Rocket Lab gets US military funding for new rocket

26 Sep 2021 12:35 PM | Mike Hearn (Administrator)

Rocket Lab has secured US$24.35 million ($34m) from the US Air Force's new Space Force division to develop the upper stage of its Neutron rocket, according to multiple US news reports.

The Kiwi-American company could not be immediately reached for comment, and at press time had not released any statement.

The crew-capable Neutron, which will be able to lift an 8-tonne payload into orbit, is due to launch in 2024.

The $24.35m funding revealed overnight is part of a wider US$87.5m round to support new technology development programmes by private space-launch operators.

Space Force also awarded US$24.35m to the Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin toward development of its planned New Glenn heavy-lifting rocket.

The same amount went to Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance toward its pending Vulcan Centaur heavy-lifting rocket.

And the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX received US$14.47m toward the development of its planned "super-heavy" lifting Starship rocket.

According to Space News, the grants were awarded following a request-for-proposal process initiated by Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center, which has since been renamed Space Systems Command in May.

The tender was managed by the US Air Force's Space Enterprise Consortium, which Space News says "was created by the Air Force in 2017 to attract startups and commercial companies from the space industry to bid on military projects".

The US$87.5m funding round was designed to help build capabilities that will allow the recipients to bid for national security launch service contracts.

The funds will be allocated in 2022, subject to Congressional approval for Rocket Lab, Blue Origin and UAL (SpaceX gained approval through an earlier process).

Long ties, close ties

Rocket Lab, which won a key R&D contract with US Department of Defense agency Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) at a key time in its young life, has long had close ties to the US military which, along with Nasa, has been one of its two biggest customers.