Blue Origin might become the second American rocket company to establish an agreement with the US military to study how space vehicles could be used to deliver freight around the world. At the National Defense Transportation Association’s fall conference on October 20, Thomas Martin, Blue Origin’s head of national security projects, said, “We’re in conversations with US Transportation Command.”
Martin talked as part of a panel about the importance of space in the military logistics. Last year, the US Transportation Command inked a collaborative research and development contract, or CRADA, with SpaceX as well as Exploration Architecture Corp. (XArc) to investigate how to incorporate space rockets into military transportation networks.
Blue Origin has officially replied to a Transportation Command request for information, according to Martin, but has yet to determine whether to proceed with a CRADA. The CRADAs with XArc and SpaceX, according to Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, who works as the deputy commander of US Transportation Command, were the product of conversations he had with the command’s former leader, Gen. Stephen Lyons, in 2018.
Elon Musk’s concept of creating a permanent human habitation on Mars, with SpaceX’s Starship rockets transporting people and enormous tons of cargo to as well as from the red planet, had caught Lyons’ attention. Lyons was interested in this proposal, according to Mewbourne, not only for interplanetary transportation but also for terrestrial point-to-point logistics. “It just got the juices going and unlocked the way to where we are now,” he said. “We’re hoping to attract other stakeholders that want to embark on a discovery adventure with us,” Mewbourne added.
Information is given under the CRADAs, but the government doesn’t really commit to purchasing anything. As a consumer of mobility services, the US Transportation Command will provide input to the newly formed “rocket freight” program overseen by the US Space Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory. In its proposed budget for the fiscal year 2022, the Air Force requests $47.9 million for research and rocket cargo demonstrations.
Mewbourne said he couldn’t say whether or when a protest will take place. “We have to keep up with the industry,” he remarked. “What they’re doing is groundbreaking.” The development of Starship is progressing, although the vehicle is not scheduled to fly till next year. Blue Origin’s New Glenn heavy-lift rocket is at least one year away from making its first orbital mission.
The rockets’ capabilities are, in reality, the least of the project’s concerns, according to Mewbourne. He believes that a rocket could go from Los Angeles to Guam in a time of 40 minutes, rather than the 15 hours it takes by plane. However, how rockets are incorporated into the supply chain and transportation is a problem.