The Air Force said the OTAs awarded through a competitive acquisition process are part of its plan to competitively select two domestic commercial service providers that can support the launch of national security payloads by fiscal 2020.
The Air Force program dates back to 2003, and is an effort to modernize the Air Force's rocket fleet and move it away from its reliance on ULA's Delta II rocket, which was costly, and ULA's Atlas V rocket, which used Russian RD-180 engines. The program aids in the development of commercial rockets and ensures that the USA government has constant access to space for its national security payloads. This does not mean the company will not be able to launch satellites for the Department of Defense (DOD), though.
The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance to develop and test three launch system prototypes that could deliver future military space payloads. United Launch Alliance will take home the lion's share of $967 million, which will go towards developing its Vulcan rocket.
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, awarded $500 million for the preliminary work, will build its New Glenn Launch System.
Kim Jong Un invites Pope Francis to North Korea
It also provides for a reduction of weaponry and guards at the border and the defining of sections of the Demilitarised Zone. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed displeasure about the Koreas' military agreement.
Air Force to "leverage its commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space missions", according to a news release.
The United States Air Force has awarded defense contracts worth over $2 Billion, to three companies.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the program "is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow's Air Force faster and smarter".
The Atlas 5's use of Russian-built RD-180 first stage engines has generated widespread controversy in recent years, but the new Vulcan Centaur will use two of Blue Origin's BE-4 engines in its first stage and Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engines in the Centaur second stage. The Air Force sought at least two USA companies that could meet all of its requirements and needs over the coming years.