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Mr Musk’s SpaceX won one of two contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to phase out Russian rocket technology. The rocket firm was competing with Blue Origin – owned by Amazon CEO Mr Bezos – for the spot.
The US Air Force said it had decided to use SpaceX’s Falcon rocket models instead of Blue Origin’s competing rocket called New Glenn.
Mr Bezos’ firm said it was “disappointed” on hearing the US Air Force’s decision.
Blue Origin said: “We submitted an incredibly compelling offer for the national security community and the U.S. taxpayer.
“Blue Origin’s offer was based on New Glenn’s heavy-lift performance, unprecedented private investment of more than $2.5 billion, and a very competitive single basic launch service price for any mission across the entire ordering period.”
The company said it remained “confident” New Glenn would be able to “play a critical role” in US national security in the future.
However, Blue Origin will not be left out of the programme completely – its engines will still be used.
The other contract was awarded to yet another spacecraft firm – United Launch Alliance – which will eventually use its upcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket for the US Air Force missions.
The Vulcan makes use of BE-4 engines – built by Blue Origin – as its powerhouse.
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Blue Origin appeared to take solace in this fact, and said it was “very proud” its engines would power the Vulcan during the US Air Force’s programme.
In any case, the US Air Force said the contracts it awarded to SpaceX and ULA marked a “new epoch of space launch that will finally transition the department off Russian RD-180 engines.”
Already, analysts are referring to a new space race in the US driven by billionaires developing brand new rockets.
Colonel Robert Bongiovi, director of the US Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Launch Enterprise, said the decision had been a difficult one to make.
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He said: “This was an extremely tough decision and I appreciate the hard work industry completed to adapt their commercial launch systems to affordably and reliably meet our more stressing national security requirements.
“I look forward to working with ULA and SpaceX as we progress towards our first Phase 2 launches.”
The first missions under the US Air Force’s new contracts will begin in 2022.
The new contracts were announced after the US said it wanted to stop using Russian rocket technology in order to get things into space, according to Forbes.
This has opened the door for more space innovation in the US among private companies vying for lucrative government contracts.
These are not always for defence – NASA also pays private US firms to conduct launches for it.
Most recently, it used SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to return two NASA astronauts – Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken – to Earth after a two-month stint on the International Space Station.
The same SpaceX capsule also delivered the astronauts there in what was a world-first achievement for a private firm.
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