Russia’s RD-180 engine and transition to US-made rockets for launching Washington’s most sensitive national security payloads to space.

The program, called National Security Space Launch Phase 2, is aimed at “building a competitive industry base that we hope doesn’t just help military and national security missions, but that helps our nation continue to compete and dominate in space,” Roper added.

“Today’s awards mark a new epoch of space launch thatwill finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines,” Roper said in a statement.

The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years that competitors Blue Origin, the space company of Inc. owner Jeff Bezos, and Northrop Grumman also competed for.

Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the Pentagon’s decision, adding that the company will continue to develop its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket “to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts.”

UAE’s MeznSat satellite set for launch in Russia

Updated 28 September 2020

UAE’s MeznSat satellite set for launch in Russia

DUBAI: MeznSat, the UAE Space Agency’s latest satellite, is set for launch from the Plesetsk space center in northwestern Russia today as part of the country’s ambitious space strategy.

MeznSat, which detects greenhouse gas concentrations, was built by students from the Khalifa University and the American University of Ras Al Khaimah. The probe once in orbit will send data to the two universities’ ground stations, where it will be analyzed and processed, state news agency WAM reported

“Climate change has widely been attributed to the increase in GHGs in the atmosphere as a result of human activities. The impacts of climate change are expected to include shortage of water quantity and quality in most arid and semi-arid areas, and low agricultural productivity throughout the tropics and subtropics, accompanied by damage to ecosystems and biodiversity in these areas, and changes in forests and other ecosystems,” the space agency said in its website.

“Carbon Dioxide and Methane are the two most prevalent Greenhouse gases. Both emissions (methane and carbon dioxide) have to be addressed and monitored in order to effectively reduce the impact of climate change,” it added

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of UAE, earlier reviewed plans to send the first Arab mission to the moon by 2024 to be manned by Emirati astronauts.

The UAE’s new 2021-2031 strategy particularly covers the Mars Exploration Project “Hope Probe” 2117 Strategy, the Astronaut Program, the Satellite Development Program and the UAE Space Sector Sustainability Program.