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Blue Origin protests Air Force launch competition

Artist's illustration of a rocket in flight above clouds
An artist's illustration of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket in flight. Photo: Blue Origin

Blue Origin is protesting the Air Force's methods for finding 2 companies to launch national security payloads through the mid-2020s.

Why it matters: If chosen, the companies will effectively lock in billions of dollars in revenue, undertaking a 60/40 split of national security launches between 2022 and 2026.

The big picture: Blue Origin, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance are all expected to compete to launch these payloads, and it would be a boon for their bottom lines.

  • "The demand for rockets really can't support all the providers. So it's a kind of vicious fight to stay alive," John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told Axios of the competition earlier this year.

The state of play: In a fact sheet, Blue Origin claims that the Air Force's request for proposals is "flawed" and favors incumbents — SpaceX and United Launch Alliance — that have launched missions for the Air Force in recent years.

  • A redacted copy of the protest filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office and obtained by Axios accuses the Air Force of using "ambiguous" selection criteria, making it difficult to write a competitive proposal.
  • The protest also claims that the way the request for proposals stands now will result in a "duopoly" that restricts competition.
  • A source with knowledge of the situation told Axios that the protest comes after conversations with the Air Force expressing these concerns.

Context: If chosen, Blue Origin would use its New Glenn rocket to launch these national security payloads. That rocket is expected to make its first flight in 2021, after the government agency has already chosen its launch providers.

Meanwhile, the Air Force awarded Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance millions of dollars in 2018 to aid in the development of their new launch systems and meet stringent demands for national security-related launches.

Go deeper: Space companies fight for cash with rockets on the line