Other, Pentagon

SpaceX files suit over EELV block buy contract

In a sharp escalation of the ongoing debate over military launch contracts, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced Friday afternoon that the company was filing suit against the Air Force to formally protest a “block buy” contract the service made with United Launch Alliance.

In a hastily-arranged press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Musk announced that the company was filing suit in the Court of Federal Claims over a 36-core block buy contract the Air Force recently signed with ULA. The contract has been in the works for months, but Musk said the company didn’t formally learn of it until March, and exhausted all approaches other than a formal protest to deal with it.

“This is not right,” Musk said. “The national security launches should be put up for competition and they should not be awarded on a sole-source, uncompeted basis.”

He said it “seemed odd” that if SpaceX’s vehicles are suitable for NASA and commercial customers, that they would not also be able to launch something “quite simple” like a GPS satellite. SpaceX is currently working through the certification process with the Air Force to become eligible for national security payloads, but Musk questioned the timing of making the block buy award to ULA while the certification process is ongoing. “Since this is a large, multi-year contract, why not wait a few months for the certification process to complete, and then do a competition?” he asked. “That seems very reasonable to me.”

Musk, at the press conference, played up both cost and national security issues as reasons for not relying solely on ULA for EELV-class launches. A handout provided to the media attending the press conference argued that allowing SpaceX to perform such launches would create cost savings to the government of at least $1 billion per year “even under the most conservative estimates,” it stated.

“I don’t know why their rockets are so expensive. They’re insanely expensive,” Musk said of ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV. He then went on to provide some reasons why he thought they were: SpaceX’s vehicles were simpler, and of a more modern design, than the Atlas and Delta, he argued.

He also mentioned the use of the Russian-built RD-180 engine on the Atlas V first stage, going so far as to suggest that use of the engine might violate current sanctions on Russia. Musk said the Russian official with oversight of the industry, deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, is on the list of officials sanctioned by the US government in response to the Ukraine crisis. “How is it that we’re sending hundreds of millions of US taxpayers’ money at a time when Russia is in the process of invading Ukraine?” he asked. “It would be hard to imagine that Dmitry Rogozin is not benefiting personally from the dollars that are being sent there. On the surface of it, it appears that there’s a good probability of some kind of sanctions violation.”

“This is not SpaceX protesting and saying that these launches should be awarded to us,” he said at one point in the half-hour press conference, which also covered SpaceX’s progress in developing a reusable version of the Falcon 9′s first stage. “We’re just protesting and saying that these launches should be competed. If we compete and lose, that’s fine.”

163 comments to SpaceX files suit over EELV block buy contract

  • So much for honest competition. When the going gets tough the politically connected go to court. At some point the government has to buy the rockets that qualify to launch its payload. SpaceX is being given the opportunity to demonstrate reliability for the Air Force. If they do they can compete for future government launches.

    • josh

      They already did. Just how ignorant are you?

    • josh

      oh btw: what “honest competition” are you referring to again? there was zero competition for the block buy. that’s the problem.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      So much for honest NO competition.

      There, fixed that for you.

      The EELV buy was not competed, even though the Air Force procurement officials knew there were other launch competitors that were in the certification process and were already launching other government and commercial payloads successfully.

      As Musk is asking for is the American way… not sure why you are against that.

    • Fred Willett

      ULA launch under the block buy is $400M per launch with up to $60M in extras.
      SpaceX is $60M + $30M for Airforce Assurance.
      ULA = $460M vs. SpaceX = $90M.
      In the interests of the tax payer the block buy should be struck down and competition enabled.
      Or are you against competition?

      • Ad Astra

        ULA’s price includes the extensive infrastructure requirements levied by the national security community and assured access to space (vertical integration facilities, launch facilities on both coasts, maintaining dual product line, exotic environments and handling procedures for classified payloads). None of these are factored into SpaceX’s current cost estimates. Expect SpaceX’s costs to increase significantly if/when he actually gets into the National Security launch industry. They’ll probably meet somewhere in the $150-250M range once SpaceX has to satisfy the same requirements that ULA does.

        Furthermore, Falcon 9 simply doesn’t have the lift capability for many of the block buy missions. Once the Heavy actually has a few successful launches SpaceX should absolutely be allowed to compete, but what is the USG supposed to do until then? Launch integration is a process that takes YEARS.

        This lawsuit seems frivolous since SpaceX doesn’t have the manifest space or technical capability to even support the majority of the block buy missions. Perhaps the rumors of SpaceX being strapped for cash are true and the suit is to placate their investors?

        • Coastal Ron

          Ad Astra said:

          ULA’s price includes the extensive infrastructure requirements levied by the national security community and assured access to space (vertical integration facilities, launch facilities on both coasts, maintaining dual product line, exotic environments and handling procedures for classified payloads).

          Not everything you list is “added value”, and most of it really doesn’t matter.

          For instance:

          - SpaceX has already stated they will build vertical integration facilities for DoD launches, and in reality quite a few DoD payloads are already certified for horizontal integration.

          - SpaceX already has launch facilities on both coasts too, with two more launch facilities planned.

          - Maintaining dual product lines is wasteful if they overlap in capability (such as Delta IV and Atlas V), especially if there is more than one provider to provide redundancy (ULA and SpaceX would back up each other). SpaceX doesn’t need two product lines – it only adds cost.

          - As to “exotic environments and handling procedures”, that’s just infrastructure type stuff that can be put in place. SpaceX already knows what is required, and there are plenty of people they can hire away from “other launch providers” that have the required experience.

          None of these are factored into SpaceX’s current cost estimates.

          According to someone who knows, Elon Musk, yes they are.

          They’ll probably meet somewhere in the $150-250M range once SpaceX has to satisfy the same requirements that ULA does.

          Musk has already addressed this too. For a Falcon 9 mission that is currently priced at $60M, DoD overhead would add about $30M. What do you think the hundreds of $Millions of additional costs are for?

          Furthermore, Falcon 9 simply doesn’t have the lift capability for many of the block buy missions.

          I’m getting the feeling that you’re not up to speed on this topic yet. Elon Musk has stated that Falcon 9 should be able to handle about 60% of the Air Force payloads being covered by the block buy, and that he is not protesting launches that the non-reusable Falcon 9 is not able to handle.

          • Michael Kent

            “Elon Musk has stated that Falcon 9 should be able to handle about 60% of the Air Force payloads being covered by the block buy…”

            Elon Musk says a lot of things. Some of them are actually true. The last time he sued to have the courts force the Air Force to give him EELV launches was in 2005, six months before the Falcon 1 even flew and three years before it flew successfully. In that suit he tried to have the Air Force award him launches for Buy 3 for launches in FY-7 through FY-11. He said at that time that, despite having never launched any payload whatsoever into space, that not only would the Falcon 1 be a success, but that the Falcon 9 would also successfully fly in 2007.

            It did not. It didn’t fly at all until June 2010, and it didn’t fly with a payload fairing until the second-last day of FY 2013. Had those launches been awarded to SpaceX these critical national security payloads would have been launched six years late.

            The point is, defense contracts are awarded based on demonstrated contractor ability, not on the promises of its CEO.

            The Air Force has said that it looked at SpaceX’s capability, pulled the launches that SpaceX could perform out of the block buy, and awarded ULA the launches that SpaceX couldn’t perform. It’s a reasonable approach to me.

            • Coastal Ron

              Michael Kent said:

              The last time he sued to have the courts force the Air Force to give him EELV launches was in 2005…

              No, SpaceX did not sue the Air Force (i.e. U.S. Government), they sued Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

              Specifically, “In court documents filed Oct. 19 [2005], SpaceX is suing Boeing and Lockheed Martin “for violations of antitrust, unfair competition and racketeering laws.”

              You’re the legal person – how does that change your assumptions now?

              The point is, defense contracts are awarded based on demonstrated contractor ability, not on the promises of its CEO.

              So let’s start with the fact that SpaceX has already demonstrated the minimum needed to qualify for consideration by the Air Force, which is three successful launches (the paperwork certification just confirms the qualification).

              That being the case, it’s quite easy for the Air Force to validate his claim – the Falcon 9 public specs are on their website, and the Air Force likely already has the proprietary info that only qualified customers get (i.e. they are ITAR compliant, financially secure, etc.).

              The Air Force has said that it looked at SpaceX’s capability, pulled the launches that SpaceX could perform out of the block buy, and awarded ULA the launches that SpaceX couldn’t perform.

              Actually that’s not true, and I’m not sure where you’re getting that from. Do you have a public reference for that?

              • Coastal Ron

                You’re the legal person…

                My apologies – I was confusing you with Michael Listner.

  • Michael Listner

    Launching national security assets is a whole different ball game than launching commercial satellites or an unmanned cargo ship to NASA. These satellites are very expensive and very critical. Losing one to a launch failure not only represents the loss a multimillion (and in some cases billion dollar) satellite; it also represents the loss of a vital national security asset. For all the jabs taken at Atlas V and Delta IV, those rockets had to pass muster with DoD before they were allowed to launch military and intelligence gathering satellites. Space X is doing a great job, but they have a lot to prove before they play in the big leagues. This lawsuit does not help them in the quest to earn the right to play the same league as ULA and may even hurt them in the long game.

    • MattW

      So, once SpaceX passes muster with the DoD, should they be eligible to launch EELV-class payloads immediately? Or should they be delayed until the current block buy is over? If so, how long should they be kept out of the program? A year? Five? Long enough to ensure that ULA remains a viable company?

      • Michael Listner

        General Shelton puts it quite succinctly here:

        http://www.spacenews.com/article/military-space/39832shelton-fires-back-at-spacex

        I think he’s in a better position to understand the whys and why nots regarding Space X.

        • JamesH

          And to some extents he is correct, but this block buy means that even when SpaceX are good enough to launch these multi billion satellites at way less cost than ULA, they will be unable to do so. Costing the American taxpayer a hell of a lot of money.

        • Coastal Ron

          Michael Listner said:

          General Shelton puts it quite succinctly here:

          Yes, and at the end of that article he then said:

          “I don’t doubt that guy anymore, by the way,” Shelton said in a Jan. 7 speech to students at George Washington University in Washington. “What he says, he’s going to do.”

          Shelton has said he expects SpaceX to earn the certification necessary to bid on national security launches later this year.

          So again, this boils down to the timing of the block buy, and whether there were forces within the Air Force as well as outside that were pushing for this bulk order so that lower cost alternatives could not even get the chance to be considered.

          • Michael Listner

            Not everything is a conspiracy.

            • Coastal Ron

              Michael Listner said:

              Not everything is a conspiracy.

              Certainly not. But this is big business we’re talking about, with two of the largest defense contractors who spend lots of money for political influence, plus they also hire a lot of senior defense officials after they leave government service.

              So we shouldn’t be naive to think that there is NO undue influence happening with the timing and size of this award.

              • Michael Listner

                Musk and Space X spend a lot of money for political influence as well, and I am sure they have a lot of former defense personnel on their payroll.

              • Coastal Ron

                Michael Listner said:

                Musk and Space X spend a lot of money for political influence as well…

                Oh come on. SpaceX has less than 4,000 employees, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin combined have 280,000 employees. The amount of influence that SpaceX has pales in comparison, both in quantity and depth over time.

                …and I am sure they have a lot of former defense personnel on their payroll.

                I have a friend of mine that is working for a large government contractor, and he supports at least two former generals, including one that was in the office of one of the Chief of Staff. They run program offices that support government programs for services, which is where having former government employees helps out (usually they run programs that now support the organizations in the government they used to work for).

                If you look at what SpaceX is doing right now, which is mainly engineering related development, there is little need for the type of “horsepower” former generals bring to an organization.

                Plus, since they are still a relatively young company, and only recently started focusing on non-NASA work, they wouldn’t have established much “depth” yet. It’s like baseball teams, where over time you develop a deep farm system – and Boeing and Lockheed Martin have had decades to develop deep ties into the Pentagon.

                No comparison.

            • Reality Bits

              Michael, You were the one who brought up “conspiracy”.

        • Robert G Oler

          Shelton’s op ed is mostly a tirade of old school military thinking that has lead the US to F-35′s that dont work, LCS hulls that are virtually useless, a series of ships that are having extensive issues affecting cost and readiness, and then there is the Army.

          Military acquisitionin this country is on an upward death spiral. cost are rising, capabilities are on paper growing but in reality they are floundering, and all in all it is designed to protect the military industrial complex with its rotating door of flag and general officers.

          Unless we get to a point where we have cheaper payloads flying on cheaper launches, which are repeatable in the span of years to start then months, not decades as it is now…eventually the US will price itself out of its own market.

          TThere is a reason in WW2 that the General board stopped the Iowa build at 4….each Iowa was taking the steel of 3 Essex and even one Essex could sink an Iowa. We need a revolution in military affairs and getting launch cost down is essential to that revolution. RGO

          • Michael Listner

            I think the end of the war had something to do with that. USS Kentucky was under construction when the war ended.

            • Robert G Oler

              At a very very slow rate Illinois and Kentucky ha more or less been stoppped, as had all the Montana class ships…the “large cruisers” Ie the Alaska class produced two and a near third Hawaii…but more or less the “gun club” had been stopped in its tracks by results. FDR tried to stop the Iowas, but he let Ernie King have his battleships. RGO

        • Hiram

          “General Shelton puts it quite succinctly here:”

          But what General Shelton is saying here is a conclusion that could come formally out of a real procurement. It’s up to SpaceX to argue, in their bid, that they can achieve the kind of reliability the DoD needs. It’s up to the DoD, to make a considered and formal argument, that they can’t, if that’s the position they want to take.

          Now, this being said, there is some truth to the fact that in the context of a $1.5B reconaissance payload, saving a few hundred million dollars on a launcher isn’t that significant. But most DoD payloads (for example, comm payloads) simply aren’t that expensive.

        • Reality Bits

          “At about $1.5 billion — and sometimes higher — national security payloads have to get there. We have to make sure we’ve done due diligence on the part of the government to make sure that that rocket is going to deliver safely and reliably,” Shelton said.

          There are three aspects to due-diligence activities – Technical, Cost & Schedule

          Technical: If the Program’s EELV Standard Interface Specification (SIS), System Performance Requirements Document (SPRD), and in the New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG) are met, what is the problem? Those requirements are supposed to mitigate any Non-Functional Requirements (safety and reliability being two NFRs). If ATK or OSC or SpaceX demonstrate in their submission how they meet the specified requirements, then Shelton’s objections are just typical requirements creep – he needs to go get a straight answer out of the EELV PMO.

          Cost: The DoD already admits that they can’t establish an accurate unit cost for the ULA LVs. I refer you to Sen McCain’s letters.

          Schedule: So why the burning need to do the block buy immediately? They could continue to procure LVs through the current contracts, so that’s not the issue. Why not wait a few months to complete the F9 v1.1 certification process then open compete all the cores? If ULA has a truly better Technical solution and a better Cost, it would win ALL 40 of the cores… No one ever answers this question.

          • Michael Kent

            “If ULA has a truly better Technical solution and a better Cost, it would win ALL 40 of the cores… No one ever answers this question.”

            I have already answered this question. The Air Force determined which launches SpaceX would have the capability to perform, pulled those out of the block buy (originally 14 of 42 missions but now down to 7 of 35 missions), and awarded the rest to ULA. The block buy is those missions that SpaceX can’t perform.

    • Lars

      Vital national security assets have been lost on launch before – and the provider kept on launching payloads. Is SpaceX requesting that ALL payloads be launched by them? No.

      This lawsuit does not help them in the quest to earn the right to play the same league as ULA and may even hurt them in the long game.

      Why not? How does it hurt SpaceX to request a level playing field?

    • josh

      The big leagues? SpaceX is doing stuff that no one else can do today (reusable first stage, propulsive landing with a capsule). They are the big leagues.
      ULA are a bunch of has-beens.

      • Ad Astra

        Blowing up 3/5 Falcon 1s and succeeding fully on 4/5 Falcon 9s, and 4/4 Falcon 9 v1.1s is hardly big leagues.

        With a success rate of 10/14, it’s no wonder the AF doesn’t want to risk their payloads with SpaceX yet.

        • Coastal Ron

          Ad Astra said:

          With a success rate of 10/14, it’s no wonder the AF doesn’t want to risk their payloads with SpaceX yet.

          Actually that’s not how the Air Force looks at things. They realize the Falcon 1 was a different launcher, and really part of the development process – i.e. not an operational launcher.

          And for Falcon 9 it has attained 100% of it’s primary mission objectives through it’s first 10 flights. Compare that to Atlas V.

          • Michael Kent

            “And for Falcon 9 it has attained 100% of it’s primary mission objectives through it’s first 10 flights.”

            That’s pretty impressive considering it’s only flown nine times.

            • Coastal Ron

              Michael Kent said:

              That’s pretty impressive considering it’s only flown nine times.

              I was using Ad Astra’s figures, so talk to him about it.

              But just out of curiosity, what happened on the 9th Atlas V flight? Was it successful?

              • Michael Kent

                You mean the STP / Falconsat launch on 09 Mar 2007? Nothing unusual that I’m aware of. Yes, I consider it successful.

    • common sense

      Yeah right.

      It’s like saying a JD puts someone in the same league as rocket designers/builders/scientists. Isn’t it?

      No vested interest in that remark I assume.

    • Coastal Ron

      Michael Listner said:

      For all the jabs taken at Atlas V and Delta IV, those rockets had to pass muster with DoD before they were allowed to launch military and intelligence gathering satellites.

      In reality that’s not quite true. The Air Force had already committed to buying Atlas V and Delta IV & Heavy before they had proven themselves. Boeing and Lockheed Martin did not have to go through the same set of criteria that SpaceX is going through to become a potential service provider for the Air Force.

      And I’m not knocking the criteria the Air Force is using, I’m just saying that Boeing and Lockheed Martin had a much lower bar to pass for their new design launchers.

      Space X is doing a great job, but they have a lot to prove before they play in the big leagues.

      That criteria has already been identified by the Air Force, and SpaceX has already launched the minimum number of times successfully in order to meet the criteria. That is what Musk is saying, is that the Air Force has the data to know if the Falcon 9 will be certified, so the Air Force should just wait until they finish their internal review. It’s a black and white situation here.

      This lawsuit does not help them in the quest to earn the right to play the same league as ULA and may even hurt them in the long game.

      Of course it helps them, since getting a chance to openly bid on a 36 core contract is nothing but upside for SpaceX.

      How in the world, in the area of government contracting, could protesting an award hurt them? Not everything is purely political in the government, there are areas that work in a non-biased way. Please provide examples from the past to illustrate your concern…

      • Michael Kent

        “In reality that’s not quite true. The Air Force had already committed to buying Atlas V and Delta IV & Heavy before they had proven themselves.”

        As I posted on another thread, the Atlas and Delta have a long flight history with over 1,000 successful launches between them. Even so, the first flight of both the Atlas V and Delta IV Medium was a commercial launch, and the first flight of the Delta IV Heavy was a demonstration launch.

        “How in the world, in the area of government contracting, could protesting an award hurt them?”

        By pissing off their customer?

        • Coastal Ron

          Michael Kent said:

          Even so, the first flight of both the Atlas V and Delta IV Medium was a commercial launch, and the first flight of the Delta IV Heavy was a demonstration launch.

          The Air Force wasn’t going to wait for the first launch of both Atlas V and Delta IV before they committed to future launches, and Musk mentioned this today when he said:

          I think maybe 30 or 40 launches [were committed] under the EELV program – before doing a single flight of the Atlas V or the Delta IV.

          Then you said:

          By pissing off their customer?

          There are 332,000 Air Force personnel, so obviously you don’t mean the whole Air Force. Musk covered this too in the press conference when he said:

          We’re on very good terms with the vast majority of the air force. Our concern really relates to a handful of people in the procurement area of the air force.

          Who do you think will be pissed off, besides the contracting officer that is getting ready to retire after awarding the sole-sourced ULA contract?

        • Reality Bits

          Michael Kent said:
          As I posted on another thread, the Atlas and Delta have a long flight history with over 1,000 successful launches between them.

          Claiming 1000 successful launches is utter bunk. Any other LV builder could claim the same heritage of prior rocket designs.

          The Atlas V is a completely different design from the earlier Atlases. So what changed on the Atlas?

          (a) The “1.5 staging” technique was dropped
          (b) The main-stage diameter increased from 10 feet to 12.5 feet
          (c) The first stage tanks no longer use stainless steel monocoque “balloon” construction
          (d) The use of aluminum rather than stainless steel
          (e) The accommodation points for parallel stages are built into first stage structures

          Source: “Atlas V Launch Services User’s Guide”. United Launch Alliance. March 2010

          So that means there have been 45 Atlas V launches (1 being a failure where the Centaur shut down 4 sec too early during second burn due to a leaking oxygen valve) since 2002.

          Let’s swing over to the Delta IV. The Delta IV Common Booster Core is completely different from the earlier Delta II/Delta III first stages.

          (a) The HydroLOX RS-68 vs the KeroLOX RS-27/RS-27A
          (b) Completely different tanking (the CBC is a clean-sheet design vs the Delta II/III is referred to as the “Extra-Extended Long Tank Thor”, a derivative of the Thor ballistic missile)

          Source: http://www.spacelaunchreport.com/thorh12.html

          So that means there have been 25 launches (and two failures – the 2004 failure of all three CBCs in the first Delta IV Heavy launch due to cavitation in the feed lines and the 2012 failure of the RL-10 in the upper stage) Neither launch provided “customer satisfaction”.

        • Robert G Oler

          Todays Atlas and Delta share almost nothing in common with yesterday’s Atlas and Delta, maybe the name. RGO

      • RockyMtnSpace

        CR stated “Boeing and Lockheed Martin did not have to go through the same set of criteria that SpaceX is going through to become a potential service provider for the Air Force.”

        Please provide supporting data/references to support this statement.

        • Coastal Ron

          RockyMtnSpace said:

          Please provide supporting data/references to support this statement.

          In October 1998 the Air Force awarded Boeing and Lockheed Martin launch services contracts for their respective new launchers, which weren’t going to launch for the first time for years to come.

          For instance, Delta IV launched it’s first DoD payload on it’s second launch, which was less than 4 months after it’s first launch. Atlas V launched it’s first government payload on it’s 4th launch (NASA’s MRO), although Lockheed Martin had only won 9 of the original 28 launches (Boeing won 19 for Delta IV) and LM was still flying older Atlas II and Atlas III rockets for DoD/NRO payloads.

          Flash forward to today, and SpaceX has to fly three successful launches before they can be qualified to BID for launches.

          • RockyMtnSpace

            “In October 1998 the Air Force awarded Boeing and Lockheed Martin launch services contracts for their respective new launchers, which weren’t going to launch for the first time for years to come.”

            Boeing and LM bid and won those contracts based on responding to Air Force generated requirements in a competitive solicitation. Each vehicle development was performed with significant insight and oversight by the Air Force customer. B
            Finally, both companies had long since demonstrated their ability to produce and launch rockets that met US/DoD performance criteria. Flash forward to today, SpaceX designed and built their rocket to their own requirements, with no USG/DoD insight/oversight, has had no prior experience in bringing a flight system to full operational use and still has not demonstrated a class of vehicles that can launch all USG/DoD missions. So it is no surprise that DoD requires SpaceX to prove themselves operationally.

            • Vladislaw

              Wasn’t the DOD providing some oversite when SpaceX was developing the Falcon 1 for a TAC SAT through a DARPA program?

            • Coastal Ron

              RockyMtnSpace said:

              Flash forward to today…

              You asked, and I provided. Now you are adding additional discriminators on that, if anything, show how SpaceX is being asked to do things that neither Boeing or LM had to go through. My case rests.

              And again, regardless all of YOUR reasons, the Air Force created a simple set of criteria to determine how any new launch provider can be certified, which is three successful launches, and SpaceX has performed those tasks. All that needs to happen is for the Air Force to finish the review of the last two launches.

              The topic of discussion now is whether the EELV bulk buy contract was pushed forward and expanded in quantity to exclude SpaceX specifically – and I think many people believe it was, and certainly politicians in Congress want to look into it.

            • numbers_guy101

              Ron is right on history. Yet at the end of the day what matters is the process today, one which DoD should define, fairly and equally treating all providers in a competitive environment. If DoD has a leaning to cost-plus, define why. If DoD has a leaning to this block-buy, define why. If DoD has a leaning away from competition, define why. Public statements or rationale by DoD are not the same as providing a well defined and credible process that applies to all potential providers equally and justify s direction.

              Now as a customer, there will be the DoD argument that they are not required to define anything, that fuzzy logic is all that’s needed (the kind many commentators have here). More likely they will argue the process is evolving and that of itself, heading toward a better process, is the process. Much of the legal discussion will end up hinging on process, I suspect, and how each party views the “process”. In the end the judge or panels will decide if they even want to meddle in DoD process, or if there is something here worth getting into the fray over.

              But on merits, SpaceX would probably win on any fairness of “process” discussion, and be allowed (as would any entrant) to compete for DoD launches. The award of which would need another well defined, transparent process.

              To many in DoD this is likely a nuisance, price insensitive as they are, regardless of any reliability or other issues. The desire for complete control is a very strong force in an organization, to the point of trauma even if getting the exact same product, but not being “in control”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

      “This lawsuit does not help them in the quest to earn the right to play the same league as ULA and may even hurt them in the long game.”

      It is likely to help them get more competed launches, now or in the future by putting their foot down.

      Similarly I doubt it hurts them, because I hear that litigation is SOP among US military contractors by now. (Source was somewher on Nasaspaceflight.) As a comparison, I found an item where ULA sued the Air Force 2012 as the latter was reneging on paying outstanding Delta 4 development costs, because as Musk says ULA is insanely expensive:

      “Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, are suing the U.S. Air Force, claiming the service owes the companies more than $385 million in costs incurred on the Delta 4 rocket program.

      The lawsuit, filed June 14 with the United States Court of Federal Claims, says the Air Force reneged on its contractual commitment to reimburse Boeing “hundreds of millions of dollars” incurred under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.”

      [ http://www.spacenews.com/article/boeing-ula-suing-air-force-385-million ]

      One outstanding item is that the block buy is AFAIK unusually large (modulo cores vs launches as I read here in one comment). That too is mysterious, as is the heightened requirements on SpaceX first acceptance vs ULA mods acceptance, if they knew some of the easier launches (if not the GSOs) soon will have competitive alternatives.

  • Paul Sink

    Thanks Jeff for all your good work. Michael, what do you mean by “may even hurt them in the long game”?

  • Hiram

    All Musk seems to be asking for is the opportunity to compete. The decision about reliability is a very important one, but that decision should be made under the auspices of a formal procurement, not some informal muster-passing. SpaceX should have the right to argue that their established and expected launch reliability offers value to the DoD. Sure, the DoD can say “Eh, we don’t believe you”, but it better have some formal justification for that to avoid protest. Yes, SpaceX has a lot to prove, but a formal procurement is part of the way they should be proving it. The trouble with a ULA sole-source procurement is that SpaceX isn’t even given any lessons about what it needs to address to be successful. A formally rejected bid would at least do that.

    • Musk intends to make the American tax payer pay more for fewer ULA launches so he can hawk his riskier ride sooner. A bad deal for everyone except Musk, who keeps feeding at the trough. ULA provides great value in extreme reliability.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        Musk intends to make the American tax payer pay more for fewer ULA launches so he can hawk his riskier ride sooner.

        The Air Force has already announced the criteria they will use for evaluating new launch providers (3 successful launches), and the Air Force already has the data from the required launches to use in evaluating whether SpaceX can bid on the 1st tier of payloads.

        If you would have listened to what was said, all Musk has been asking for is a chance to compete, instead of rushing to commit the U.S. Taxpayer to paying potential $Billions more for launch services than they need to.

        For someone that is supposedly a conservative, you sure have no appreciation for saving money when two service providers are looked at as equals within the eyes of the Air Force. Weird.

        • Michael Kent

          “The Air Force has already announced the criteria they will use for evaluating new launch providers (3 successful launches), and the Air Force already has the data from the required launches to use in evaluating whether SpaceX can bid on the 1st tier of payloads.”

          That is not the only criterion. Most DoD launches require additional capability that SpaceX does not have and has not demonstrated (e.g. higher payload than the Falcon 9 can launch, vertical payload integration, direct insertion of a sizable payload directly into GEO (not GTO), payload access at the pad for both payload technicians and also things like nitrogen purge).

          “If you would have listened to what was said, all Musk has been asking for is a chance to compete”

          He is being given a chance to compete for the payloads he has the capability to launch. Seven launches were held from the block buy for future competition. The Air Force concluded that SpaceX will not have the capability to launch the block-buy payloads when they need to launch. He can compete for every launch the Air Force thinks he can perform.

          This is very, very rare. The gov’t almost never holds back anything from a procurement for a bidder that doesn’t have demonstrated capability at the time of the solicitation. See my reply to “the doctor” below.

          “For someone that is supposedly a conservative,”

          I also take issue that Windy is a conservative. :-)

          • Coastal Ron

            Michael Kent said:

            That is not the only criterion.

            At this point, yes it is.

            Most DoD launches require additional capability that SpaceX does not have and has not demonstrated (e.g. higher payload than the Falcon 9 can launch, vertical payload integration, direct insertion of a sizable payload directly into GEO (not GTO), payload access at the pad for both payload technicians and also things like nitrogen purge).

            Once SpaceX is certified for EELV launches, THAT’S when those types of requirements come into play.

            For instance, SpaceX and the Air Force obviously know that SpaceX will have to provide vertical integration, but that is something that can be put in place and certified prior to future launches.

            As to the payload requirements, I’m sure that’s why Musk said that they could only do 60% of the potential payloads with Falcon 9 v1.1, and that too would come out when the Air Force looks at what payloads get assigned to which launch provider – and that would be part of the criteria that is used to determine whether and how many launches SpaceX could win in a re-competed EELV core bulk buy contract.

            • RockyMtnSpace

              CR stated – “At this point, yes it is.”

              Please provide the official evaluation criteria employed by the Air Force in this procurement to substantiate your statement.

              • Coastal Ron

                RockyMtnSpace said:

                Please provide the official evaluation criteria employed by the Air Force in this procurement to substantiate your statement.

                Three successful launches, which SpaceX has already done. The first launch, which is the only one that had an “anomaly”, has already been certified by the Air Force.

              • RockyMtnSpace

                “Three successful launches, …”

                That is not the evaluation criteria. For every procurement, the USG establishes a written set of evaluation criteria which is used to evaluate the technical, management, and cost of the procured item, even if sole sourced. Please provide the evaluation criteria used by the AF for the EELV buy to validate your statement.

              • Coastal Ron

                RockyMtnSpace said:

                That is not the evaluation criteria.

                How would you know?

                Please provide the evaluation criteria used by the AF for the EELV buy to validate your statement.

                I provided you with a summary of the criteria, which for this forum is more than adequate. If you are too lazy to do the research yourself, then you are not worthy of participating in this discussion.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Well put.

          • Reality Bits

            I’ll give Durbin credit, it was good to have ULA and SpaceX ask each other questions. I think this pretty much answers Michael Kent’s comments. I will again beg Jeff’s forgiveness for the long-ish, but relevant quote from the Q&A (#5 & #9) directed at SpaceX from ULA (http://www.spacenewsinc.com/pdf/ULAtoSpaceXquestionsandresponses.pdf):

            5. Will you be able to support all of the original requirements of the EELV Systems specification (SIS)?
            [sic] If so when will you be fully capable to support the entire mission manifest requirements of the DOD and
            National Security constellation?

            RESPONSE:
            SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 and its follow-on, the Falcon Heavy, from the outset to meet the EELV design specifications, including the EELV Standard Interface Specification (SIS) and System Performance Requirements Document (SPRD), at no charge to the U.S. Air Force.
            SpaceX today can support approximately 60 percent of the EELV launches planned through 2019. SpaceX will be able to support 100 percent of the EELV launch requirements with both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy prior to the Phase II Acquisition, beginning in 2018.

            And ….

            9.
            A key requirement of all USG payloads is to be vertically integrated on the LV, yet your system requires horizontal integration, which in turn means potentially billions spent in redesigning all USG satellites.
            When will Space-X comply with the current requirements? If not Mr Musk, is it SpaceX’s position that the USG must shoulder the cost burden of redesigning its spacecraft to enable horizontal integration because the Falcon 9 cannot accommodate vertical integration of payloads?

            RESPONSE:
            SpaceX has committed to vertically integrate payloads. The requirement for having the capability for vertical integration is contained in the EELV Program’s EELV Standard
            Interface Specification (SIS), System Performance Requirements Document (SPRD), and in the New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG).

            We would be interested in understanding the basis for
            the assertion as relates to “billions of dollars [being required] in redesigning all USG satellites” and would
            request an official and independent analysis to support the assertion made in the question.

            When you say you can meet all the requirements specified in the EELV Program’s EELV Standard Interface Specification (SIS), System Performance Requirements Document (SPRD), and in the New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG), this is a pretty clear statement.

          • amightywind

            Most DoD launches require additional capability that SpaceX does not have and has not demonstrated (e.g. higher payload than the Falcon 9 can launch, vertical payload integration, direct insertion of a sizable payload directly into GEO (not GTO)

            amightywind has been pointing this out for years. To date Musk has flown 2 rather small satellites into an easily achieved supersynchronous GTO, requiring only 1 restart. Atlas V’s have flown missions requiring as many as 7. The Atlas V also has a much higher payload capacity than F9. Since the F9 Heavy has never flow. That is all Musk has. He doesn’t have a rocket to accomplish the mission. What is he fighting for? To achieve by litigation what he can’t be competition.

            • Coastal Ron

              amightywind said:

              amightywind has been pointing this out for years.

              Maybe you think you have, but no, not really.

              He doesn’t have a rocket to accomplish the mission.

              According to Musk, who unlike you is a rocket scientist, the SpaceX Falcon 9 can take care of 60% of the Air Force payloads the EELV program would cover. That is what they are asking to bid on, not the other 40% at this point. Musk was very clear that they are not contesting the launch opportunities that would require a Falcon Heavy.

              What is he fighting for?

              The American way. Not sure why you don’t see that.

              To achieve by litigation what he can’t be competition.

              There wasn’t any competition – don’t you keep up with current news???

            • amightywind

              Senator McCain is a mixed bag. I like his hawkishness on Russia, and not much else. He has some strange ideas. He made a better war hero than Senator.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        ULA provides great value…

        Senator John McCain, who you no doubt consider a leftist as well as an Obama toady, released two letters today about the EELV program and his concerns with the block buy:

        SENATOR MCCAIN SEEKS INFORMATION ON AIR FORCE’S EVOLVED EXPENDABLE LAUNCH VEHICLE (EELV) PROGRAM – Press Releases – United States Senator John McCain

      • Fred Willett

        ULA = $460M a launch.
        SpaceX = $90M a launch.
        Should SpaceX wait till it gets to say 20 successful launches before it’s allowed to compete? Using ULA over SpaceX would cost the US tax payer an extra $7.4B in costs for just 20 launches.
        That is the magnitude of price reductions SpaceX is bringing to the launch market.

        • Michael Listner

          On paper yes. In practice it might turn out a whole lot different. All this talk of price reductions is moot because the lowest bidder is not always the option chosen for defense and national security related work; reliability is. Also, the “price reductions” look good on paper, but in practice those reductions may not be as great as advertised because national security launches have specific requirements and those requirements cost money.

          The re-usability tack is a red herring as well because chances are DoD will require brand-new boosters with little or no refurbished components to launch national security assets. Time will tell.

          • Coastal Ron

            Michael Listner said:

            All this talk of price reductions is moot because the lowest bidder is not always the option chosen for defense and national security related work; reliability is.

            I think you’re guessing a lot on this. Yes, reliability is a gating factor, and the Air Force has already established criteria for new entrants to meet to be considered, which basically is three successful flights – and SpaceX has done that.

            Now no doubt they can and should evaluate other risk factors, and I believe they use a rating system for risk tolerance for their payloads (i.e. Hi, Medium, Low), but let’s remember that neither the Atlas V nor the Delta IV & Heavy had the same criteria, so this is not an even playing field.

            However timing again is a factor in this, because by the end of the year Musk is planning to have launched 10 times, and if all 10 are successful, statistically that is very significant.

            I would imagine what might be pushed as a compromise would be a reduced bulk buy, from 36 cores down to 20 or so, and that should still provide the same per core cost savings within a couple of percentages. That would provide time for “other competitors” (i.e. SpaceX) to have validated their reliability enough so that they can compete for the 60% of the launches they say they can do using just Falcon 9.

            The re-usability tack is a red herring as well…

            And you too are using it as a red herring – Musk stated at the press conference that they are only wanting to compete with the hardware that is already flying – the non-reusable Falcon 9. Falcon Heavy and reusability have not been part of this discussion…

            • Michael Listner

              A lot of people in the space policy arena are saying that as well. If it is a guess it’s an educated one rather than wishful thinking.

            • Michael Listner

              If I am guessing, I will also ask what you’re qualifications are, i.e. what expertise do you have to come to the conclusions you are.

              • common sense

                What expertise do you have to judge the design and cost of a launch vehicle? That of an RFP? That of a most likely confidential response to an RFP?

                If I were an attorney I would rather come up with a sensible and supported rational rather than with sentences as “A lot of people in the space policy arena are saying that as well. If it is a guess it’s an educated one rather than wishful thinking.”

                Point us to a link, a document and then make you assertions. Until then they only are allegations. And no 2 people are not “a lot of people”.

                And clearly you don’t understand the strategy about reusability. Yes DoD and NASA will require new vehicles, at least for now. But the ability to reuse them will still drive the cost down since it can be amortized over several launches.

                You want to question something? Then question their ability to maintain their current cost in the future. That is a huge unknown. And there is an argument to be made.

                But please do not question facts. Facts are F9 works. F9 can carry some DoD payload. F9 can carry a crew with Dragon as it stands. F9 is stepping closer to reusability. In effects F9 is moving towards their originally claimed direction.

                Just say you don’t like it which is perfectly acceptable but all else is just blowing smoke.

              • Michael Listner

                I have a lot more expertise in that I ask questions rather than rely on talking points for my “facts”, and if you were an attorney and an authority in space policy, which you are not, you would be asking more questions and relying less on press releases and talking points for your facts.

              • Coastal Ron

                Michael Listner said:

                I have a lot more expertise in that I ask questions rather than rely on talking points for my “facts”…

                Asking questions doesn’t make you an expert.

                And yes, I do have relevant expertise in both government contracting and procurement strategies.

              • common sense

                An expert is the person who asks questions? Who would have known? In my world an expert is the one who answers the questions. It is a world where attorneys come to me with questions seeking my answers because of my knowledge and skills. Must be a different world.

                And so far all you have provided are talking points. Again, attach links to documents for us laymen to understand the current procurement issue – oh yeah it is not a space policy issue. Unless you want to associate procurement of this sort with establishing what amounts to a monopoly for a launch vehicle provider in the US. My limited ability in policy tells me though that monopolies are illegal in the US and that a sole source contract can only be established if there is only one provider that has a specific ability and a few other reasons found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-bid_contract that the block buy herein does not justify.

                Now and again, true I am neither an attorney nor a space policy “expert”. On the other hand I have a lot of questions and even more comments in general about space policy. So maybe I am an expert in space policy after all.

                Anywho.

              • Reality Bits

                Since you brought it up ….

                Michael is an attorney and the founder and principal of Space Law and Policy Solutions, which is a firm that counsels governmental and private organizations on matters relating to space law and policy, including issues surrounding space debris.

                Source: http://www.thespaceshow.com/guest.asp?q=976

                Michael said above:
                I have a lot more expertise in that I ask questions rather than rely on talking points for my “facts”, and if you were an attorney and an authority in space policy, which you are not, you would be asking more questions and relying less on press releases and talking points for your facts.

                As an attorney one needs to rely on the expert witness testimony of subject matter experts in their field to make the case since an attorney is a SME related to law.

                Delving into matters of if and how any of the parties (SpaceX or ULA) are meeting or have met requirements set forth by the USAF EELV Program is not an “space law and policy” attorney’s area of expertise.
                The actual engineering and requirements evaluation to the engineer SMEs just like anyone in the government contracting world does.

                No one is commenting from talking points or press releases, that comment is just patronizing AND hyperbole. I see a lot of comments here that rely on sourced facts, not hand-waiving.

                That is one of the great things about Space Politics, thoughtful commentary and good, well sourced discussions.

          • Fred Willett

            Also, the “price reductions” look good on paper, but in practice those reductions may not be as great as advertised because national security launches have specific requirements and those requirements cost money.
            Musk has said those requirements are spelt out in DoD’s rating requirements and Musk says he can meet all them at a cost of $30M raising the cost of SpaceX’s DoD launches from $60M to $90M. Still way cheaper than ULA’s $460M.

          • Hiram

            You would think that Musk & Co. are fully aware of the DoD requirements, and yet they still see value in competing. Why would they want to compete if their assessment of the formally stated DoD needs was such that they wouldn’t be compliant? We’re all sitting here second guessing on whether or not they’re compliant, but Musk wants to use SpaceX money to develop a bid. Let me guess. DoD has conveniently scheduled the procurement specifically to disqualify SpaceX, no doubt in a generous attempt to save SpaceX money? Ya think?

            They are enormously cheaper, and may be considered less reliable. Perhaps their capabilities are not quite comparable. Those facts are critical to the value equation, which the DoD needs to solve. But without a bid, there is nothing to solve!

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi Fred –

          In my opinion, ULA needs to develop a re-usable first stage as well.

          While Musk has focused on powered descent, which he intends to use in Deep Space, I do not know that this is the best method for ordinary launches.

          There are drogue parachutes, along with either folding wings rogallo wings. I do not know why SpaceX had problems with its drogue parachute. Their analysis is undoubtedly proprietary.

          • common sense

            ” I do not know that this is the best method for ordinary launches.”

            For a “classic” (no wings, no additional component that adds to the complexity) rocket it probably is. Even though I suspect the landing legs when deployed “enough” will provide some stability – a little like fins.

            “There are drogue parachutes, along with either folding wings rogallo wings.”

            A drogue chute will not do much for you. It’s usually deployed in Earth atmosphere around transonic for a capsule. Which means that the first stage gets destroyed way before that speed in its dive. You MUST stabilize it as early as possible. Folding wings??? On a classical first stage rocket? Nope not a chance. A rogallo wing??? Oh well.

            If you start talking wings you usually end up with scissor wing of some sort but it does not work either. Your center of mass is not where it needs to be.

            So. Unless you design some sort of TSTO (two or three stage to orbit) with a winged first stage you have little to no chance to make it work. See Stratolauncher for example: First stage with wings everything else is a rocket. Even Shuttle first stage did not have wings and they tried, and tried, and tried to make one and tried some more. Search flyback booster.

            • E.P. Grondine

              HI CS –

              You better check your definition of “drogue parachute”. Generally the term is used to refer to a parachute used to dump “excessive” speed, where “excessive” is defined based on the application.

              What I’m taking about is a TSTO where the second and/or third stages are not recovered. See the advanced Zenit studies for example.

              • common sense

                I don’t need to check I know perfectly well what a drogue chute and I know when they are being deployed and I also know what the staging speed is for F9. Therefore a drogue chute is useless at these velocities.

      • numbers_guy101

        Ummm…so you are saying the award of launches to a competitor of ULA should not be undertaken, as ULA will simply turnaround, as well they have the power to, and increase prices on their remaining manifest (screwing the DoD)? Cost plus after all.

        Ahhh…I see…sorta the “cheap’r to keep’r” logic? No divorce. That would cost more!

        • Ad Astra

          They wouldn’t have to increase costs. The block buy has penalties in the $Bs if the USG decides to back out.

          • Neil

            No that’s an exaggeration. $370 million was the official contract termination payment. The billions apparently refer to issues concerning sub-contractors lost business, etc. not the basic contract.

  • josh

    Good news. Here is hoping some corrupt officials in the procurement department of the air force get in serious legal trouble over this. it happened before (anyone remember the disaster with the tanker procurement?).

  • common sense

    The beginning of the end for ULA, as anticipated for several years now.

    Next?

    Oh well.

  • the doctor

    With all due respect, Mr Musk does not have a vehicle that is qualified to the current requirements and there is no precedent to delay contractual competitions until all parties have developed their vehicles. He may not understand that since his NASA contract was let before he had any successful launches, ie it was political not cost based. He should be somewhat careful, in the military world, unlike NASA, if you dont launch on time and successfully, you pay for the lost mission.

    • Michael Kent

      “With all due respect, Mr Musk does not have a vehicle that is qualified to the current requirements and there is no precedent to delay contractual competitions until all parties have developed their vehicles.

      Correct. In fact, the precedent is the other way. Most gov’t procurement notices in the aerospace world, even for things as mundane as aircraft spare parts, require a bidder to prove it can build the part before being allowed to bid. This often includes actually building a sample of each part for free, to be delivered to the gov’t for inspection several months before the bid submittal. The solicitation will not only specify that requirement but also usually state that the bidding period will not be extended to allow a bidder to do so.

    • Hiram

      “Mr Musk does not have a vehicle that is qualified to the current requirements and there is no precedent to delay contractual competitions until all parties have developed their vehicles.”

      What is it about the Falcon 9 launchers that make them unqualified to the current requirements? Can you be specific? Their security certification is practically in hand. His vehicles are most certainly developed. Where have you been for the last four years and nine launches? The last three launches were of an especially mature design.

      This isn’t about delaying contractual competitions, but about scheduling them in such a way as to exclude certain suppliers.

      As to paying for a mission that you don’t launch on time, that’s part of the contract that the USAF won’t even let SpaceX compete for. Let’s not presume complete naîvite on the part of SpaceX.

    • josh

      The Falcon 9 is qualified. Also, there was no reason for a 36 core, five year blockbuy other than to guarantee ula profits for that time. if the launches had been awarded incrementally spacex would have been ready this year to compete for most of them.

    • Reality Bits

      The proper measuring stick is not some opinion but if the LVs meet the EELV Program Office’s EELV Standard Interface Specification (SIS), System Performance Requirements Document (SPRD), and the New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG).

      Requirements are king.

    • DCSCA

      Precisely. Filing suit because he was out-maneouvered for a gov’t contract. Boo hoo. And this guy wants to fly millions of people to Mars. High time Space X earned some genuine street cred in the space biz beyond following in the wake of Sputnik, Explorer I and other satellites launched over the past fifty years or so.’Course we’re still waiting for Space X to even make an attempt to launch crews into LEO and get tem back ssfely. But then, LEO is a ticket to no place, going in circles, no where, fast. We’re well into the 2nd qtr., of 2014. and Space X has flown nobody. tick-tocik, tick-tock.

      • Coastal Ron

        Wow, released out of stasis? The world has changed while you were gone, maybe you should look around and update yourself before starting to rehash your old arguments… ;-)

        • DCSCA

          =yawn= Except it hasn’t. HYour own posting reveals nothing has chenged. You might as well acccept the remainder of the Obama years as free drift and muddling along with space policy. Twitching over how and why to go in circles, no where, fast is the make work for the next few years. Orion is on track to fly by year’s end. And Musk has started a new liquor company: ‘Whine’ in his relentless pursuit for gov’t financing fofr a ‘private’ firm. You want street cred, take the risk and fly somebody. Until then, the Obama years are Carteresque wen it comes to space policy.

      • Jim Nobles

        DCSCA, I’m glad you’re well. I was beginning to wonder if you’d left the world for good.

        P.S. As CR said, the world has changed. Your old heckling techniques and phraseology seem particularly dated and foolish now. Just a heads up. You probably need to put some effort into working up some fresh material.

      • Reality Bits

        And how many crew have launched on Atlas V and Delta IV?

        Tick-tock, tick-tock ….

  • common sense

    A block buy impedes all future competition. He’s right to sue unless block buy is spread with options to compete when options become available. Or something like that. Itis not about capability it is about fair procurement. If SpaceX loses then be it but a block doe not even let them lose.

    Clear enough?

    • Michael Kent

      “Itis not about capability it is about fair procurement. If SpaceX loses then be it but a block doe not even let them lose.”

      SpaceX did win the right to lose future launch vehicle contracts. The Air Force held back seven launches from the block buy to allow SpaceX to compete for them. It awarded the other 28 launches to ULA because they require capability that SpaceX does not have.

      “He’s right to sue unless block buy is spread with options to compete when options become available.”

      That’s not a block buy. A block buy is guaranteed business that allows a contractor to bulk-order parts from subcontractors and get paid a hefty penalty if the gov’t reneges. A small contract with options will not allow subcomponent block buys.

      • Neil

        That’s incorect. There are some payloads that only the FH can do however the majority can be handled by the upgrades F9 which is capable of putting at least 5.3 mt in GEO, perhaps even more.

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi Heil –

          MK set out the launcher requirements above.

          While SpaceX may develop the capabilities to meet them later on,
          you can be sure that procurement specialists went through this with a fine tooth comb. That is why those seven launches were held out of the block buy.

          You may also be fairly sure that the contracts were constructed in such a way as to make cancellation more expensive than any savings that might be realized.

          But given the amounts of taxpayer money involved, the timing of the block buy comes into question.

          • Neil

            Hi E.P.

            Given that the savings by going to SpaceX instead of ULA for the 60% of launches they can currently accommodate amount, well let’s see:
            SpaceX, say $100 million (add 10% to Elon’s figure just for the hell of it and round up) compared to ULA of what $460 million which is say around $2.4 billion for say 15 launches. Marginal savings per launch of $360 million.
            That’s quite a savings.

            Then there’s the seven that have been apparently allocated for competitive tender with savings of another $2.5 million if they all go to SpaceX.

            Shucks, that’s about $5 billion savings over ULA.
            Even if we increase SpaceX prices a bit and decrease ULA’s we still end up with considerable savings by using SpaceX.

            These numbers are mindblowing and it’s no wonder every launch company in the world is starting to get concerned.

            Then there’s the hairy topic of reusability. If SpaceX pull it off only for their first stage and prove up reliability, the impacts are going to be more than considerable. It would seem that SpaceX is going to sew up the commercial market completely, particularly if they manage to get FH up and running even in expendable form.

            I’m sure that cancellation wouldn’t cost anywhere near those savings but happy to stand corrected.

            Agreed, timing is, as they say, everything.

            Interesting times. I await the outcome of this with considerable interest and in the meantime there is the continuing launch and test program of reusable SpaceX boosters as they continue to progress their launch manifest.

            Cheers.

        • Michael Kent

          That is not correct. The Falcon 9 can only put a 5.3 metric ton payload into GTO, not GEO. In fact, that’s a 1,800-m/s-deficit GTO, not a 1,500-m/s-deficit GTO like most launchers quote. It’s capability to GEO is significantly less.
          In fact, Falcon 9 has not demonstrated the ability to perform a direct-injection GEO mission at all. Such a mission requires not only a lot more delta-V, but also long-duration batteries, a more robust avionics system, and an upper-stage engine that can restart a third time after a much lenghier delay than a GTO restart.
          The DoD payloads are designed with a certain capability of launch vehicle in mind. SpaceX does not have a vehicle with that capability for most payloads.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “In fact, Falcon 9 has not demonstrated the ability to perform a direct-injection GEO mission at all. Such a mission requires not only a lot more delta-V, but also long-duration batteries, a more robust avionics system, and an upper-stage engine that can restart a third time after a much lenghier delay than a GTO restart. The DoD payloads are designed with a certain capability of launch vehicle in mind.”

            This FUD would hold water if:

            1) USAF knew what payloads the block buy will launch. (They don’t.)

            2) All DOD payloads went to GEO. (GPS, DMSP, and various classified payloads, among others, aren’t.)

            3) All DOD payloads require direct injection to GEO. (They don’t.)

            • Michael Kent

              Come on now, DBN. You’re better than this.
              I gave four examples in my original post: payload capacity, direct injection to GEO, vertical integration, and on-pad payload access. The list was not meant to be exhaustive (hence the “etc.” at the end.) Singling out one item from a list, saying it alone doesn’t apply in every case, and concluding the post is FUD is bad form. So is claiming the Air Force doesn’t know what payloads are on its manifest in the next five years.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “I gave four examples in my original post: payload capacity, direct injection to GEO, vertical integration, and on-pad payload access.”

                Capacity is FUD because it applies to a very limited number of NRO payloads requiring the DIVH and little else. It’s bone-headed for the taxpayer to cough up billions upon billions of dollars for dozens of more expensive medium-class launchers year after year when the heavy-class payloads constitute less than a handful of the total.

                Direct injection to GEO is FUD because many DOD payloads don’t even go to GEO, nevertheless require direct injection. It’s bone-headed for the taxpayer to cough up billions upon billions of dollars for dozens of more expensive launchers year after year when the number of payloads that require direct injection to GEO is a fraction of the total.

                Vertical integration and payload access are FUD because they are issues of changes to the service structure and launch processing. It’s bone-headed for the taxpayer to cough up billions upon billions of dollars for more expensive launchers year after year when a less expensive contractor can adapt to the government’s requirements for thousands to millions of dollars in a couple months.

                How stupid…

                “Singling out one item from a list, saying it alone doesn’t apply in every case”

                I didn’t single anything out. I responded to the last post in this sequence. It appeared that every other point you had raised had already been put down. But I did it again for you above.

                “and concluding the post is FUD is bad form.”

                Both of your posts are FUD. They raise no issue that warrants the taxpayer coughing up billions upon billions of dollars for the difference. Or forgoing competition in multi-ten billion dollar federal contracts. Or not delaying a multi-ten billion dollar block buy that locks up the next half-decade by a few months.

                “The list was not meant to be exhaustive (hence the ‘etc.’ at the end.)”

                Yes, let’s send the Treasury and my children and grandchildren tens of billions of dollars further into debt because of “etc.”. That’s always a compelling requirement and rationale for justifying additional spending.

                How idiotic…

                “So is claiming the Air Force doesn’t know what payloads are on its manifest in the next five years.”

                McCain has asked the USAF what payloads will launch on the block buy cores. USAF can’t answer other than to say that all those are “heavier launches”, which is patently untrue.

                USAF has got to get its head out of its arse, stop sending in the B- and C-teams, and get out ahead on this issue, or Congress or the courts are going to make them do something even more stupid than what they’re already doing.

              • Reality Bits

                Michael, now you are the one spewing the FUD.
                Didn’t you read the Q&A from ULA to SpaceX (specifically Questions 5 & 9):

                SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 and its follow-on, the Falcon Heavy, from the outset to meet the EELV design specifications, including the EELV Standard Interface Specification (SIS) and System Performance Requirements Document (SPRD), at no charge to the U.S. Air Force.

                http://www.spacenewsinc.com/pdf/ULAtoSpaceXquestionsandresponses.pdf

                That is pretty cut-n-dry. Your “concerns” are completely off the table. Requirements Rule!

            • RockyMtnSpace

              DBN stated “This FUD would hold water if:

              1) USAF knew what payloads the block buy will launch. (They don’t.)”

              They do. The order may change slightly given build delays, but the P/L are known. Just because you don’t know this info doesn’t mean the AF does not.

              “2) All DOD payloads went to GEO. (GPS, DMSP, and various classified payloads, among others, aren’t.)”

              Not the point. Total lift capability is the key metric including residual delta-V for GEO launches. F9 doesn’t meet most reqt’s. Few LV’s launch with unused capacity. The fact that you don’t know what is on every LV doesn’t change the argument.

              “3) All DOD payloads require direct injection to GEO. (They don’t.)”

              Red herring argument. Launch to GEO is not the point. Lift capability is along with launch flexibility and “other services” you have no insight into.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “They do. The order may change slightly given build delays, but the P/L are known. Just because you don’t know this info doesn’t mean the AF does not.”

                The USAF doesn’t know what payloads will launch on the block buy cores. Even for Senator McCain, the USAF can’t answer that simple question:

                “McCain argues that the Air Force has not stated what missions will be flown with those 36 core vehicles.”

                http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/mccain-wants-investigation-of-air-force-eelv-contract

                “Not the point. Total lift capability is the key metric including residual delta-V for GEO launches. F9 doesn’t meet most reqt’s. Few LV’s launch with unused capacity.”

                The current Falcon 9 (v1.1) exceeds the total lift capacity of the Atlas V 401, the Atlas V 501, and the Delta IV 9040, which have launched a combined 29 missions to date. Those are payloads that should be competed in the future. To claim otherwise on the basis of lift capacity is FUD or willful ignorance.

                “Red herring argument. Launch to GEO is not the point.”

                Tell that to the other poster. They were the one making that red herring argument. Not me.

                “along with launch flexibility”

                Launch flexibility is just a question of what manifesting rules are written into a contract. The U.S. taxpayer shouldn’t be jilted billions of dollars for a more expensive contractor (for LVs or anything else) when a less expensive contractor could deliver the same service with a key contract clause or two.

                Moreover, in the case of SpaceX, they’re moving their commercial payloads to Brownsville specifically so that they have a dedicated pad for national security launches at the Cape. It doesn’t get more “flexible” than that.

                “and ‘other services’ you have no insight into.”

                I have plenty of insight into those “other services” and there’s nothing in them that SpaceX or any other provider isn’t capable of meeting with modest adjustments. None of them warrant a differential of billions of taxpayer dollars.

                “Just because you don’t know this info”

                “The fact that you don’t know”

                “you have no insight into”

                If you’re going to repeatedly claim that another poster lacks knowledge (especially without knowing them), then you shouldn’t make willfully ignorant and totally false statements about the relative capacity of different launch vehicles, about what the USAF has (actually has not) stated about payloads for the block buy, and about the flexibility of launch providers.

                How dumb. Do your homework.

      • Fred Willett

        The Air Force held back seven launches from the block buy to allow SpaceX to compete for them. It awarded the other 28 launches to ULA
        The block buy was 36 launches with an additional 14 launches to be competed by existing providers (ULA) and new entrants (SpaceX). Now the DoD is saying that they’ve over estimated the number of launches required and there will be only 7 launches SpaceX can compete for.

        • Michael Kent

          No, 36 cores, not 36 launches. Four of the launches are Delta IV Heavies, each of which uses three cores. 28 flights is 2-1/2 years worth of launches for ULA.

      • JamesH

        So, if ULA need the block buy to enable them to keep the costs down, why are they so much more expensive than SpaceX who do NOT require the block buy to keep costs down…?

      • Neil

        SpaceX doesn’t use subcontractors since they produce nearly all their vehicles in-house. A block buy can be competitively tendered according to requirements and criteria open to those that meet them. However this block buy had only a single supplier with all others excluded. This was no competition, only a sole-source supply. Nothing but a rort. Procurement definitely needs a spring cleaning.

      • josh

        lol, you’re really desperate to defend ula’s bottom line, aren’t you? you’re not fooling anyone. spacex is ready and capable and ula wanted to lock out competition. that’s what they did, now they have to live with the consequences – being sued.

        • Michael Listner

          No one is being sued. Everything points Space X filing a “legal action” to establish a “right” to compete. I will be able to tell you more about the nature of the “action” once Space X releases the filing on Monday.

  • Jim Nobles

    I’ll just say that the courts have broken up monopolies in the past and I hope they break up this one as well. It’s ridiculous to ask the taxpayer to pay more than they have to.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    This is purely a guess but I’m thinking that someone, either in the DoD or from the Executive, has made Elon Musk promises about being given a cut of the EELV pie that has not been kept. It’s possible that SpaceX realigned priorities and delayed other projects because of those promises and Musk wants to be compensated for his trouble which, it turns out, was based on promises made in bad faith.

    • Robert G Oler

      that is possible, the alternative is also as well…ie gorging on DoD contracts ULA hangs around a lot longer then it could otherwise and Musk sees it siphoning off some business. RGO

      • Neil

        I’d say that RGO has the right spin on things. Musk is both a talented engineer and a savey businessman. He sees his plans being delayed by this restriction of trade as it reduces his earnings base and I also think that he’s just a bit pissed off with the politics.

    • MrEarl

      There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of they. I think you’ve too much House of Cards, Ben. :-)

      • Reality Bits

        Well when the USAF first says 36 core block buy and 14 open compete. Then after the block buy award turns around and says well we’re only going to open compete 7 due to some smoke & hand-waiving.

        I don’t blame Elon for being a little pissed. I think it’s refreshing to see a good engineer as a CEO.

        USAF Procurement doesn’t have a good track record, just look at the Tanker Follies/Fiasco.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi BRG –

      That guess is wrong.

      Casting aspersions on Sen McCain’s character is not a wise thing to do.

      The US (as in “we”, us) has an on-going need for launchers, and to ensure the capability for producing them.

      While some may view existing launch providers and the existing technology base as frustrating their plans for immediate manned flight to Mars, their fantasies have little to do with the real world, other than disrupting both serious discussion and efforts.

      I think that the AF will not allow DoD payloads to be flown on recovered stages until they are proven. That is regardless of whether they are from SpaceX or ULA.

  • Jim Nobles

    I think the Air Force is comfortable with the situation as it has been for years and don’t really want any change. The launches have been reliable and they are used to working with the contractors. They have zero interest in saving the taxpayers money as that concept does not really exist in their culture. There is no reason for them to embrace or welcome change in this area.

  • Michael Listner

    The protest filing to the U.S. Court of Claims will be available at http://www.freedomtolaunch.com on Monday. Should be interesting and telling.

    • Michael Listner

      This smells like it is going to be a request for a declaratory judgment, which is one that simply declares the rights of the parties, or expresser, the opinion of the court on a question of law, without ordering anything to be done.

      In other words, for the sharks circling the waters hoping that the USAF/ULA gets their collective pants sued off all that may come out of this is the court saying that Space X has a right to compete for this business or they don’t. Nobody will go to jail, the contract won’t abrogated and ULA won’t be broken up.

  • Cost savings and/of reusable launch vehicles is going to change how the DoD operates it’s space forces. A range of 20 or 30 reusable X-37s on call on a moments notice? Launched, launch vehicles returned and reequipped with militarized “Dream Chasers” in a two, three day turn-around? Sortie, after sortie, after sortie, till the launch vehicles finally do wear out.

    DoD would be negligent not to consider the enhanced capability SpaceX is offering at a relatively modest cost relative to what is being spent now for a lesser capability.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Now the Secretary of the Air Force is in hot water with at least one prominent senator over her testimony on this subject:

    “The letter to James asks about what McCain says is the ‘apparently incomplete and incorrect nature’ of her testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) earlier this month regarding the December 2013 award of a sole source block buy contract of 36 core vehicles from the ULA. SpaceX announced today that it is filing suit against the Air Force for awarding that contract without competition.

    McCain says that James’s testimony to SASC about the contract appears to be ‘specious’ because she said that it was for ‘heavier launches’ that no new entrant — e.g., SpaceX — has been qualified to meet. McCain argues that the Air Force has not stated what missions will be flown with those 36 core vehicles.”

    http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/mccain-wants-investigation-of-air-force-eelv-contract

    Right or wrong, some careers are going to get bruised or terminated by the time this is done.

    • Malmesbury

      Inside DOD and the USAF it comes down to the revolving door. Those involved in working with ULA will very often end up moving to ULA or the parent companies. Not necessarily working in the same programs, you understand, but nice well paid jobs.

      If the ULA buy gets down scaled, strangely those job opportunities will go away…

  • nom de plume

    Musk and McCain on the same side of an issue – how could that possibly happen? Does the Senator from AZ have a dog in this fight, motivated by pork, or just wants the USAF to play fair and potentially save a few $B?

    I seriously doubt the Secretary of the USAF deliberately misled the SASC. Blame their procurement culture – 1 or very few suppliers, easier to sole source, without much internal questioning of SS justification, and less external scrutiny of the process and few bid challenges.

    Unless the DOD IG uncovers some damning email involving ULA and their lobbyists (unlikely – they’re pros), I doubt this is going to change much. More likely, USAF will explain their criteria: SpaceX, at the time of the award, was (in their opinion) not qualified to bid; and why the USAF had to award the block buy when they did, versus delay the solicitation a year more or less. Either the block buy will stand or it will be withdrawn and re-competed.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Does the Senator from AZ have a dog in this fight, motivated by pork, or just wants the USAF to play fair and potentially save a few $B?”

      The latter. From campaign reform to pork barrel spending, McCain likes to position himself as a government reformer.

      “I seriously doubt the Secretary of the USAF deliberately misled the SASC… Unless the DOD IG uncovers some damning email involving ULA and their lobbyists”

      There’s nothing nefarious going on here. Just a lot of incompetence on DOD’s part that ULA has been able to take advantage of. Until and unless USAF gets a team with some above-average IQ’s and experience on this, they’re going to continue to fumble the ball. The danger is that Congress or the courts could force DOD to do something even more stupid than the block buy that ULA had been able to sucker USAF into.

      • Neil

        You’re absolutely correct DBN. USAF Procurement are totally incompetent. They can’t even get actual per launch costs from ULA let alone something to compare with SpaceX pricing going forward. And it’s interesting to note that the In-charge officer is ‘hoping to get this block buy squared away’ before he retires. Something really smelly going on here but proving it will require hard evidence.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        I’m also wondering where the White House is on this? Why do McCain’s staff have to step in when there are multiple White House agencies (NSC, OSTP, OMB) that should at least be spot-checking a procurement this large to ensure that it complies with national space transportation policy and is the best value for the government. Rich Dalbello at OMB should be landing on this issue with all four paws. Why is he missing in action? Same goes for Tony Wu, if he still handles national security space for OMB. Where’s NSC? Is anyone even handling space there these days?

        Space, especially national security space, is one of the limited number of issues that has institutionalized oversight at the White House regardless of the sitting President. EOP staff should have been on the ball and never let this block buy become so out of sync with their policy, budget, and what’s actually happening in industry. This has been in the works for a couple years. C’mon folks, earn your paychecks.

        • common sense

          “I’m also wondering where the White House is on this?”

          Is this in any way going to embarrass Congress? If yes then I suspect that this is your answer. But I really have no idea.

      • Vladislaw

        Allow the formation of a monopoly provider, ULA, and then are surprised they get monopoly pricing.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Musk, McCain, Obama, etc., etc.

      Perhaps Musk wins in politics by not engaging in politics, but sticking to engineering.

  • Michael Listner

    I have been invited to talk about this on the John Batchelder show on April 30th at 9:30 pm EST.

    • Coastal Ron

      I assume from a legal perspective?

      • Michael Listner

        From a legal and policy perspective.

        • Coastal Ron

          Not familiar with the show, but have fun.

        • common sense

          So this is all about some self-serving publicity? Oh well.

          But if you are familiar (an expert?) with the process it would have been a lot more constructive to give us the legal perspective rather than some off hand judgement on SpaceX capabilities that you have no idea about.

          • Michael Listner

            People who accuse others of being self-serving usually have that tendency themselves. Being further accused of not having any idea about what I am talking about is equally ironic since the overall presupposition is that ULA and the Air Force did something wrong without any proof to back it up. There is far more to this story than Space X good, ULA bad.

            • common sense

              I am not “accusing” merely stating.

              As an attorney you do not posses the expertise to judge the capabilities of SpaceX launch vehicles or ULA for that matter. A court of law would not call you to testify whether any launch vehicles meet the DoD requirements, You know otherwise people would get a JD to design rockets and usually they don’t.

              Now this being said and since you are supposedly familiar with the law, which becomes less and less clear to me, a lawsuit is a vehicle to understand and to expose to the public all the process that, here, went through this block buy. A law suit, just like competition, does not mean that SpaceX will win anything. Especially if the buy was set within the law. So as far as I am concerned there is nothing to worry about for ULA or the Air Force. Right?

              And yes. You appeared on this forum in order to announce your participation in an interview by somehow making unsupported statements about SpaceX – and ULA – capabilities.

              Self-serving indeed.

              Not sure how it is self-serving to me. Another unsupported allegation…

        • Reality Bits

          Good luck and have fun! ;)

    • Jim Nobles

      Is it going to be part of the Hotel Mars segment with David Livingston?

    • common sense

      So this is all about some self-serving publicity? Oh well.

      But if you are familiar (an expert?) with the process it would have been a lot more constructive to give us the legal perspective rather than some off hand judgement on SpaceX capabilities that you have no idea about.

  • common sense

    I just read John McCain’s letters over at nasawatch and I am very pleasantly surprised.

    His effort to become President were so poor and, I believe, tarnished his image so much that it is nice to see that at least in this matter he is acting responsibly and in a non partisan way which is so dearly lacking in our government these days.

    Well done Senator McCain and keep up with the good work now.

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