The United States Space Force announced it awarded four companies contracts to invest in the development of “next generation rocket engine testing and upper stage resiliency enhancements.” The four aerospace companies that were awarded contracts under the Space Systems Command (SSC) Fiscal Year 2021 are: SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Rocket Lab, and Blue Origin. The contracts are part of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC).
The U.S. Space Force SSC awarded SpaceX a $14.47 million contract to work on a 'prototype project' to develop Starship’s Raptor engine. The award announcement specifically states that under the contract SpaceX will conduct a series of tests: “Raptor Rapid Throttling and Restart Testing; Liquid Methane Specification Development and Testing; and Combustion Stability Analysis and Testing” of Starship’s Raptor engines. The two-stage launch vehicle is set to become the world’s most powerful rocket, capable of carrying over 100 tons of cargo to orbit. Starship is equipped with three sea-level Raptor engines for atmospheric flight and three vacuum-optimized Raptors for propulsion in space. The Super Heavy rocket booster is set to have up to 32 Raptor engines, that are fueled with cryogenic liquid methane and liquid oxygen. SpaceX is developing the Starship/Super Heavy rocket at its Starbase facility in South Texas. The company aims to conduct the first orbital Starship flight test with 29 Raptor engines before this year ends, pending regulatory approval.
The other companies received SSC contracts to develop other applications for their launch systems. United Launch Alliance was awarded $24.35 million for Uplink Command and Control for Centaur V. Rocket Lab was awarded $24.35 million for Upper Stage Development for Neutron launch vehicle. And Blue Origin also received a contract valued at $24.35 million for Cryogenic Fluid Management for Glenn Stage 2 vehicle.
“Prototype projects for orbital transfer and maneuver are anticipated for award in early FY22 [Fiscal Year 2022], pending congressional approval of the FY22 budget request,” the U.S. Space Force representatives wrote in a press release on September 24. “Our Launch Industry is the envy of the World and we are excited to partner with industry to advance transformational space access capabilities,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SSC’s Launch Enterprise. “We have also been very pleased with the exceptional acquisition flexibility and speed provided by SpEC.”
"SpEC continues to infuse innovation across the space enterprise, and we’re thrilled to see the NSSL program leverage SpEC to prototype next generation launch systems,” said Col. Brian Denaro, program executive officer for Space Development and director of SSC’s Space Development Corps which manages the SpEC program.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX