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Preliminary injunction blocks purchases of RD-180 engines (updated)

Late Wednesday, the presiding judge in the US Court of Federal Claims case between SpaceX and the US Air Force issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Air Force and United Launch Alliance (ULA) from purchasing RD-180 rocket engines from Russian company NPO Energomash. In her three-page decision, Judge Susan G. Braden concluded that purchases of those engines could run afoul of sanctions levied on Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian space industry. SpaceX made that argument in its complaint filed with the court on Monday: “In other words, under the ULA Contract, the Air Force is sending millions of dollars directly to an entity controlled by Russia and to an industry led by an individual identified for sanctions.”

The injunction by Judge Braden blocks purchases from and payments to NPO Energomash “unless and until the court receives the opinion of the United States Department of the Treasury, and the United States Department of Commerce and United States Department of State, that any such purchases or payments will not directly or indirectly contravene Executive Order 13,661,” the order that levied the sanctions on Rogozin and other Russian officials.

The injunction does not affect payments already made to, or purchase orders already placed with, NPO Energomash. Since ULA was not planning to receive any engines from Energomash until August, per a report last week in The Hill, the injunction has little impact on ULA and the Air Force in the short term. However, the injuction may offer some insights into the judge’s initial impressions of the SpaceX suit, since the opinion notes that several criteria are required in order for a preliminary injunction to be issued, including “a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits” and “irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted.”

Update 11:15am: ULA responded to the injunction with a statement issued to a select group of media outlets (which, after a delay, it did post to its website by midday Eastern time). In the statement, ULA general counsel Kevin MacCary said the company is “deeply concerned” with the suit and will work with the Justice Department “to resolve the injunction expeditiously.” MacCary also criticized SpaceX for its “opportunistic action” in seeking the injunction. “SpaceX’s attempt to disrupt a national security launch contract so long after the award ignores the potential implications to our National Security and our nation’s ability to put Americans on board the International Space Station,” he said in the statement.

75 comments to Preliminary injunction blocks purchases of RD-180 engines (updated)

  • Neil

    Interesting! I doubt anyone would have predicted this any sort of move this quickly.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Okay, it has all now officially hit the fan. There is a two year stockpile of RD-180s for the current flight rate (optimistically 20-25 units) and, barring hasty footwork by DoD, that’s going to be it, for a few years, at least.

    The way I see it, Lockheed Martin has two options:

    1) Hunker down and pray that the sanctions are lifted before they run out of engines;

    2) Use some of that $1 Billion/year that ULA claim is to give reliability and assured access to get PWR/Aerojet to get started on domestic RD-180 production.

    • Hiram

      Of course, even if domestic production of RD-180s is started (which will no doubt include design upgrades to decade-old engineering), using processes that will try to duplicate that from Energomash, ULA is still going to find itself with Atlas launchers that are fundamentally untested, which is going to come up short competitively compared with Falcon.

      In that respect, I have to assume that the future of Atlas devolves to option 1 only. That is, domestic production of RD-180s may not really solve ULAs problem.

    • E.P. Grondine

      “it has all now officially hit the fan”

      Hi Ben –

      Not all of “it”. There is a whole lot more.

  • The chickens have come home to roost on horrendous decisions Lockmart and the Defense Department made 20 years ago. Heads should roll, if there are any left from that era.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I can already see the statement from DoD in my head. It will include such phrases as ‘collective decision-making’, ‘no single responsible individual’, ‘mistakes were apparently made’, ‘regret any perception of harm caused’ and ‘lessons will be learnt’. The statement will conclude with an impassioned plea to ‘move on in the name of national security’.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      Heads should roll, if there are any left from that era.

      All we need to do is let the free market solve this. Not sure why you’ve never understood this.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        The problem, Ron, is that the “free market” and its disciplines have not applied to government procurement in the US at least since World War 2 and possibly much longer. The government spends public money with the implicit objective to insulate its large, favoured suppliers from free market disciplines.

    • Dick Eagleson

      All the brass hats who had anything to do with those decisions have long since retired from the military and taken jobs wih ULA as “Executive Vice Presidents in Charge of Playing Golf with Congresscritters.”

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Regarding the update: I notice that ULA have not mentioned the injunction against buying more RD-180s in their response. I suspect that this is partly because it is a separate matter but I suspect it is primarily because they know that an injunction arising from an Executive Order and isn’t so easy to brush off.

    • numbers_guy101

      Rather, I would bet money the injunction will be ignored by ULA for all practical purposes. For a little while the injunction actually helps ULA (they will charge the Air Force EXTRA for having to assess, mitigate, etc. the injunction situation). Soon some “back stamping” of actions/orders to before the injunction date will take place as well. This prior as they realize they have to get some money spent now while they can. This also helps ULA (AF will say the spend plan stayed on target! Great! Collect award!).

      Longer term, if this drags on, they’ll have generated some complex legal mumbo-jumbo memo’s; they’ll basically disregard the injunction through sophisticated “interpretations”. Anyone thinks this is going to stop launches is dreaming. In parallel, they’ll get that new engine program going (arguing otherwise one day launches may stop!). This new money helps ULA even more. Vastly so (work of Atlas people to collaborate with TBD new engine contractor). Ka’ching.

      No one will be the wiser since all this is so buried behind so many accounting layers. Distributing overly complex memo’s will provide any defense some years hence when this may come out (plead complexity!).

      That said, none of the prior has nothing to do with what is really dangerous to ULA in the lawsuit. The real advantage to SpaceX, legal win, lose or draw, is in getting the ULA story out in the public eye. Getting cost data out there somehow. Causing the stir is the win. It’s the process, not the outcome, that ULA and Air Force will stress over and SpaceX has only to gain from. If ULA and AF realize this, it’s the process itself they will try to stop cold, and soon.

  • Michael Listner

    Before you all sharpen your axes for the public execution of ULA consider that this preliminary injunction does not address the award of cores under the EELV program. Instead it focuses specifically on the future purchase of RD-180 engines from Russia for the Atlas 5.

    The Court issued the preliminary injunction on its own accord; Space X did not ask for the Court to enjoin the purchase of RD-180 in its complaint. Even if ULA is permanently enjoined from making future purchases of the RD-180, ULA can offer the Delta IV and its variants and if the Court eventually holds that USAF did not violate federal law Space X could find itself in the same position it is now.

    This may not be popular on this board, but it is what it is.

    • Vladislaw

      Gosh that would just be great.. the taxpayers get to still pay the higher ULA prices.

    • Dick Eagleson

      That wouldn’t exactly put SpaceX in the same place it is now. ULA has launched 45 Atlas V’s and 25 Delta IV’s since the debut of both rockets in 2002. Delta IV has less payload capacity, sans strap-on solids, than Atlas V. Possibly because of the lower production volumes on Delta IV – and possibly because the dirt-cheap RD-180′s make it possible to charge a bit less for Atlas V’s – the Delta IV birds have always cost the government more to fly. So, absent Atlas V, ULA’s deal is “More expense; Less payload.” Yeah, that’ll go over big. What it will do is make SpaceX’s value proposition even easier to sell than it is now. Once the Falcon Heavy is in the mix, it’s prety much lights out for ULA as we have come to know it.

      Oddly, this might actually result in more competiton for SpaceX than if ULA was able to continue under current management with all of its thumb-on-the-scale advantages (like that $1 billion/year subsidy). A ULA that went bankrupt and was sold for pennies on the dollar to a new management team with some actual business savvy might be able to make a go of both a re-engined Atlas V and the Delta IV. It’s hard to see how they could do worse than the current gang of idiots.

      • Jim Nobles

        I plead ignorance but I’m wondering just what relationship ULA has with its hardware? Do they actually own rockets and then offer them to launch? Do they just make the business deals and then call Lockheed and/or Boeing after they have a contract and then order a rocket? What physical assets does ULA have, just office space?

  • Malmesbury

    As I understand it the fact that the judge didn’t chuck the case out at this point means that it passed the basic smell test.

    Could have done that and still injuncted RD-180 imports…

    • Michael Listner

      Space X is seeking a declaratory judgment and injunction against USAF/United States. ULA made a motion to intervene, which was granted and makes them an interested party in this matter, hence the statement by ULA’s general counsel. The Court cannot grant or dismiss a permanent injunction without a hearing.

      What is telling is the Court did not issue a preliminary injunction for any requests Space X made in its Bid Protest and instead zeroed in the purchase of the RD-180 from Russia and how they may implicate and issued a preliminary injunction on its own for the RD-180. The law of unintended consequences may have reared its head and things could get interesting for all involved.

      • Jim Nobles

        At the very least I’d expect political pressure to give the rocket makers a HUGE ($5b+) payout of taxpayer money to start working on the domestic equivalent of the RD-180. Regardless of whether or not other companies are already working on equipment that might be used in this situation.

  • M

    A bit hypocritical of Mr. Musk to promote “fair and open competition” while using every regulatory and judicial avenue to change the rules to kill the competition. He does not support fair and open competition. He wants to supplant one monopoly with another.

    Mr. Musk is a businessman, pure and simple. Making $$ is his goal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, the priorities of his potential customer, the US Air Force, and more importantly, the safety and well-being of the American serviceman is not a priority for him. They are only peons to be manipulated in any way for him to make a buck.

    • Hiram

      Regulatory and judicial recourse is there precisely to guarantee quality competition. Why shouldn’t Musk use it? We’re not talking about changing rules. We’re talking about following them. This isn’t about killing ULA, but about injecting some sense into DoD procurement.

      The customer priorities are contained within the bid requirements, and procurement success is measured by fulfilling those requirements at the lowest cost. So to the extent USAF is looking out for the safety and well-being of the American serviceman, that lookout is contained within the bid requirements. Oh, those are the bid requirements that SpaceX wasn’t even allowed to respond to …

      Boogymen are all over the place for you, no?

      • The US Air Force is not going to trust the national security of the United States to some– eccentric billionaire– whose launched only about a dozen rockets successfully and who appears to be more concerned about getting his share rather than about the national security of the American people.

        Marcel

        • Vladislaw

          You mean like Howard Huges? The USAF follows orders. They will use what they are ordered to use.

        • Coastal Ron

          Marcel F. Williams said:

          The US Air Force is not going to trust the national security of the United States to some– eccentric billionaire…

          I don’t think you understand the definition of the word “eccentric”. If anything Musk would be defined as a “successful” and “business savvy” billionaire. Nothing eccentric about that.

          And the Air Force doesn’t usually stipulate that “no eccentric billionaires can bid” in their RFP’s. This is just jealously talking.

          …whose launched only about a dozen rockets successfully…

          And that demonstrates the trend the Air Force wants – successful launches. And if you listen to what the Air Forces says, they have been very vocal about how much money they have to spend to launch their payloads to space, so Elon Musk IS addressing one of their major concerns.

          …and who appears to be more concerned about getting his share rather than about the national security of the American people.

          Oh please. You can’t us the top U.S. Government contractors are non-profits. This is really a silly line of reasoning – please drop it.

        • BlueMoon

          “The US Air Force is not going to trust the national security of the United States to some– eccentric billionaire…”

          Instead, the USAF is going to trust the national security of the United States to Russia. Interesting logic at work there.

        • Dick Eagleson

          So we should trust the national security of the United States instead to faceless drones in Boeing, LockMart and ULA management who made the sterling decision to stick the national crank into a meat grinder whose “ON” switch is located in Moscow? Gimme an eccentric billionaire any time!

        • numbers_guy101

          Marcel-in saying “The US Air Force is not going to trust the national security of the United States to some– eccentric billionaire”, you’re thinking there is just one US Air force.

      • M

        Oh, but they most definitely ARE trying changing the rules. No doubt about that. How is trying to halt import of the RD-180 not trying to change the rules? What part of restricting free trade equates to “free and open competition”? Mr. Musk is the media darling that has many of you wrapped around his finger. What he has been unable to do yet is to convince the customer (USAF) of the same.

        Why does he want the RD-180 contract terminated because it’s Russian, when he doesn’t say a word about the Russian materials used on his own rocket? It’s hypocritical to say the least. He using the government to twist the rules in his favor. Now, I understand that’s how the game is played in D.C., but when one side of his mouth preaches “free and open competition” while the other is playing “lobby the government to change rules in my favor” card, that’s hypocrisy.

        • Hiram

          “How is trying to halt import of the RD-180 not trying to change the rules?”

          Not sure where you get that. Musk pointed out that purchase on the MD-180 might well violate the sanctions and, in fact, it was later decided by a federal judge that it did. Are you saying he has that judge in his pocket? Now, he smiles when that happens of course. Why wouldn’t he?

          The rules, I’m afraid, are the sanctions. Oh, but he’s definitely not not trying to change them. The sanctions are already what “restricts free trade”. He’s not twisting them. He’s just bathing in them.

          Now Elon Musk has no paranoia about Russian stuff, so there is no hypocrisy. Russian stuff is fine with him. But it’s not fine with the Administration. Of course, Elon Musk isn’t too happy about the Russians, because last year NASA awarded them half a billion dollars to ferry astronauts to ISS.

          If I were you, I’d take a deep breath, chill out, and tell your handlers at ULA that you’re tired of them.

          • M

            I’m not surprised that there are many people like you wrapped up in Mr. Musk’s marketing genius. He truly is a marketing genius, which is not something you can say about his competition. However, I don’t see how you can get around the hypocrisy of these two facts.

            1. Mr. Musk OPPOSES the government decision to institute the block buy agreement between USAF and ULA because he says it limits fair and open competition.
            2. Mr. Musk SUPPORTS the government decision to impose sanctions on Russia even though it limits fair and open competition. (By the way, Mr. Musk was lobbying hard for these sanctions well before they were implemented. In other words, he was lobbying to “change the rules”)

            Both stances are understandable from SpaceX’s perspective, but Mr. Musk just needs to just stop with the “fair and open competition” rhetoric. That’s where the hypocrisy is so blatantly obvious – his rhetoric. He only wants fair and open competition when it suits him (opposes block buy). Where it doesn’t, he holds just the opposite view (supports economic sanctions).

            It never ceases to amaze me how many people sit at his feet and eat up every crumb he tosses out there.

            • Hiram

              “Mr. Musk SUPPORTS the government decision to impose sanctions on Russia even though it limits fair and open competition. (By the way, Mr. Musk was lobbying hard for these sanctions well before they were implemented …”

              Huh? Lobbying? Musk’s opinion on sanctions counts not a whit. The sanctions aren’t congressionally mandated. They come out of the Administration. The White House and State Department aren’t looking to Elon Musk for advice in the matter. Musk’s political donations won’t buy him anything. Those sanctions have nothing to do with the U.S. economy, of which Musk is a part.

              Get a clue. The sanctions against Russia are specifically levied because our government says that Russia isn’t behaving in a way that they deserve “fair and open competition”. That’s the Administration saying it, not Elon Musk. Hey, we should be buying stuff from North Korea. You know, like life-sized models of rockets for parades. What? We can’t?? Where’s the “fair and open competition” there? Let’s not be hypocritical now. If Russia deserves fairness and openness, then EVERYONE should deserve it. Geez, we could buy plutonium from Iran!

              BTW, this isn’t “marketing genius”. It hardly takes a genius to see that SpaceX would benefit if RD-180s fell under the sanctions.

              It never ceases to amaze me how many people create crumbs of opinion out of irrelevancies that are tossed out there. Nope, you aren’t Michael Gass. He’s a lot smarter than that.

              • M

                You had no idea that SpaceX lobbyists have been helping Diane Feinstein and others write legislation that outlaws the RD-180? That they have been sending acutal verbiage to include in legislation? That there is actual pending legislation floating around DC with SpaceX-authored veribiage in it? You don’t know this yet you talk with such authority that they are not influencing policy?

                I know what the administration says relative to Russia. You think they do this all in some vacuum without influence from lobbyists? Really?? ULA does the same thing. This is how Washington works. It’s no secret that SpaceX has been pulling strings behind the scenes for quite awhile with some very powerful people, as does ULA. Well, maybe it’s a secret to you. Get a clue? Please?? You obviously are not tied into this at all. Talk about naive.

              • Hiram

                “You had no idea that …?”

                It matters little whether I did or didn’t have an idea about it. The point is that the sanctions we’re talking about are not under control of Congress. If Congress wants to layer on additional congressional sanctions, well, that’s the way politics works. Lockheed and Boeing donate a lot more to Diane Feinstein than SpaceX does, that’s for sure. “Pending legislation”? Ah, hah, ha. That means it’s sitting on someones desk. Trees get cut down for legislation. Forests get cut down for “pending legislation”.

                Goodness, I would HOPE that SpaceX, and ULA as well, had been “pulling strings behind the scenes”. They’re paying good money for that pulling. Of course, there are a whole lot of strings up there being pulled, and sometimes it’s hard to know who else is pulling what you’re pulling. Welcome to congressional lobbying.

                So let’s see. Obama is supposed to rail against Russia, and boldly set up sanctions. But he’s supposed to qualify those sanctions to exclude ULA? That sure detracts from any boldness. ULA is caught in a nasty squeeze, that’s for sure. They could have factored that possibility into their business plan, but it’s not clear they did. SpaceX is on the sidelines, cheering on those sanctions, but their enthusiasm for the sanctions is completely separate from national defense policy.

                As to talking “about naive”, I actually wasn’t. But I’m glad you bring it up. As to being tied into it, those strings pulling on you sure must be uncomfortable.

            • Bob

              “Mr. Musk SUPPORTS the government decision to impose sanctions on Russia even though it limits fair and open competition.”

              Not really, since your ULA colleagues can still bid the made-in-the-USA Delta IV for those launches even in the unlikely event the sanctions persist for a long time.

              • M

                Um, yes, really. It’s convenient that Mr. Musk wants to can the Atlas vehicle because it is the less costly of the two vehicles (between Atlas v Delta). That way he can complete against the more expensive Delta vehicle. He’s a smart businessman, and he chooses his public comments wisely, so people like will believe that it’s just a simple as bidding “the made-in-the-USA Delta IV for those launches even in the unlikely event the sanctions persist for a long time.
                ..”

        • Hiram

          “M” — that ‘s Michael, as in Gass, right? Well, it’s a good guess. Keep trying!

        • Dick Eagleson

          Okay, I’ll bite. What “Russian materials used on his rocket” would those be, exactly?

    • John Malkin

      Anonymous M – Aren’t ULA (Lockheed/Boeing) businesses with stock holders whose goal is making $$? Why is he different from them? Besides he doesn’t have stock holders pushing him to make bad decisions.

      “…more importantly, the safety and well-being of the American serviceman is not a priority for him.”

      Also the Air Force was to evaluate Orbital Sciences’ Antares launch vehicle and the Falcon Heavy.

    • Dick Eagleson

      You probably should be thinking about investing that ULA 401K money in something besides company stock. Just saying.

    • Dick Eagleson

      Personally, “M”, I’d be bit more inclined to question the concern for “the safety and well-being of the American serviceman” by the morons who decided to rest much of America’s military satellite deployment capability on bargain-basement engines bought from our former principal enemy as a way to fatten their already obscenely fat sole-source procurement contracts than I would Mr. Musk. There is certainly corproate greed and government corruption putting these matters at risk, but none of that is attributable to SpaceX.

  • Malmesbury

    “The law of unintended consequences may have reared its head and things could get interesting for all involved.”

    Yup – can’t see how the executive branch can back pedal on this without looking stupid.

    The republicans in congress can’t protest without looking weak – foolish or not.

  • I hope Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and the ULA finally recognize that Space X is their economic and political enemy. Elon’s trying to burn down America’s current military and civilian space programs in order for Space X to save it– and to monopolize it!

    Elon’s greed is making him a lot of enemies in Congress and in the DOD. But he dose have the political odd couple of Obama and John McCain on his side:-)

    Marcel

    • Jim Nobles

      I hope Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and the ULA finally recognize that Space X is their economic and political enemy.

      I’m pretty sure they do realize this, hence their efforts to use their friends in government to try and lock out SpaceX competition for years to come. BTW the term “competitor” is probably more appropriate than “economic enemy” is this case.

      Elon’s trying to burn down America’s current military and civilian space programs in order for Space X to save it– and to monopolize it!

      That sounds more like a plot for a story arc in a comic book. Perhaps you have confused your reading?

      Elon’s greed is making him a lot of enemies in Congress and in the DOD.

      Actually SpaceX seems to slowly gaining more friends and respectability. With each success it becomes clearer that they have developed a better way to do certain things and most people can see that. I expect their stars to shine slowly brighter as time goes on.

    • Yes, and that’s not the worst of it, Marcel. I happen to know Elon has sold his soul to the devil! How else can we explain one person radically disturbing two well established industries in such a short time? He truly is diabolical in the both the figurative and literal senses of the word! :)

    • amightywind has discussed Mr. Musk’s tendency to make enemies many times. Eventually, especially when there is a shift in political power, it will come back to haunt him. I will watch with glee.

      • Jim Nobles

        You’re indulging in those dark fantasies again. You know they’re not good for you.

      • Vladislaw

        Is this amightwind one, two or three, you have so many personalities I never know with crazy you are refering to when you refer to yourself.

        Can you get some crazy hats with numbers on them so we can tell which crazy we are talking with?

        • I can castigate Lockmart and the DoD for bad decision making in the 1990′s and still disapprove of the political maneuvering of Musk. This comes as a shock to those who are completely politically biased, I know.

          • Jim Nobles

            Windy, Musk is doing the right thing. He’s doing what you’re supposed to do if you think a competitor is gaming the system in a way that’s unfair or even possibly illegal. He wants the courts to take a look at the situation and make the call, there’s certainly nothing wrong or improper about that.

            This very quick temporary injunction against purchasing RD-180 engines caught me by surprise though. SpaceX didn’t really ask for it in their filing. It’s like the judge was just sitting there waiting for a chance to jump on it. I can’t explain it.

            I don’t think you should be accusing others of being “completely politically biased” as you probably fit that description as much or more than anyone else on the board.

    • Vladislaw

      ULA has been giving how much money to congressional members to block SpaceX? You statement is silly considering they have fought it from day one.

    • Hiram

      “Elon’s trying to burn down America’s current military and civilian space programs”

      So this is about Elon trying to incinerate America’s current military and civilian space programs? Who knew? I thought this was about SpaceX getting a chance to compete. But really, if you’re concerned with incineration, it must mean that you’re damned scared that SpaceX will at least singe USAF procurement officials. And no, this has nothing to do with incinerating ULA. It’s just a matter of whether SpaceX is allowed to submit a bid for the same contract that ULA is submitting one for. It’s up to USAF procurement to decide whether anything gets burned down. I have to presume that you don’t have a lot of respect for their abilities to protect the national interest.

      Speaking of burning down space programs, the injunction blocking RD-180 purchases throws a bigger Molotov cocktail into the American space program, via Atlas, than Musk is capable of. I don’t think that injunction needed to be judged by procurement officials, either, as Falcon bid compliance would be. Oops.

    • BlueMoon

      What’s stopping ULA, Northrop, or any US private or public company from building rockets that are better and cheaper than SpaceX products, and hogging most or all of the national security launch business? SpaceX can be “burned down” too, as you put it. What’s your real beef, Marcel?

      • Jim Nobles

        “What’s stopping ULA, Northrop, or any US private or public company from building rockets that are better and cheaper than SpaceX products, and hogging most or all of the national security launch business?”

        I don’t think this point gets emphasized enough. There is no reason at all that others in the aerospace industry cannot do what SpaceX has done. Let me say it a different way, if SpaceX can muster the engineering and management talent to bring products and services to market at their price-point there exists no fundamental reason that others cannot do it as well.

        I have my on opinions about what’s happening. I am confident that Boeing and Lockheed and others have the engineering talent to honestly compete with SpaceX. In fact that is exactly what some of us hoped would happen. We hoped once SpaceX proved it could be done some or even all of the other competitors would emulate the systems, processes, and philosophies that SpaceX has developed. Then use what they learned to bring their own products and services to market at a competitive price.

        The fact that this has not really happened yet I find disturbing. Some people have told me not to worry about it, that it is still quite early in the change and it’s too soon to dismiss the idea. Others have just said to be calm and let the market do the work. But I have admit that I have a developed a fear. I now strongly suspect that although the engineering talent exists in these other companies, the management talent simply may not. That no matter how much other large aerospace firms want to compete effectively they may simply never be able to because the starched white collar talent just isn’t there.

        I hope the industry doesn’t have to “burn down” in order to clear out the old underbrush enough for new growth to come up. That could add years to the process.

        • Hiram

          I guess legacy aerospace contractors find it more cost effective to invest in lawyers than in engineers. There’s a lot of that going around, and yes, it is disturbing. Now, that isn’t a good incentive for hiring. Who, with an ounce of technical drive, wants to work for a place that is more concerned with protecting legacy hardware than to develop new hardware?

        • Coastal Ron

          Jim Nobles said:

          Let me say it a different way, if SpaceX can muster the engineering and management talent to bring products and services to market at their price-point there exists no fundamental reason that others cannot do it as well.

          And

          I now strongly suspect that although the engineering talent exists in these other companies, the management talent simply may not.

          First let me say THANK YOU for your post. Very clearly expressed, and very on point.

          I too agree that there is plenty of engineering talent, and with every success SpaceX has it becomes that much clearer the path others should follow.

          When you have a sustaining business model (like ULA), it is staffed with people that know how to make that model work. But if you want to create a new business model, you shouldn’t use the people that are beholden to the old business model – it never works.

          That’s why organizations like the Lockheed Skunk Works were created and why they succeeded, because they didn’t have to follow “the way we’ve always done things”.

          As Steve Blank defines it, “a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” Elon Musk had to do that with SpaceX because he was starting from scratch from a business model standpoint (i.e. low cost launch services) AND from a product standpoint (i.e. a working low cost launch system). Now it could be argued that the business model side is now well understood enough that new entrants don’t have to overcome the same level of skepticism that SpaceX had, but any new entrant still needs to figure out the hardware path (i.e. the rocket hardware), and that is daunting by itself.

          So I do think that a Boeing or Lockheed Martin could develop a new low cost launcher, but in order to truly make it competitive with SpaceX they will have to spin off the work to a new division that owes no allegiance to “the old ways” of doing things. A true internal startup.

          But I don’t see that happening, at least not for Boeing or Lockheed Martin. Not in the near term at least. A shame too, since as you point out there is plenty of engineering talent around, but it’s the “old ways” of their current business model holding them back – and that only accelerates their inevitable fall.

        • Gary Warburton

          You`re right there Jim. ULA hasn`t exactly been the picture of innovation here. Even when they can see what SpaceX has been doing regarding re-usability and bringing down costs, they have preferred manipulation of politicians and the military, to doing the honest work of actually trying to compete. SpaceX isn`t the bad guy here their the ones doing the right thing not ULA. I don`t feel sorry for them one bit.

        • It’s not an issue of management talent so much as one of corporate culture. Companies like Boeing and Lockmart view R&D as a profit center, not a cost center.

    • Dick Eagleson

      I hope Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and the ULA finally recognize that Space X is their economic and political enemy.

      Rest assured, Marcel, they’ve known that ever since they got together to keep SpaceX out of Vandenberg in the Falcon 1 days. Exiled to Kwaj, Elon and company managed to make a go of things anyway, then came back and got a spot at V’berg too. Or one could point to last year’s bit of Blue Origin sock-puppetry ULA arranged to try bollixing up SpaceX’s lease of Launch Complex 39A. It was ULA gratuitously screwing with a government contract in that case. Now SpaceX has a substantive reason to screw with the corrupt bargain the USAF procurement REMF’s made with ULA to keep Elon out for a few more years. Payback’s a bitch.

      Elon’s trying to burn down America’s current military and civilian space programs in order for Space X to save it– and to monopolize it!

      Speaking strictly for myself, “America’s military and civilian space programs” are so riddled with dry-rot, political manipulation, corruption and cronyism that I’d be pleased to hand Elon the match if he actually intended to do what you say. He may wind up taking down some rapidly rusting iron rice bowls as he goes about the business of blowing some fresh air of rationality into parts of the government that haven’t smelled any in decades, but I don’t thinks that’s his main goal. That said, I’ll be rooting for any collateral damage he manages to inflict.

      Elon’s greed is making him a lot of enemies in Congress and in the DOD.

      Far from obvious by inspection. I’ve no doubt that he has, indeed, made enemies of USAF procurement REMF’s looking to line up cushy post-retirement gigs with the usual-suspect legacy aerospace majors and the handful of corrupt Congresscritters with ULA facilities in their home states/districts, but that was a given when he started out. As you acknowledge, one thing Elon is very good at is drawing bright lights to things. It’s going to be interesting to see what sorts of insects scuttle for cover as he swings his light around. Fasten your seatbelts, boys, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

      But he dose have the political odd couple of Obama and John McCain on his side:-)

      Apparently political differences do not fatally affect the ability to smell shit when one steps in a big steaming pile of it.

  • common sense

    Michael, is it right to say that the court went with whatever immediately actions were actionable?

    I don’t think I would give it another meaning with regard of the rest of the proceedings though.

    Also you do as you please of course but I think you should keep from making remarks about this board. You know whether things are popular or salient audience. The reality is you don’t know who is on this board. Just sayin’

    • Michael Listner

      I’m done posting on this board or any, so it won’t be an issue.

      • Bennett In Vermont

        No tears here, shill.

        • Jim Nobles

          “Shill”? A bit rude, heh? Although to be fair a person has to be a little more thick skinned than most to participate in a political board. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure.

        • Michael Listner

          I take offense as being labeled as a “shill” Mr. “Bennett in Vermont”. I have no affiliation with ULA or Space X and if I did I would not be on these forums or would otherwise disclose it. That’s the mark of a professional, and as a professional who cultivates his reputation in the community carefully, I do not look kindly upon baseless accusations made by users who choose for whatever reason to hide behind screen names.

          • Neil

            Michael.

            I appreciate your comments even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. That’s the nature of democracy and civilised debate. I certainly won’t be calling anyone names (unless they are posting something truly offensive or totally lacking in research where they should know better.)

            At least on this board, you don’t get banned and stopped from posting unlike my experience on another one. FHS even AMW gets a hearing and he/she’s not exactly in the majority.

            Hats off to Mr Foust.

            Cheers

            • Michael Listner

              You are free to disagree with me because you are entitled to your opinion, and I respect that and invite it. I do love it when people legitmately disagree with me. Unfortunately, many people do not see it that way. Moreover, being called a “shill” is not an opinion; it’s a accusation and a very serious one considering I hold a professional license. I cannot let that stand unchallenged.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “The law of unintended consequences may have reared its head”

    This is what the USAF gets when it repeatedly puts the B-teams on space development project management and procurement. At a minimum, you need a team that is cognizant of the industry landscape, can compare the performance and costs of different vehicles, can perceive a competitive situation when it emerges, and has a little backbone and modestly perceptive thinking when powerful contractors make specious arguments. Clearly, DOD’s EELV team was not any of these things.

    Because of awful Pentagon staffing on space programs, now the courts are being forced to threaten the mid- to long-term viability of tens of billions of dollars of national security space programs over whether one Russian politician has a thousand or million dollar hand in the till. It’s stupid, but bureaucratic ineptness has painted the courts into this corner.

    USAF needs to put some A-teams on its space programs, and those bureaucrats have to do their homework and use common sense for once. Otherwise, the nation’s space security programs are going to continue to be a sad joke of technical execution, cost overruns, and control taken out of the Pentagon’s hands.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi DBN –

      “The law of unintended consequences may have reared its head.”

      My estimate is that is a real understatement, as most people here will learn over the next several weeks.

  • Jeff Foust

    A gentle reminder to, as always, not make personal attacks against other people discussing issues posted here. Thank you, as always, for your cooperation.

  • Op-ed in this morning’s Florida Today:

    http://www.floridatoday.com/story/opinion/columnists/matt-reed/2014/05/03/matt-reed-reliant-russia-scary/8632329/

    Matt Reed a couple of basic facts wrong. It’s Orbital Sciences, not Blue Origin, that launches out of Virginia. Also the court ruling did not halt the block buy, it stopped new purchases of RD-180 engines.

  • josh

    I’m reading marcel’s and windy’s ‘contributions’ mostly for comic relief these days. These guys are too much…xD
    Factual errors, logical inconsistencies, double standards galore, shameless whining and shilling, paranoid and destructive fantasies. There is something there for everybody!

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