Congress

Nelson: we have “major decisions” to make soon on launch issues

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) spoke on the Senate floor for more than 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon to discuss the current effect of the Ukraine crisis on US-Russia space relations, including comments by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin on Tuesday regarding restrictions on the use of RD-180 engines and the life of the International Space Station after 2020. “I wanted to give the Senate and all of those in the press that have been asking me the best of what I could conclude at this point,” he said.

Much of his speech (available on C-SPAN; skip ahead to the five-hour mark) dealt with the history of US-Soviet/Russian cooperation in space, including the decision to make use of the RD-180 engine. He also mentioned the ongoing Defense Department study on RD-180 alternatives and fallback positions if the supply of engines is restricted, including stretching out the supply of the stockpile of RD-180 engines and shifting payloads to other launch vehicles.

“We’re going to have some major decisions to make here,” he said, include determining how to ensure assured access to space for both military and civil payloads. Some of those decisions could come as soon as next week, he said, when the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up its version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The House version of the NDAA, passed last week before Rogozin’s latest threats to the RD-180 supply, included a provision calling for development of a new liquid-propellant rocket engine that could replace the RD-180 by the end of the decade.

Nelson didn’t provide any strong opinions on how he felt those questions should be answered, although he may have dropped a hint by suggesting that, if the RD-180 supply is interrupted, some national security payloads could be shifted to the Falcon 9, which he called a “very successful” rocket. “These are the questions we’re going to have to answer,” he said, “and they’re going to have to be answered in the near future.”

81 comments to Nelson: we have “major decisions” to make soon on launch issues

  • numbers_guy101

    A “major decision” that is not being talked about is setting the broader cost and economic goals for a new US rocket engine. How much should it take to develop? How much should each unit engine sell for? What is the assumed number of engines that might be sold at that price? What is the market? And what is the competitive economic advance that such a government enabled investment would further?

    The vicious cycle these programs get into starts with an inefficient development. The costs climb, workforces grow. It is nearly impossible later to offer a good price per unit, as the cost per unit gets driven by not wanting to reduce the previous large workforce that had been bought on for development. A sole customer strategy eventually becomes the approach, trying to find just one rich benefactor that is price insensitive. That could easily occur here, with the Air Force being the benefactor to Atlas and ULA. No broader competitive goals would have been accomplished, as the development and later the manufacturing are bloated. The engines sell to no one other than that sole customer. The best buggy whip ever is the final result.

    An approach is required with a lower burn rate in dollars during engine development, while also being efficient, so schedule to complete remains an input, a driving goal. The company that gets any Air Force and/or NASA dollars (it could be collaborative) could be chosen based on funding some early milestones for a handful of competitors. The actual progress on early milestones would whittle down the decision on the funded companies for a second round. The strength of each companies business case, how well they are heading to a competitive per unit price, and how well a broader customer base is defined, and likely (non-Atlas customers) would be a key factor in the final down-select.

    These are the decisions to be made. Business as usual, stuffed ballot box competitions, and poor long term prospects for US technology, or adaptation, looking forward, and a healthy US rocket engine industry able to stand on their own.

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      Numbers_Guy – you describe to a T the traditional government development process.

      Right now, the way to bet on DOD’s Russian engine problem is that this process will prevail. It’s what the government does when it decides to Do Something. Expecting any other process, no matter how superior, is futile without also providing for the (politically substantial) means to alter the traditional process.

      The way to bet on this traditional process is that AerojetPWR will then be the contractor. The US has a couple other engine development teams that might handle the problem, but these teams work for companies that aren’t in the business of selling engines to others, and (so far as I know) don’t show signs of wanting to get into that business. AerojetPWR is in that business, and also in the business of winning government contracts, and is very good at the latter. QED, it’ll be AerojetPWR – absent some major external input to the system that I don’t currently see.

      And the way to bet is that the results will then be as you say: “The vicious cycle these programs get into starts with an inefficient development. The costs climb, workforces grow. It is nearly impossible later to offer a good price per unit, as the cost per unit gets driven by not wanting to reduce the previous large workforce that had been bought on for development. A sole customer strategy eventually becomes the approach, trying to find just one rich benefactor that is price insensitive.” Save that this sole customer strategy will in fact be the approach from the start.

      I’ve seen a lot of suggestions for superior methods of fostering development of an engine that’d be faster, cheaper, and better for the US launch industry in general. I’m all in favor of that result. I do not yet see any plausible method of getting there from here via any likely government response to the current crisis.

      It’s entirely possible that the most beneficial thing the government could do here is, nothing. IE, plan to deal with any actual RD-180 cutoff by reshuffling launches onto D4 and F9 as needed, and let the launch companies figure out propulsion for themselves. OSC has said they’re currently negotiating for an NK-33/AJ-26 successor engine, no details provided. ULA may or may not be ready to also pay for such an engine; whoever OSC is talking to would be foolish not to find out if ULA also might buy some. And the development would have a chance of actually happening quickly and efficiently if it’s outside the government procurement system.

  • James B Franks

    Can anyone actually get the video to jump forward? Both Chrome and Firefox do nothing when you try and advance it to the 5 hour mark.

  • Robert Clark

    Thanks for that. Maybe FINALLY Congress will get over this bizarre opposition to the commercial crew program and realize we need to accelerate not delay an independent U.S. space access capability:

    It’s Time to Push for US Human Spaceflight Independence (Op-Ed)
    Richard Garriott, Cosmonaut/Astronaut, and Owen Garriott, Astronaut (retired) | May 07, 2014 12:54am ET
    “After more than two decades of development, it is essential that the United States keeps the ability to visit, work and return from the ISS within its national capabilities. Yet, it is surprising to see how little discussion, much less pressure, is being applied to accelerating plans to regain an independent capability for human spaceflight. Now seems to be the time for Congress, NASA and the general public to all push hard, and get one or more of these U.S. systems in space as soon as possible.”
    http://www.space.com/25785-american-human-spaceflight-capability-richard-garriott.html

    Bob Clark

  • Dark Blue Nine

    One irony in all this is that if Nelson had followed the Administration plan after Constellation’s termination, which included a new hydrocarbon engine for a future HLV, we’d likely have an RD-180 replacement in hand already.

    • Robert Clark

      Excellent point. The argument for cancelling that was, “Well, we’ll have the SLS by then. So we won’t need a heavy thrust engine.”

      Bob Clark

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      Don’t forget it would have been MSFC managing the new hydrocarbon heavy-lift engine effort. Chances are that three years after kickoff we’d have a whole lot of design study and process paperwork, with no engine in sight yet.

  • Jeff, thanks for the C-SPAN link. I clipped the Bill Nelson segment and posted it on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_7CigDTWtg

    I think the most important part is at the end, where he repeats what many NASA officials have already said — all the ISS command codes go through Johnson Space Center. The Russians can’t come or go without us.

    Nelson also said that ending the RD-180s only hurts their industry, because they’ll have to lay off lots of workers. ULA is the only market for RD-180.

    • Robert Clark

      Thanks for that. I was surprised that he said he expects (wants?) the ISS to last well into the 2030′s.

      Bob Clark

      • Henry Vanderbilt

        I’d guess that “late 2030′s” was a mis-speak for “late 2020′s”, based on the study that said Station is good through at least 2028. Nelson was speaking for 18 minutes with (as best I could tell) notes but no prepared text, so something like that seems a more reasonable explanation than his knowing about 2030′s Station plans nobody else has heard of yet.

    • Vladislaw

      Thanks Stephen, good job. At the end of the speech he said that the ISS is good until the end of the 2030′s. Does he mean the 2028 date or has NASA actually been toying with the idea of keeping it going well past 2028?

      • Vladislaw wrote:

        Does he mean the 2028 date or has NASA actually been toying with the idea of keeping it going well past 2028?

        Informal comments I’ve heard by NASA executives suggest they may try to privatize the ISS in the mid-2020s, and/or use Bigelow habitats as a customer.

        Of course, who really knows, that’s several administrations and sessions of Congress in the future.

      • Andrew Swallow

        The ISS is a building rather than an expendable capsule. In company accounts in the UK buildings can be depreciated over a 100 years. Bureaucracies will think about them in similar ways.

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      I would fail to be shocked if the Russians were able to crack whatever command protocols and encryption JSC is using for Station commands. Assuming they haven’t already, just for practice (or just in case.)

  • Lamar Smith, Steve Palazzo and Mo Brooks sent a letter to Charlie Bolden today asking for an update on U.S. – Russian space relations:

    http://science.house.gov/press-release/committee-questions-stability-us-russia-space-partnership

    The letter is here:

    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/Letters/051514_Russia_Sanctions.pdf

    Considering the co-signatories, this letter is refreshingly sane and sober.

    Sounds like we can expect a hearing pretty soon.

    • By the way, the Smith/Palazzo/Brooks letter states that the law requires NASA to use the SLS/Orion was a backup for ISS access.

      I knew they’d try to exploit the situation to pimp for SLS.

      • Andrew Swallow

        I am sure NASA will be happy to use the SLS/Orion as a backup in 2015, assuming the ISS is still around.

        • Andrew Swallow

          I am sure NASA will be happy to use the SLS/Orion as a backup in 2025, assuming the ISS is still around.

          edit:corrected year

        • Hiram

          “I am sure NASA will be happy to use the SLS/Orion as a backup in 2015, assuming the ISS is still around.”

          I assume you mean 2025. NASA would be horrified at this prospect. Sending astronauts and, I guess, a whole lot of cargo to ISS at a billion dollars a pop won’t look too good on the agency budget sheets. Of course, if Congress wants to come in and give the agency more spending money to do this, they might be pacified.

      • Coastal Ron

        Stephen C. Smith said:

        By the way, the Smith/Palazzo/Brooks letter states that the law requires NASA to use the SLS/Orion was a backup for ISS access.

        No doubt it would be the fondest hope for some of them for the Orion and the SLS to have a real need associated with them. However when the Senate included that provision in the law funding the Orion it was not yet known how much trouble the Orion/MPCV program was going to run into. In addition to being 20% over-weight (i.e. it’s yet not safe for human transport), the program continues to slip schedule for it’s first flight, which now is well past 2021.

        If anyone did a review of the current situation with the Orion, they would remove that silly legal provision.

        • Egad

          However when the Senate included that provision in the law funding the Orion it was not yet known how much trouble the Orion/MPCV program was going to run into. In addition to being 20% over-weight (i.e. it’s yet not safe for human transport), the program continues to slip schedule for it’s first flight, which now is well past 2021.

          We should also note that it’s not totally obvious that SLS itself isn’t on a dexter slide. As of this morning, some nine and half months after the PDR was completed, Key Decision Point C has yet to be passed. That means, in the formal NASA program structure says it’s using for SLS, that SLS has not yet transitioned from the formulation to the implementation phase.

          • Coastal Ron

            Egad said:

            As of this morning, some nine and half months after the PDR was completed, Key Decision Point C has yet to be passed. That means, in the formal NASA program structure says it’s using for SLS, that SLS has not yet transitioned from the formulation to the implementation phase.

            Yep. Supposedly KDP-C is in final review, but who knows what reception it will get when finally released.

            Plus at least the House so far has failed to fund any SLS-only missions or payloads for FY15, and we haven’t heard of anything over in the Senate that will change that. This pork program can’t hide for too much longer…

            • Egad

              Yep. Supposedly KDP-C is in final review, but who knows what reception it will get when finally released.

              Yes, I’ve been trying to keep track of it. At first it was expected in ‘early April’, then ‘April’ and now ‘spring.’ Assuming ‘spring’ is March-April-May, they’ve got a couple of weeks left.

              Clearly it’s the budget part that’s the sticking point and I will be fascinated to see how that gets handled.

  • reader

    Nelson just level headedly laid out the facts and obviously has a pretty good grasp on the situation – big kudos. He even mentioned splitting RD-180 dependent payload manifest between Delta IV-H and F9 as an option.

    The next few weeks of decision-making will be interesting

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      That actually surprised me, that they’re even considering yet at Nelson’s level transitioning from D4 and A5 to D4 and F9 for national security launch redundancy. IIRC Nelson implied he’d been talking to his colleagues on Senate DOD oversight as well. I had thought, from the degree of stubborn DOD resistance to SpaceX, that it’d take a few more years.

      • reader

        DoD itself is a pretty large organization, of course. I’m sure there are factions that only ever want to work with Boeing, LM, Raytheon, NG or insert any other “well interconnected” defense contractor. I would expect that this SpaceX resistance is strongest and most vocal in parts that have reasons to love LM/Boeing a lot – but not universal.

  • Coastal Ron

    The U.S. Government will still have the ability to have redundant access to space for DoD & NRO payloads, and they don’t have to spend any money to build any new hardware – just by certifying the Falcon 9 and the future Falcon Heavy.

    According to Boeing ULA has enough RD-180 engines for the 36 core Block Buy, which provides plenty of time for the SpaceX and the Air Force to certify Falcon Heavy for any missions Atlas V cannot do due to a shortage of engines (assuming the current political situation is not solved). Delta IV keeps flying no matter what, so with the inclusion of SpaceX the U.S. would retain redundant access to space.

    Problem solved, with no extra tax dollars needing to be spent.

    If ULA’s parents still feel the need to upgrade Atlas V with a new engine (regardless the design heritage), they can do it on their own nickel and on their own schedule. You know, like SpaceX has been doing.

    It’s not complicated…

    • Ad Astra

      Really? SpaceX used its own money to develop Falcon 9? That’s some interesting revisionist history.

      “NASA invested $396 million into SpaceX under a public-private partnership agreement signed in 2006. The space agency released payments to the California-based company as it met design, testing and flight milestones. ”

      http://www.spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/003/120602crs/

      • Coastal Ron

        Ad Astra said:

        Really? SpaceX used its own money to develop Falcon 9? That’s some interesting revisionist history.

        Falcon 9 is already developed and is being used for what NASA invested in them for – Commercial Cargo.

        The U.S. Government has not invested in the subsequent development that took Falcon 9 and evolved it into Falcon Heavy.

        • Coastal Ron wrote:

          The U.S. Government has not invested in the subsequent development that took Falcon 9 and evolved it into Falcon Heavy.

          Last December (I believe) during a press conference, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said that SpaceX developed both cargo Dragon and Falcon 9 for $850 million — $50 million from SpaceX, $400 million from NASA milestone payments.

          I suppose SpaceX might get some milestone payments for proving that Falcon 9 is crew-rated, but after that SpaceX is paying for everything, including upgraded Merlin engines, Raptor engines the Falcon 9R, the Falcon Heavy and some money going into crewed Dragon. SpaceX will cover 100% of the Mars Colonial Transport and anything inbetween. SpaceX will also cover KSC Pad 39A renovations.

      • Glenn

        Yes, and Coastal Ron was talking about the development cost of a new engine for the Atlas V. And NASA didn’t pay a dime for the Merlin development, it was already developped for the Falcon 1 that flew even before SpaceX signed any contract with NASA.
        So ULA should also develop a new engine on their own dime, they earned enough easy money these last years with their monopoly, period.

  • Jim Nobles

    “According to Boeing ULA has enough RD-180 engines for the 36 core Block Buy…”

    I feel a bit stupid asking this but how do the figure the number of RD-180 engines needed for 36 cores?

    • Fred Willett

      36 cores = 36 engines
      Atlas V = 1 core
      Delta IV = 1 core
      Delta IV Heavy = 3 cores
      But does ULA have 36 engines? I don’t think so. They have said they have 2 years supply. That’s (I think) about 20-24 engines. I haven’[t heard anyone give the exact number.

      • Jim Nobles

        That’s why I was wondering. I’ve been hearing the have 16-19 RD-180 engines available and I couldn’t figure out how the block buy could still exist unless half were Delta launches.

      • Moose

        15 or 16, there’s some hesitation to get exact.

      • Michael Kent

        Delta IV does not use the RD-180. It uses the RS-68, an American-made engine.

        There are 28 launches in the block buy. Four of them are Delta IV Heavies, which uses 3 RS-68s for each launch. If there are 16 RD-180s on hand, that allows for a mix of 16 Atlas V’s and 8 Delta IV’s to fulfill the rest of the block buy.

        • Dick Eagleson

          Assume all this to be true. What ULA’s case boils down to, then, is, “We can execute the contract – just barely – and keep our dreaded would-be competitor off of any more sacred military launch pads for up to five more years. After that, we got bupkus except for D4.” If DoD/USAF/NRO break this “peacetime”-business-as-usual bit of corruption open, they both save money and get an alternative supplier, who has no Russian supply chain vulnerabilities, some near-term practice launching mil-birds. That allows SpaceX to be fully relied upon when ULA comes up suddenly short on its Russky choke-chain. Gov’t. contracts are not holy writ. A lot of procurement contracts written during WW2 were cancelled or shortened as war requirements shifted. Hell, the lead vessels in entire classes of battleships and aircraft carriers were broken up on the ways. I’d be amazed if modern contracts don’t also contain legal boilerplate allowing summary termination if the government concludes that going forward would not be “in the best interests of the United States” or some wording to that effect. ULA doesn’t have to be found in default or even found to be unable to provide what the current contract asks for.

  • josh

    It’s so simple. cancel the block buy free of charge because ula hasn’t fulfilled their contractual obligations – they’re providing anything but assured access to space.
    recompete all missions of the block buy. if the competition is truly open and fair spacex will win a majority of these launches. then leave ula to rot – or innovate.

    • Fred Willett

      The point is they do have assured access at the moment. If they run out of Atlas V engines they can still launch everything on Delta IV or Delta IV Heavy.
      It just costs more.

    • Michael Kent

      “It’s so simple. cancel the block buy free of charge because ula hasn’t fulfilled their contractual obligations”

      And exactly which contractual obligation has ULA missed?

  • Robert Clark

    As Sen. Nelson mentioned in his speech, the Falcon 9 can launch some of the smaller Air Force payloads but you needed the Atlas V for some of the larger ones. Then one solution is to stretch out the supply of the Atlas V’s by using Falcon 9 to launch the smaller payloads and using Atlas V for the larger, until we can get an American engine to replace the RD-180.
    SpaceX might get its wish of launching Air Force payloads by necessity.

    Bob Clark

    • Ad Astra

      Since ULA is under contract, they’ll just re-manifest some Atlas payloads to Delta to stretch the RD-180 supply, if necessary.

      • Malmesbury

        It’s not that simple. Single core Delta can’t lift many of the payloads. The Heavy needs three core – and the lead time on cores is 3 years.

        • Michael Kent

          So don’t launch those payloads on the Delta IV. Launch other ones instead. Do you really think that more than 16 of the 28 launches in the block buy are going to be too heavy for a Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) but not need a Delta IV Heavy?

          And if there were more than 16, SpaceX wouldn’t get them. Any payload too heavy for a Delta IV M+ (5,4) is too heavy for a Falcon 9.

    • reader

      What Sen. Nelson actually said is that its possible to split the Atlas V payloads to F9 AND Delta-IV – the latter at a higher cost.

  • Jim Nobles

    It’s still difficult for me to believe that Putin is going to dump their only customer for the RD-180. I know politicians can do crazy stuff but that’s pretty damn crazy.

    But if the RD-180 is going away that leaves ULA with only one choice for the Atlas V. and that’s a new engine. I can’t see that happening. The Atlas V is already non-competitive in price and a new engine will almost certainly make it costlier. Also a new engine will cause the vehicle to have be certified all over again thus removing its launch “legacy”.

    They could say, “Our tankage, plumbing, and avionics have over 80 successful missions in a row!” but it doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

    But the thing that really bugs me about ULA is that Billion dollar a year payment for Assured Access. I’m a taxpayer and not a politician so a Billion dollars is a lot of money to me. So what has that “Assured Access” money been spent on? Where did those funds go? With a foreign engine situation it seems to me to be a no-brainer that one of the things than money should have been used for would have been to get an alternate source for that critical component. Why wasn’t it?

    Is all this anti-SpaceX noise coming from ULA mainly an attempt to keep people distracted from thinking about the assured access we paid for?

    Maybe there should be investigations. I’d like to have the DOJ take a look at the contracts. I don’t think we, the taxpayers, should let this go.

    Just my opinion.

    • Fred Willett

      They could say, “Our tankage, plumbing, and avionics have over 80 successful missions in a row!” but it doesn’t really have the same ring to it.
      You’re right.
      It certainly doesn’t work for SpaceX. Look at the number of times a merlin engine has flown. 10x per flight. The flight heritage of the merlin is way greater than any other engine flying today, including the RD-180. Does that get any cudos for SpaceX? No.

    • Michael Kent

      “With a foreign engine situation it seems to me to be a no-brainer that one of the things than money should have been used for would have been to get an alternate source for that critical component. Why wasn’t it?”

      Because it was neither a contract line item nor in the statement of work for the contract. Why do you think otherwise?

      • Jim Nobles

        Because any sensible business would want to make sure they had a dependable supply chain for critical items. Because those people at ULA took a Billion dollars a year for Assured Access and they chose not to use that money to make sure they had a dependable supply chain for their engines. Please don’t make excuses for them. You will only look foolish.

        That’s one BILLION dollars a year, over what they were charging for their rockets. That was taxpayer money and I , for one, want to know what we got for it. And if those funds were misused I want the guilty parties to answer for it. And if possible some of those funds recovered for the taxpayer,

        • Michael Kent

          Again: second-sourcing the RD-180 engine was neither a CLIN nor in the SOW for their ELC contract. Using that money for that purpose would be a violation of the FARs and lead to sanctions against ULA and, due to the size of the breach, likely lead to jailtime for the officials involved.
          What on earth makes you think ULA would do that?

          • Jim Nobles

            If you are saying that it would have been improper, wrong, or illegal for ULA to develop an alternative source for the engine used to launch DOD payloads then I will simply say that, I’m sorry, you’re wasting my time.

            • Michael Kent

              That’s exactly what I’m saying. Do you really think it’s not improper, wrong, and illegal to take funds from a government contract and use them for things not in the contract?
              If so, then, yes, you’re wasting your time, but I have nothing to do with it.

              • Coastal Ron

                Michael Kent said:

                Do you really think it’s not improper, wrong, and illegal to take funds from a government contract and use them for things not in the contract?

                ULA could have used internal funds – from their profits – to fund a second engine. Of course that would have needed approval from ULA’s parents (i.e. Boeing and Lockheed Martin), but that is not anything unusual in the business world.

                The Boeing and Lockheed Martin would rather run ULA as a monopoly that maximized short & medium-term profits is their decision, but we shouldn’t be on the hook for bailing them out when their bad business decisions come back to haunt them.

                The Air Force has options in case Atlas V is no longer available after the 36 core Block Buy, so why should U.S. Taxpayer money be spent to bail out ULA?

              • Michael Kent

                Coastal Ron,
                I take no issue with those who say ULA should pay for developing their own rocket engines. In fact, I am in their camp.
                I only take issue with those who say ULA is criminal in not using ELC funds to fund a domestic RD-180 (as the poster to whom I was replying did elsewhere on this thread) when there is no evidence that developing that engine is a requirement of the ELC contract.
                In a better world ULA would be set free of its parents and be allowed to raise capital and invest profits to extend its own business.

              • Coastal Ron

                Michael Kent said:

                In a better world ULA would be set free of its parents and be allowed to raise capital and invest profits to extend its own business.

                It couldn’t live by itself since it’s missing critical business functions like sales and marketing.

                I don’t think ULA has done anything wrong or illegal per se, but ULA’s parents did not create ULA with pure intentions. Sure they were trying to cut costs because the EELV market was making it hard for two competitors to thrive, but that should have been the perfect opportunity for them to go after the commercial market. They didn’t, and instead chose to maximize their profits by becoming a monopoly provider of launch services to the U.S. Government.

                I don’t know what the future holds for ULA, but it will take major investment from it’s parents in order for them to turn it into a separate and independent company, and I’m not sure they want that to happen.

    • Robert Clark

      Another article arguing for accelerating commercial crew:

      EXPLORING OPTIONS.
      By ROGER LAUNIUS
      Former Chief Historian of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 1990-2002
      To avoid reliance on good Russian–American relations, the United States must accelerate the development of an American rocket. Bolden has already asked for this, telling the U.S. Congress that “the choice here is between fully funding the request to bring space launches back to American soil or continue to send millions to the Russians.” Thus far, Congress has not acted to accelerate the development of an American-built rocket.
      http://www.themarknews.com/2014/05/13/exploring-options-2/

      Bob Clark

  • DCSCA

    Thank you Mr. Putin for cutting off your contractual nose to spite your fiscal face by threatening to deny two or three Americans an annual and unproductive jaunt to go in circles, no where, fast, in LEO on the ‘orbiting zombie,’ aka the ISS, after 2020. Yjen our boys and girls could press on to BEO ops. ‘Course if the ISS was splashed by 2019 or even earlier, we’d save even more time and money, and save your weary cosmonauts the wasted time of repeating all the things they did for decades on Mir. And Salyut. And so on. Howza bout pulling a little Nikita and challenge us to a race to the moon. Again. Let’s make it best out of three. Decades, that is. Or maybe Mars. As Don Draper might sing in a pitch to a client peddling Aoyuz- Volkswagen to the Stars: “Oh Vlad. I’m glad. They put real Bor-ass in youuuuuuuu.” Always a pleasure to see Cernan and Glenn, and all the other anti-gap NASA vets vindicated Fearless Leader. Or is it Master Cylinder.Or is is it just Vlad. What the heck, all cartoons — two dimensional at best- eventually lose their sponsors and are shelved.”I’ll show you; I’ll hurt me…” eh Vlad?.

    • Coastal Ron

      DCSCA said:

      Yjen our boys and girls could press on to BEO ops.

      With what? Your gigantic rocket? What is it supposed to carry?

      So glad you emerge from your basement every once and a while, but you need to sync with reality a lot faster – there is no technology base to do any BEO today. None. Nada. Zero.

      And what is the only development platform we have to address that? Yep, that’s right, the ISS.

      So as you opine about Putin cutting off his nose to spite his face, so too do we cut off our future ability to do BEO HSF exploration if the ISS research is ended.

    • The 2020 ‘threat’ is the most welcome space news I’ve heard in a while. Can we escalate sanctions and get 2016?

  • josh

    @Kent

    Ula is obligated to provide assured access to space. They’re not doing that. Unless you think the current mess can somehow be reinterpreted that way…

  • josh

    If they can’t get the engines from russia they can’t execute the block buy the way it was planned. don’t play stupid, it really doesn’t help your case.

    • Michael Kent

      I’m not the one being stupid. You said

      “cancel the block buy free of charge because ula hasn’t fulfilled their contractual obligations”

      I asked you what contractual obligation it hasn’t fulfilled. You have been unable to name single contract requirement left unfulfilled.

      That’s because there haven’t been any. And there almost certainly won’t be.

      What you seem unable to grasp is that the Delta IV does not use the RD-180 engine. It uses the American-made RS-68. Twelve of the 36 cores of the block buy are reserved for Delta IV Heavy launches, leaving only 24 cores required for the rest of the buy.

      According to sources on this site, ULA has 16 RD-180 engines on-hand, allowing the launch of 16 Atlas V vehicles. The rest of the block-buy contract can easily be fulfilled by the Delta IV Medium which, again, uses the American-made RS-68 engine, not the RD-180.

      When you accuse a company of failing to fulfill a contractual obligation, you might want to bolster your case with naming a contractual obligation — maybe even just one — that has gone unfulfilled. And when someone challenges you to do so, you might want to respond by doing so instead of hurling insults. Otherwise you look, well, stupid.

  • Paul Vaccaro

    BLAH BLAH BLAH we have an engine problem, that’s a load of crap buying engines from the Russians. I used to talk to legendary pad leader Gunther Wendt before he passed and several retired NASA engineers when they would shop my store, one being my father and they all agreed on one thing. What the hell are we doing, we have the ability to develop new engines ourselves and until then we have simple proven abilities now. The launch vehicle just needs to be simple clean and with lots of guts. The only thing that should be complicated is the spacecraft itself (Orion) that will do the work in space. I have already seen new advances in solids, and the tests of F1 Saturn gas generators, with current and new technologies applied the tests were incredible. Again why are we buying Russian when we have the ability to put into production F1 motors which are powerful and PROVEN……..Good grief politicians make things so difficult. With all the tension between us and Russia this is the best thing that could have happen maybe just maybe they are awake now. Remember every military commander in the history of this planet knows you NEVER CEDE THE HIGH GROUND TO ANYBODY. It’s time Washington opened their eyes and to quote Kennedy “The eyes of the world now look into space.” The human adventure is just beginning folks we need to pay attention and get back into the game.

  • josh

    The delta is more expensive than the atlas. That’s why ula won’t be able to execute the block buy as planned (the plan includes little details like contract value/cost). I don’t believe you didn’t know that. Like I said you’re just playing dumb.

    • Michael Kent

      The launch contracts are firm, fixed price. Thus far, none have gone unfulfilled.

      • Hiram

        Nope. The launch hardware (nut, bolts, metal) is firm fixed price contract to ULA. But the operations part of the ULA contract (launch capability) is not. The two flavors of contracts, ELS and ELC, respectively, are about equal in dollar amount. The GAO has been on top of this for quite a while, and they aren’t happy about ELC.

        • Michael Kent

          I’m not happy with the ELC contract either. It unnecessarily complicates launch service pricing and makes it harder to judge the merits of new entrants in the competition.
          But it doesn’t require ULA to fund an RD-180 replacement.

      • josh

        the delta costs what it costs. no amount of bullshitting from you is making that fact go away. ula can’t execute the block buy at the price agreed upon in the contract. end of story.

    • Robert Clark

      And of course the Falcon 9 is cheaper than the Atlas V.

      Bob Clark

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