The big news in the space business last week wasn’t that Boeing and SpaceX won contracts to develop astronaut capsules for NASA. That was expected. The big (in fact, stunning) news was that United Launch Alliance will team with Blue Origin to develop a next-generation rocket engine. Blue Origin has been privately funded by internet entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast, so the new partnership sets up a “dueling billionaires” dynamic with Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the race to transform the launch sector. Nobody expected ULA to make such a bold move, embracing Blue Origin’s unique liquid natural gas/liquid oxygen engine technology. But there are a lot of details that still haven’t been spelled out, like how the Atlas launch vehicle will need to be modified and how engine design-development-testing-integration-certification will be funded. The biggest question is how long Washington will tolerate reliance on Russian-built engines for ULA’s Atlas V vehicle, since the new engine won’t be ready for flight until 2019. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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