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Shelby praises ‘great news’ for Alabama as ULA is awarded nearly $1 billion to develop new rocket

The U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday that it is awarding $967 million to United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop its new Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The funding came as part of the Air Force’s efforts to encourage the development of competing launch system prototypes geared toward launching national security payloads. Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman were also awarded funding, albeit significantly less than ULA, who operates a production facility in Decatur that is tasked with work on the Vulcan rocket.

The Air Force is committing the sizable funding in response to a congressional mandate to transition away from reliance on Russian rocket propulsion systems and the planned retirement of ULA’s Delta 4 rocket. By 2022, the company will no longer be able to use Atlas 5 rockets powered by the Russian RD-180 engine to fly military satellites.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) praised the news, which will have a positive impact on Alabama’s skyrocketing aerospace industry.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. “We’re making the most of the authorities Congress gave us and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn