How Blue Origin is trying to rework the rules of the Air Force’s coveted rocket competition
On Monday, August 12th, aerospace company Blue Origin filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), arguing that the Air Force is running a “flawed” competition to pick the agency’s next round of launch providers for national security missions. There’s a good chance this last-ditch protest could change the terms of the competition before final selections are made, but shifting the rules in favor of Blue Origin won’t guarantee that the company is chosen in the end.
The day that Blue Origin filed the protest was the same day that proposals were due for the Air Force’s Launch Service Procurement program. The initiative aims to select two rocket companies that will launch all of the Air Force’s missions to space from 2022 to 2026. The Air Force wants one company to support 60 percent of the launches, and the second will handle the other 40 percent. The contracts for these missions are potentially worth billions of dollars combined and could ultimately give them an edge in future Air Force competitions. Being selected as part of this program is a matter of life and death for some launch providers.
Four companies are officially competing for the coveted contracts, including Blue Origin, SpaceX, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), and Northrop Grumman. Three of these companies — all except SpaceX — received millions of dollars from the Air Force last year to further development of their vehicles. Those that aren’t selected will stop receiving their funding, raising the stakes for some in the competition, including Blue Origin.
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