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ULA and SpaceX trade jabs

While there have been no major developments in the legal, political, and public relations battles among SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and the Air Force regarding competition for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) class launches, the two companies traded jabs on Thursday in the form of court filings and advertisements.

A spokesperson for SpaceX said Thursday that the company filed a motion with the Court of Federal Claims on Wednesday regarding its suit against the Air Force, seeking to amend their original complaint. The amendment deals with allegations of inflated prices for RD-180 engines raised by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a statement last Friday.

SpaceX argues, in its motion, that McCain’s statement shows that ULA and the Air Force failed to provide and certify EELV costs before the Air Force awarded a “block buy” EELV contract to the company in late 2013. “Had ULA complied with its legal obligation to provide certified cost and pricing data for the RD-180 engines and other rocket component parts, it would have been forced to confront the fact that at least one of its suppliers is fleecing the United States taxpayer,” SpaceX states in its motion. “The Air Force would not have been able to determine that ULA’s prices were fair and reasonable, and the Air Force would have rejected ULA’s proposal and not entered into the December 2013 sole source contract.”

ULA, meanwhile, is responding in the court of public opinion, so to speak, with a series of advertisements emphasizing the company’s track record in launching critical government satellites. The company released the second in that series, which it calls “Reliability over Recognition.” (The first, released last week, was dubbed “Results over Rhetoric.”)

“As ULA CEO Mr. [Michael] Gass has publicly stated,” ULA spokesperson Jessica Rye wrote in an email accompanying the ad, “there has been misinformation and we want to make clear that there is a lot at stake when launch services provide critical national security support to our military and first responders and help predict dangerous weather events.”

88 comments to ULA and SpaceX trade jabs

  • Jim Nobles

    Meanwhile SpaceX needs to get their launch rate up and ULA needs to find an engine.

  • Coastal Ron

    More and more this just goes to show that competition is good. Time to end the monopoly that ULA has had.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    How ironic given Shelby’s report language…

  • I enjoy the competition. It’s good for the industry. I’m glad ULA is starting to give as good as they get. Why they stood flatfooted for years while Musk ran his mouth, I’ll never know. Muck it up, fellas!

  • While I agree with SpaceX about ULA (though I’m glad to see the latter helping to fund the space press!), I think this is a huge distraction for SpaceX. Even if they win this fight, their demonstrated launch rate would keep them from successfully fulfilling the contract without dumping their commercial customers. They’d be better off spending their resources getting that flight rate up, running through their commercial backlog, and think about government missions post-block buy.

    – Donald

    • common sense

      “I think this is a huge distraction for SpaceX”

      I think you don’t know SpaceX all that well. Unless you mean Elon and his legal team? Can’t see who else might be distracted. And even so… You should look into Elon’s other legal battle(s) and see how they ended.

  • REALITY

    “I think you don’t know SpaceX all that well”

    No on the contrary we know Spacex quite well and their rhetoric doesn’t match reality. The reality is that Spacex’s accomplishements in their short tenure are notable but, can hardly be equated to being reliable. Having a rocket that is in it’s infancy, also not certified at the time of the request for proposal for this block buy nor even certified to date means they were never even in the running for this contract nor are they now. Their launch rate alone testifies to their inability to be relied upon for assured access to space. Elon should spend his time and money getting a track record of successful, on schedule, launches instead of squandering money on a lawsuit which he will most likely lose. Expecting the government, it’s contractors and their suppliers to wait until Elon gets certified or even reliable is an absurd assertion. Elon will get there but, the time is not now…he is far from ready.

    • Jim Nobles

      So do a two year block buy. Or maybe a three year block buy. A six year block buy is fiscally irresponsible given the “REALITY” of the situation.

    • Not far from ready, six months, which is one reason they had to priced out for years and years into the future.

      Pork barrel politics in military procurement rarely gets challenged. Kudo’s to Elon for again shaking up that status quo!

      • Jim Nobles

        I’m looking for a compromise. Maybe a two year block buy since that’s about all ULA has the Atlas engines for. Maybe three years. After that they would have to launch everything on Delta which is more expensive and they’ll be looking to renegotiate the price. I think for all practical purposes the block buy is dead. There’s just no way ULA can guarantee the price they contracted for. Unless they totally padded the bill which is what some people think they’ve been doing all these years anyway.

        Can’t count on the RD-180. Even if Vladimir isn’t serious about stopping shipments or imposing restrictions now he could have a temper tantrum at any time and shut the whole thing down.

        • amightywind

          The NSA/DOD are looking for mission assurance over a longer time period. It is not up to a company like SpaceX with ADD to dictate schedule. They are not the customer.

          • Dick Eagleson

            SpaceX doesn’t have ADD, Windy, they merely have the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. If NRO (not NSA) and USAF are looking for mission assurance, ULA seem an odd place to look in light of recent events. They can’t even assure that their main launch vehicle will be buildable more than maybe two years out. Or are you still operating on the assumption that additional RD-180′s will be arriving at ULA’s warehouse Real Soon Now.

            • amightywind

              Are you forgetting we have an inventory of Delta IV’s? Bad news for Lockmart, not the DOD.

              • Dick Eagleson

                I have no idea whether ULA has “an inventory” of Delta IV’s and I suspect you don’t either (unless you work there, of course, which would explain a lot of things). ULA are supposedly moving to ramp up production of Delta IV’s, but the Mitchell Report expressed misgivings that these efforts would be sufficient to cover upcoming milsat launch needs. Given that ULA has generally launched roughly two Atlas V’s for every Delta IV, I suspect Gen. Mitchell’s group has something to go on in expressing skepticism that Delta IV will be able to make up for absent Atlas V’s. The only “mission assurance over a longer time period” on offer is sourcing launch services from SpaceX ASAP. ASAP looks to be about six months hence.

    • common sense

      We shall see if he loses. As I said you might want to check his track record. Right or wrong.

      Oh well…

      • Michael Kent

        “…you might want to checkhis track record.”;

        Do you mean his suit in 2005 in which he tried to do the same thing — have the courts give him launches from the EELV contract?

        In that suit he promised the Falcon 9 would fly in 2007, so therefore he should be given FY-07 EELV launches. Falcon 9 didn’t fly in 2007. Or 2008. Or 2009. It didn’t fly at all until 2010, and then it didn’t launch with a payload fairing (something every EELV launch requires) until the second-last day of FY-13.

        He lost that suit, as he should have. He should lose this one too.

    • MORE REALITY

      Figures when REALITY speaks no one listens. As much as people want to see the block buy go away it will not. REALITY is correct that Mr. Musk needs to spend more time getting his rockets reliable and less time demonizing his future competition.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Having a rocket that is in it’s infancy, also not certified at the time of the request for proposal for this block buy nor even certified to date means they were never even in the running for this contract nor are they now. Their launch rate alone testifies to their inability to be relied upon for assured access to space.”

      This is a retarded double-standard.

      It took five years (from 2002 to 2007) for the Atlas V to get its flight rate above 1-2 launches per year.

      It took four years (from 2002 to 2006) for the Delta IV to get its flight rate above 1-2 launches per year.

      Somehow, we were able to entrust massive numbers of national security payloads to Atlas V and Delta IV in the early and mid 2000s despite their having a “launch rate” that “[testified] to their inability to be relied upon for assured access to space.”

      But Falcon 9 launches 9 times in four years, and somehow we can’t entrust that launch vehicle with national security payloads?

      What a stupid and idiotic argument.

      “Do you mean his suit in 2005 in which he tried to do the same thing — have the courts give him launches from the EELV contract?”

      SpaceX has never sued for the USAF to “give him [sic] launches form the EELV contract”. SpaceX has sued for the right to compete for USAF payloads.

      “Mr. Musk needs to spend more time getting his rockets reliable and less time demonizing his future competition.”

      SpaceX is about to complete the 10th launch of the Falcon 9. Unlike the first 10 launches of both the Atlas V and Delta IV, the Falcon 9 has never put a primary payload into the wrong orbit.

      Let Falcon 9 compete. It’s proven more than either Atlas V or Delta IV did at this stage.

      • Il Paesano

        OK. First, let’s note that you skipped right over the whole “certified” aspect of REALITY’s argument.

        Next, you chide Delta IV and Atlas V for low launch rates in the early years, but conveniently fail to note that the reason for the low launch rates was lack of EELV payloads, not the countless vehicle-related scrubs that make up the track record of the Falcon 9. Which, of course, was the main point of the argument that you chose to ignore.

        “SpaceX has never sued for the USAF to “give him [sic] launches form the EELV contract”. SpaceX has sued for the right to compete for USAF payloads.”

        A valiant attempt to parse words, I’ll give you that. Reminds me of Elon’s recent argument that he should have been able to compete for EELV launches even if he wasn’t eligible to be awarded one.

        The Falcon 9 wasn’t certified in FY-07, wasn’t in FY-13, and is still several months away from achieving certification. When it does, it can compete. In the meantime, I agree with the other posters that Mr. Musk should concentrate on getting his rockets off the ground.

        • Coastal Ron

          Il Paesano said:

          The Falcon 9 wasn’t certified in FY-07, wasn’t in FY-13, and is still several months away from achieving certification.

          Now who is parsing?

          According to the Air Force, once a contender has satisfied the three successful launch threshold they are “qualified” to bid for EELV contracts. However they need to be “certified” to actually fly payloads.

          SpaceX reached the three successful launch threshold on January 6, 2014, which was just a month after the Air Force awarded ULA the block buy contract. And anyone who says that ULA (i.e. Boeing and Lockheed Martin) were not aware of the SpaceX launch schedule and were not pushing for a contract award as quickly as possible is naive…

          • Il Paesano

            During development, the Delta and Atlas EELV programs had Air Force, NASA, Aerospace Corp, DCMA, DCAA and other customer reps looking over their shoulders on a daily basis. By the time first flights rolled around, the customers knew the rocket, the analysis, the procedures and the processes. That’s all part of becoming certified to fly EELV missions. So no, it’s not parsing, it’s playing by the government rules.

            Had SpaceX done likewise, they would probably be certified by now. Elon chose to go about it a different way that didn’t have the same excruciating level of associated cost. That’s fine, and probably a good call. But the consequence is that it will take time for the certification process to be completed.

            • Coastal Ron

              Il Paesano said:

              Had SpaceX done likewise…

              I don’t think you understand how the government works. Without an explicit program within the Air Force to provide oversight the Air Force would not have expended funds for such an effort. And without an Air Force guided effort, it would have been impossible for SpaceX to pre-certify the Falcon launcher.

              But the consequence is that it will take time for the certification process to be completed.

              You seem to be blithely unaware of the actual issues here. SpaceX is not disputing the amount of time it takes to become “certified”, they are stating that the government should have allowed them to bid on the Block Buy because they were close to being “qualified” to bid, and that the government (or in this case one particular office in the Air Force) ignored the potential for competition.

              • Il Paesano

                The block buy started in early 2012. The Falcon 9v1.1 wasn’t “qualified” for about two years after that. And it will have been close to three years before certification is complete. You’re saying that the USAF, in 2012, should have decided to wait an unknown number of years for SpaceX to be ready to compete. That’s not how it works.

              • Dick Eagleson

                The block buy was executed in Dec. 2013. SpaceX’s first mission toward being “qualified” was on Sept. 29, 2013. The next two missions were scheduled for Dec. 2013 and Jan. 2014. I don’t remember the precise date the block buy deal was signed, but it might have been after the second SpaceX qualification mission – a comsat to GTO. ULA realized they had, literally, only days to try jamming SpaceX up, so they rammed through the block buy before the Jan. mission lifted off.

          • MORE REALITY

            Three successful launches do not a certification make. Falcon 9 is not certified until USAF says it is certified and chances are a federal judge is not going to substitute their judgment for that of USAF. Law is not rocket science.

            • Coastal Ron

              ORE REALITY said:

              Three successful launches do not a certification make.

              Read what I wrote – SpaceX is already “qualified” to bid on EELV payloads because it has completed three successful launches, which is the Air Force requirement to be able to bid on launches.

              And since the launches SpaceX would be bidding on would come long after the “certification” (typically the payloads are 2 years out, and the certification only takes one year at most), there is no technical reason SpaceX can’t be bidding for launches today. And that is the heart of the matter.

          • MORE REALITY

            Sorry. Certification doesn’t work that way. There is more to it than that.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “OK. First, let’s note that you skipped right over the whole ‘certified’ aspect of REALITY’s argument.”

          “Certification” provides little or no value added.

          Atlas V was “certified” for five years, and it still put two NRO recon sats into the wrong orbits in 2007.

          Delta IV was “certified” for three years, and the first DIVH launch in 2004 put its demonstration payload into the wrong orbit.

          Falcon 9 is not yet “certified”, yet unlike Atlas V and Delta IV, Falcon 9 has never put a primary payload into the wrong orbit in its first nine launches.

          This is not a knock against Atlas V or Delta IV. But it does illustrate that “certification” doesn’t certify anything other than employment levels at Aerospace Corp.

          “Next, you chide Delta IV and Atlas V for low launch rates in the early years,”

          I’m not “chiding” Atlas V and Delta IV for low launch rates. It takes time to gear up assembly lines and pad operations while maintaining quality.

          What I am “chiding” is the asinine double-standard being promulgated here.

          Atlas V and Delta IV were put on the critical path of billions of dollars worth of national security payloads when those launch vehicles were each only managing 1-2 launches per year for several years.

          Given that history, Falcon 9 should be allowed to compete for DOD payloads after successfully completing 9 launches in 4 years.

          To argue otherwise is to cling to a dumb-ass, non-competitive double standard.

          “but conveniently fail to note that the reason for the low launch rates was lack of EELV payloads”

          There was no lack of payloads. Back then, Atlas V and Delta IV were commercially competitive and launched commercial comsats, along with military payloads.

          “not the countless vehicle-related scrubs that make up the track record of the Falcon 9.”

          And this is different from Atlas V and Delta IV how?

          “Suspect part prompts delay of Atlas V rocket launch from Cape”
          http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20130124/NEWS01/301240014/Suspect-part-prompts-delay-Atlas-V-rocket-launch-from-Cape

          “According to officials, an environmental control system duct that failed near its connection to the Mobile Launch Platform…”
          http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/officials-delay-atlas-v-rocket-launch/nPYCq/

          “During testing of a different Atlas V rocket booster at the ULA manufacturing plant in Decatur a problem was identified in the mechanics that provide the steering of the rocket engine.”
          http://www.wired4space.com/rockets/atlas/atlas-v/nasa-atlas-v-rbsp-launch-delayed-until-friday-24th-august

          “Glitch on October 2012 Delta 4 Mission Is Behind GPS 2F-5 Launch Delay”
          http://www.spacenews.com/article/military-space/37792glitch-on-october-2012-delta-4-mission-is-behind-gps-2f-5-launch-delay

          “United Launch Alliance said the launch of the rocket carrying a GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force is being delayed until early next year due to an engine problem, the same problem they have been trying to fix from a previous launch.”
          http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2013/12/11/delta_iv_rocket_laun.html

          Pot, kettle, black…

          “A valiant attempt to parse words, I’ll give you that.”

          I didn’t “parse” anything. The other poster stated a flat-out lie that Musk had sued to “have the courts give him launches from the EELV contract”. That’s false on two counts.

          One, SpaceX is suing, not Musk. This isn’t an episode of the People’s Court.

          Two, SpaceX is suing for the right to compete, not to have the courts assign them launches. If SpaceX wins the court case, they’d still have to win a USAF competition.

          “The Falcon 9… is still several months away from achieving certification.”

          Which is all the more reason not to tie up all our national security payloads for the next half-decade with a provider that is several times more expensive than the competition and that is losing the major foreign engine supplier for most of its contract.

          If we really want to be anal about certification, then assign another year of national security payloads to ULA. Everything after that, unless it’s too heavy for Falcon 9, should be competed.

          • Il Paesano

            “This is not a knock against Atlas V or Delta IV. But it does illustrate that “certification” doesn’t certify anything other than employment levels at Aerospace Corp.”

            Yeah, I can’t really argue with that statement. But the fact is the USG requires it, Boeing and Lockmart had to suffer through it, and SpaceX does too.

            “There was no lack of payloads. Back then, Atlas V and Delta IV were commercially competitive and launched commercial comsats, along with military payloads.”

            No, the EELVs were never truly commercially competitive. That’s the cost of having the USG in your knickers the whole time. Commercial sats were flying on Delta II and Atlas II variants. So, again, it wasn’t a case of Atlas and Delta only “managing” 1-2 launches per year, they only had 1-2 launches per year.

            From Spaceflightnow:
            Falcon 9 – Orbcomm OG2. Delayed from September, November, April 30, May 10, May 27, June 11, June 12, June 15, June 20, June 21, June 22 and June 24…….

            ‘Nuff said.

            • Malmesbury

              Building DSP-23?

            • Coastal Ron

              Il Paesano said:

              No, the EELVs were never truly commercially competitive.

              Oh? Why then were the first 5 launches of the Atlas V for commercial payloads? And then they did launch commercial payloads after that.

              You’re going to have to do better than that.

              That’s the cost of having the USG in your knickers the whole time.

              Describe what you mean – quantify how having the USG differs in terms of manpower or costs otherwise.

            • Dick Eagleson

              You seem to have a problem with easily verifiable facts. Coastal Ron is quite right. The first five Atlas V flights were commercial launches. Then there were two launches for NASA, then another commercial launch. It wasn’t until launch nine that Atlas V carried a milsat payload. Also, as noted by DB9, the second milsat launch on Atlas V didn’t deposit its payloads into the correct orbits.

            • Dick Eagleson

              As to the Spaceflight Now delay history on SpaceX OG2, the September and November dates on that litany were not due to any inability by SpaceX to launch missions. SpaceX, in fact, launched four Falcon 9v1.1′s between Sept. 2013 and April 2014. SpaceX rocket issues have only been responsible for about half the delays to OG2 since then. As noted by DB9, both Atlas V and Delta IV have had longer launch date slippages than this in their flight histories and with a lot more flight history behind them than Falcon 9 too. The case that SpaceX is in any way unfit or unable to handle national security payload launches is unmade and unmakeable.

            • Dark Blue Nine

              “Yeah, I can’t really argue with that statement.”

              Then why did you make the argument in the first place? Since you agree that certification is a useless time- and money-wasting process, why inflict it on any launch provider, whether it’s ULA, SpaceX, or another company?

              Think before you post.

              “No, the EELVs were never truly commercially competitive.”

              Bullcrap. Atlas V and Delta IV have launched nine commercial comsats to date. Almost all of those commercial launches were at the beginning of their operational lives. They were commercially competitive and then lost their competitiveness.

              “From Spaceflightnow:
              Falcon 9 – Orbcomm OG2. Delayed from September, November, April 30…”

              The spaceflightnow.com mission status for OG2 doesn’t even go back that far:

              http://www.spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/010/status.html

              Try another lie.

              And again, how are multiple delays on Falcon 9 any different from the multiple delays we experience on Atlas V and Delta IV?

              “Suspect part prompts delay of Atlas V rocket launch from Cape”
              http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20130124/NEWS01/301240014/Suspect-part-prompts-delay-Atlas-V-rocket-launch-from-Cape

              “According to officials, an environmental control system duct that failed near its connection to the Mobile Launch Platform…”
              http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/officials-delay-atlas-v-rocket-launch/nPYCq/

              “During testing of a different Atlas V rocket booster at the ULA manufacturing plant in Decatur a problem was identified in the mechanics that provide the steering of the rocket engine.”
              http://www.wired4space.com/rockets/atlas/atlas-v/nasa-atlas-v-rbsp-launch-delayed-until-friday-24th-august

              “Glitch on October 2012 Delta 4 Mission Is Behind GPS 2F-5 Launch Delay”
              http://www.spacenews.com/article/military-space/37792glitch-on-october-2012-delta-4-mission-is-behind-gps-2f-5-launch-delay

              “United Launch Alliance said the launch of the rocket carrying a GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force is being delayed until early next year due to an engine problem, the same problem they have been trying to fix from a previous launch.”
              http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2013/12/11/delta_iv_rocket_laun.html

              Again, you’re promulgating another asinine double-standard. Launch delays are not an excuse for keeping Falcon 9 out of competition when both ULA and SpaceX suffer from them.

              • Il Paesano

                “Then why did you make the argument in the first place? Since you agree that certification is a useless time- and money-wasting process, why inflict it on any launch provider, whether it’s ULA, SpaceX, or another company? Think before you post.”

                Read carefully before you reply. I clearly pointed out the reality that the USG requires certification, Boeing and Lockmart had to suffer through it, and SpaceX does too. I’m sorry you don’t like the reality, but that doesn’t change the reality.

                “The spaceflightnow.com mission status for OG2 doesn’t even go back that far: Try another lie.”

                A little fast & loose with the lie accusation. That was a cut-and-paste from:
                http://spaceflightnow.com/tracking/index.html
                Scroll down the page to “July 14 Falcon 9 Orbcomm OG2” on the left hand side.

                “Again, you’re promulgating another asinine double-standard. Launch delays are not an excuse for keeping Falcon 9 out of competition when both ULA and SpaceX suffer from them.”

                I never said that launch delays were an excuse for keeping the Falcon 9 out of competition. I said when the Falcon 9 achieves certification, it can compete. In the meantime, I agree with the other posters that Mr. Musk should concentrate on getting his rockets off the ground.

              • Read carefully before you reply. I clearly pointed out the reality that the USG requires certification, Boeing and Lockmart had to suffer through it, and SpaceX does too. I’m sorry you don’t like the reality, but that doesn’t change the reality.

                It’s not an unchangeable reality. Is it your claim that because the government has behaved stupidly in the past it is obligated to continue to do so in the future? That’s a pretty bleak outlook.

              • Coastal Ron

                Il Paesano said:

                I said when the Falcon 9 achieves certification, it can compete.

                You continue to not understand what the issues are.

                SpaceX is already “qualified” to compete for launches. That happened with it’s 3rd successful launch back in January.

                What SpaceX lacks is being “certified” to actually do a launch, but that will likely happen well before the Air Force schedules a payload for it.

                Now do you understand?

          • MORE REALITY

            But the reality is that no matter what you think about certification, USAF is the customer, and they make the rules.

        • Malmesbury

          Not to mention that Delta 4 and Atlas 5 were flying the “aircraft carrier priced” loads from their first launches….

          The real deal behind all of this is that the ULA is telling the Air Force et. al. that if they lose the “cheap” GPS launches (and similar payloads) they will have to push up the price of the other loads by a Sagan or 2. Also there won’t be as many jobs for people to retire to from DoD procurement and operations….

          Shades of ATK telling NASA at the beginning of the Constellation project that if they didn’t give them a contract to develop 5-seg boosters, ATK would shut down big segmented solid production and put up prices for the US military (producing totally different rocket motors) to make up for it. Apparently, those nasty militarists (the military) had cut ATKs profit margin on solid motors for weapons so much that without NASA to price gouge life would be hard or something.

    • Dick Eagleson

      Certification doesn’t influence actual reliability. The EELV certification process is simply a major bureaucratic procedure the existing corrupt procurement bureaucracy invented as a barrier to entry to keep competitors away from ULA’s rice bowl for what they hoped would be a long time. Then SpaceX launched the first F9v1.1 successfully from Vandenberg and suddenly looked like they might zip through the additional two missions required for certification in a decidedly not long time. In the meantime, ULA and the procurement bureaucracy figured they’d better go to plan B since it was now looking way too much like going through the certification process wasn’t going to be good for keeping SpaceX out of the running for more than maybe another year. So the block buy was quickly ginned up and executed as a way of putting all milsat launches for the next five or six years off-limits.

      They might have gotten away with it if Putin hadn’t picked a bad time to get grabby in Ukraine. With the engine for ULA’s star launch vehicle now in terminally short supply, fulfilling the block buy as originally specified looks increasingly likely to be beyond ULA’s reach. ULA has had a critical part of its supply chain amputated. SpaceX’s is fully intact. Sure SpaceX needs to launch more rockets faster. Do any of you pishers who come here to dump on SpaceX really think it’s going to be harder for SpaceX to boost its launch rate than for ULA to conjure more RD-180′s out of thin air? Get real.

      • Il Paesano

        The major hole in your block buy tale is that by the time the first F9v1.1 launched from Vandenberg, it had been in the works for well over a year.

        The certification process provides assurance to the customer that the engineers knew what they were doing when they designed and built the rocket…that the analyses were done correctly, and that policies and procedures will produce a consistent product. Certification is one of the prices you pay for the opportunity to put a billion dollar government payload on top of your rocket.

        Putin just waved the white flag in Ukraine. Maybe those RD-180s will appear out of thin air after all.

        • Coastal Ron

          Il Paesano said:

          The major hole in your block buy tale is that by the time the first F9v1.1 launched from Vandenberg, it had been in the works for well over a year.

          The Air Force could have changed the quantity of the block buy to allow for upcoming competition, especially since there was the potential for significant savings.

          Let’s keep in mind that the Air Force was going from a piecemeal purchase system to using block purchases, even though ULA could have been using block buys to lower their costs and pass along that savings to the taxpayer. Boeing and Lockheed Martin run ULA in the least possible risky way, which means it’s the most expensive way for the U.S. Taxpayer.

          So this issue is not really about “certification”, but about money. Specifically Boeing and Lockheed Martin are doing everything thing they can as the incumbent to keep their customer locked into using ULA. And if you don’t understand that then you don’t understand how government contracting works.

          Putin just waved the white flag in Ukraine. Maybe those RD-180s will appear out of thin air after all.

          I’m not sure you understand international politics either – Putin never waves “the white flag”.

          As to the RD-180′s, Pandora’s box is now open…

          • Il Paesano

            “The Air Force could have changed the quantity of the block buy to allow for upcoming competition, especially since there was the potential for significant savings.”

            Again, you have your 2020 hindsight glasses on. When the block buy was started, under a mandate from Congress to cut costs, SpaceX was an unknown number of years away from being qualified, certified, or establishing a track record of successfully launching on time. As it was, USAF reduced the block buy from the original 50 cores to 36 for the exact reason you state. You’re saying they should have reduced it further. Fine. But economics dictate that the costs would have been higher and the savings lower.

            You argue that ULA could have been using block buys on their own, essentially buying ahead of orders and sinking money into inventory at risk. But recall that ULA has two rocket lines and multiple configurations of each rocket. Which configuration should they have been buying parts for? Or should they have bought ahead for all of them and carried billions of dollars in inventory? That’s not how businesses stay in business.

            • Coastal Ron

              Il Paesano said:

              As it was, USAF reduced the block buy from the original 50 cores to 36 for the exact reason you state. You’re saying they should have reduced it further.

              Yes.

              Fine. But economics dictate that the costs would have been higher and the savings lower.

              Having spent decades in manufacturing operations, and working with purchasing on pricing for proposals and continuing contracts for government customers, I would say that lowering the quantity may not have affected the price. Why?

              The supply chain for the Atlas V and Delta IV are pretty mature. The RD-180 engine as one example is unaffected by the block buy, since Lockheed Martin had negotiated a block buy purchase for the engine originally and ULA says they have enough for the current block buy contract. So from that standpoint lowering the quantity of the block buy below 36 would not have affected the price of the RD-180.

              A similar effect would be in place for the RS-68 and RL-10, where the overhead for those production lines are set, and there is not much to be gained by buying multiple years if the design is not changing (block buys can be used to fund improvements, but RS-68 & RL-10 improvements are already being done outside the block buy).

              Both the Atlas V and Delta IV use a lot of aluminum, but there is a limit to how much a mill would drop prices if the product is a catalog item (which they likely are).

              ULA’s costs don’t change much, since they would have already forecasted the same amount of business regardless how many contracts it would take.

              I just don’t see where going from 36 to, say, 20 would have made a significant difference. If you disagree, fine. But provide some examples to back you up.

              You can do an experiment on this at home. Go to a car dealer and ask them how much they would charge for selling you one car. Then ask how much you would save by buying 10 of the exact same model. Then 20 and 36 of the exact same model.

              At some point the price difference gets so small that the potential savings from an alternative supplier become worth the wait. Which is the situation we have here.

              • Malmesbury

                The big issue is that without the big profits from launching the “cheap” stuff (GPS etc), ULA would be forced to put up the prices for the big ticket launches (KH-Whatever). Or face reduced profit.

                This whole thing reminds me of the profits that UK ship builders made on warships in the runup to WWII. It was a classic – government cost plus, based on old figures. The ship builders managed to get steadily inflating prices while their costs were actually dropping (wages in the depression, mostly). By the time this got noticed they were on 100% profit….

              • Il Paesano

                “You can do an experiment on this at home. Go to a car dealer and ask them how much they would charge for selling you one car. Then ask how much you would save by buying 10 of the exact same model. Then 20 and 36 of the exact same model.”

                Apples and cumquats. Most cars are built in the 10’s of thousands or 100’s of thousands of units. Whether I buy 1, 10, or 36 is statistically insignificant to the manufacturer. All I’m doing it whittling away at the dealer’s profit margin.

                But if I go to a machine shop and order one 5-meter diameter, 5-axis machine part, I will pay an enormous cost. If I order 5 units that will keep them working for 6 months, I will get a nice discount. But if I order 40 units and promise to keep them working for four years, it will become part of their normal manufacturing cadence, and the discount will be steep. That’s the reality of aerospace.

              • Coastal Ron

                Il Paesano said:

                But if I go to a machine shop and order one 5-meter diameter, 5-axis machine part, I will pay an enormous cost. If I order 5 units…

                Remember I have decades of experience in manufacturing…

                There is a difference between a lot run of a component part on one workstation in a factory and a rocket engine being built in a factory pretty much dedicated to it’s manufacture. And likely the engine is the most expensive purchased component on the Atlas V or Delta IV.

                Past that I would guess that aluminum panels that are used to manufacture the bodies is the next biggest purchase, but remember that a lot of machining has to go into milling and bending those panels and welding them together. That infrastructure exists, and ULA doesn’t really see a cost savings whether they do a block buy with the Air Force or not, because they would build the same quantity regardless.

                So far, other than conjecture, you have failed to provide an evidence or examples of how reducing ULA’s block buy would have changed the price to the Air Force.

            • Coastal Ron

              Il Paesano said:

              You argue that ULA could have been using block buys on their own, essentially buying ahead of orders and sinking money into inventory at risk.

              Yes.

              But recall that ULA has two rocket lines and multiple configurations of each rocket. Which configuration should they have been buying parts for?

              Let’s remember that Boeing and Lockheed Martin, ULA’s parents, employ people whose jobs are to forecast what the U.S. Governments needs will be. And sometimes this isn’t too hard since both Boeing and Lockheed Martin actually MAKE the payloads that ULA is going to launch, so they know intimately what the forecasted needs are.

              And unlike a competitive marketplace, where you would have to make a business judgement as to how much business you were going to win, ULA up until now has known that they would get 100% of the U.S. Government business for the satellites only they can launch.

              There was little risk.

              Or should they have bought ahead for all of them and carried billions of dollars in inventory?

              Short of a collapse in NASA and DoD/NRO demand, there was no risk prior to SpaceX becoming a competitor. ULA could have accomplished pretty much everything the block buy is doing today by doing it on their own.

              That’s not how businesses stay in business.

              A dirty little secret. I was the operations manager on a computer systems contract, and we were actually able to make money off of the way we set up payment terms with the government and our suppliers – the government paid us NET 15, and we paid our supplier NET 60. This is just an example of how things are not always what they seem, and ULA is not the powerless victim in all of this – they don’t lose money. The challenge for ULA’s parents though is how to keep making the absolute highest amount of money from the government? And the more they can deny SpaceX contracts, the less they lose.

          • Malmesbury

            The RD-180 contract plays badly in Russia -

            1) Superior Soviet Technology Being Sold To The Main Enemy!!! (Tabloid nationalism)
            2) The price is very low. Now that the Russians have begun to work out how real accountancy works, alot of the deals from the old days are being… revoked.
            3) The sanctions were targeted against persons. Those people are very, very pissed off. A small amount of export dollars for the country (the existing situation) vs *their* hurt pride.

            • vulture4

              Don’t forget that NPO Energomash (Glusko’s old design bureau) owns half of RD Amross so gets a good pert of the inflated price ULA pays Amross.

        • Dick Eagleson

          I don’t doubt the block buy was ginned up as a contingency project well before it was actually executed, but it wasn’t executed until SpaceX posed an imminent threat to ULA. Before that, I suspect ULA was figuring SpaceX would blow up a rocket or two, that would be that and they could quietly bury the block buy idea for lack of need.

        • Dick Eagleson

          I have no idea what “white flag” you might be referring to. Putin jukes and jives a lot in his long-term effort to restore as much of the old Soviet Empire as he can. If you’re under the impression he has given up any future hope of territorial aggression in Ukraine, I’ve got a bridge for sale I’d like you to look at. I don’t think ULA is going to see anymore RD-180 deliveries.

      • amightywind

        Who knows the state of SpaceX’s finances and its effect on their launch rate? Their current launch campaign is in chaos. My guess is they are running on fumes.

        • Il Paesano

          I’d guess you are exactly right.

          Despite SpaceX’s lower overall cost structure, when you consider all the investment they are currently making in infrastructure, the fact that they have more employees than ULA, and heavily discounted launches on the near term manifest, it’s hard to imagine otherwise.

          • Malmesbury

            ULA subcontracts out on a vast scale – if you buy your engines from Russia etc…

            ULA is supporting/using a workforce 10x their internal headcount

          • Coastal Ron

            Il Paesano said:

            I’d guess you are exactly right.

            Windy is as consistent as the wind… ;-)

            …the fact that they have more employees than ULA…

            Of course you’re not comparing apples to apples either. All ULA does is make rockets and launch them – SpaceX makes rockets, makes engines for their rockets, and makes spacecraft too. That they can do all of that with about the same amount of employees says a lot about how bloated ULA is, not how bloated SpaceX is. Think about that.

            …and heavily discounted launches on the near term manifest, it’s hard to imagine otherwise.

            Yes, they have used tried and true marketing techniques to get customers, such as discounting so called “launch customers”. Wow, how unique.

            And if SpaceX needed money Musk would only have to do an IPO, since there are plenty of people that would invest in what SpaceX is doing regardless the logic of it. Some may see fandom as a negative, but from a financial standpoint it’s just potential money that they can tap anytime they want, and since they are not I take that as a sign that their finances are just fine.

            My $0.02

            • Il Paesano

              “All ULA does is make rockets and launch them – SpaceX makes rockets, makes engines for their rockets, and makes spacecraft too. That they can do all of that with about the same amount of employees says a lot about how bloated ULA is, not how bloated SpaceX is. Think about that.”

              To be fair, let’s note that all ULA does is make three separate product lines of rockets with multiple configurations, and launch them with unmatched reliability and timeliness from five different launch pads. (What, 83 in a row so far?)

              Oh, and let’s not forgot about the USG-in-your-knickers factor.

              • Coastal Ron

                Il Paesano said:

                To be fair, let’s note that all ULA does is make three separate product lines of rockets with multiple configurations…

                The point is that ULA has not had to design anything new since it’s formation, so ULA does not have an R&D department like SpaceX does, nor do they do testing like SpaceX does.

                Oh, and let’s not forgot about the USG-in-your-knickers factor.

                So what? Government contracts are pretty common, so you’re going to have to do more than allude to some sort of bogeyman.

                Quantify what you mean – what are the things you imagine for a sustaining core production line (which is all the block buy covers) that the USG adds horrendous costs?

              • amightywind

                Yeah, SpaceX does everything but make money, unlike Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

              • Coastal Ron

                Just because you can’t own their stock on the public market doesn’t mean they don’t make money – and I’m sure you’ll be first in line to buy their stock whenever they IPO… ;-)

                But until that happens the employees who own stock options are making money from SpaceX every time they do a “liquidity round”, like the $30M one DFJ led last year. That’s $30M to the employees that wanted to cash some stock out, and since they have less than 4,000 employees… you do the math on what that would mean for early employees (hint: very happy employees).

              • amightywind

                and I’m sure you’ll be first in line to buy their stock whenever they IPO… ;-)

                No. I wasn’t in line to buy pets.com either.

              • Coastal Ron

                amightywind said:

                No. I wasn’t in line to buy pets.com either.

                Nor I, since it was easy to see the fundamentals of that company relied on an unproven assertion (i.e. you would pay to ship dog food rather than picking it up locally).

                Of course that’s not the case today with SpaceX, since they have shown that there is a strong market for lower cost launches.

                I’m always looking to make small bets on spunky companies… it turned out well enough for me when I invested in Apple in 1998 when they were at a low point of $13 per share. ;-)

        • Jim Nobles

          My guess is they are running on fumes.

          I’d guess you are exactly right.

          Oh dear, you guys are in deep, deep denial. SpaceX is in very good shape and looking better all the time. When you look at SpaceX you good old boys are looking at the future. You are looking at the American way of life at work. You’re looking at the American dream in action. You’re looking at American ingenuity at its best.

          God bless America and God bless SpaceX, a true child of the new American Century.

          [waves flags]

        • Dick Eagleson

          I wouldn’t call a 2-month schedule slippage “chaos” but YMMV. As for SpaceX’s finances, they haven’t gone to the public capital markets, but their VC investors seem happy and Elon can always borrow against his other holdings in extremis, but I don’t see that happening. People like you have been predicting SpaceX’s imminent implosion for years. You’re consistent, I’ll give you that. Right, not so much.

  • Il Paesano

    For sure. (Although they are only supporting/using most of that work force part time.) There are a few pluses, but mostly minuses of outsourcing everything. And once you’ve outsourced, it is damn expensive to bring that capability back in. I give Elon credit for vertically integrating his manufacturing. That was very smart.

    • Il Paesano

      Opps, that was supposed to be a reply to Malmesbury at 1:49.

    • Malmesbury

      Actually, when you outsource capability you very often find that you are paying the full cost of ownership, plus profit margin – even if you *think* you are buying 50% capacity. This is one of the reasons that the outsource-your-company-to-the-point-of-being-a-hedge-fund doesn’t work.

      Some years ago I had a chat with a NASA subcontractor at a conference. He had a nice little business making a couple of minor parts for the shuttle. Those minor parts (a handful a year) put three kids through college, bought the vacation house, the boat etc. He was working through 3 levels of contracting out. Everyone above him was taking a nice, big profit.

      That is standard in government (and alot of private sector) aerospace.

  • Gary Warburton

    Eventually, SpaceX will get the kinks out of their system. It takes time to do that. It is a new system, but when they do that they should be given a chance. What is the harm in that? So why not give them a chance to bid in the meantime and the occasional launch? Eventually they`ll get their cadence up to or close to par. What annoys me are these block buys which are an obvious attempt to lock SpaceX out of the market. How about a block buy of no more than three. The thing about SpaceX is they`re innovative which is something that is needed in the launch industry. Instead of trying to keep SpaceX out the market why doesn`t ULA try a little innovation themselves?

    • Art

      I think ULA was created to launch the current products of their parent companies with no innovations, at as higher a cost as possible to the govt. SpaceX has opened Pandora’s Box as far as they are concerned.

      • Malmesbury

        “I think ULA was created to launch the current products of their parent companies with no innovations, at as higher a cost as possible to the govt. SpaceX has opened Pandora’s Box as far as they are concerned.”

        It was specifically written into the structure of ULA that they cannot develop new rockets…

  • Reality Bits

    IMHO, it is time for a divestiture of ULA by Boeing & LM. Let it go off on it’s own and sink/swim. LM seems to still be able to field it’s own LVs (with comments of the Athena being restarted) and Boeing is working the SLS core tanking.

    Then it’s knife-fight at the EELV corral. Level the playing field to a fixed price LV contract and a separate contract for special payload handling requirements. Then both parties can either put up or shut up.

    • MORE REALITY

      One of the reasons ULA was formed was to put an end to the knife fights. With that said, it would be nice to see launch costs come down and to have ULA start poaching in commercial launch market and give Space X some competition there. One has to wonder what Mr. Musk’s response to his “competition” mantra would be if ULA found success in booking commercial launches.

      • Coastal Ron

        MORE REALITY said:

        One of the reasons ULA was formed was to put an end to the knife fights.

        Don’t get romantic – this is big business we’re talking about and “knife fights” are business as usual. It was money. From a Space.com article talking about the FTC approval for the merger:

        “Lockheed Martin and Boeing have insisted that by combining their Atlas and Delta businesses they will be able to reduce the cost of meeting the national security and civil expendable launch vehicle needs of the U.S. government.”

        Then you said:

        With that said, it would be nice to see launch costs come down…

        From that same article about the FTC approval, the FTC did have concerns relating to cost:

        The FTC press release made clear the commission’s concerns about competition, saying the joint venture would violate antitrust laws and “is likely to cause significant anticompetitive harm.” But the FTC said the Pentagon concluded that “the unique national security benefits from the joint venture would exceed any anticompetitive harm.”

        And as we’ve seen over time ULA’s costs have increased far faster than the rate of inflation.

        One has to wonder what Mr. Musk’s response to his “competition” mantra would be if ULA found success in booking commercial launches.

        You don’t understand. As we’ve already pointed out ULA has done launches for non-USG customers, and even signed up another one recently. This has nothing to do with ULA’s mix of customers, but everything to do with the lack of competition for U.S. Government launch providers. ULA has a monopoly on launches for the U.S. Government, meaning that competition does not exist.

        And what can happen when competition does not exist with a customer that has extremely deep pockets?

        • MORE REALITY

          Your assumption is that Mr. Musk wants competition, yet his actions and rhetoric all point to eliminating competition so that his company can become king of the hill. Classic examples of rhetoric include insisting that the Atlas V, which is the biggest potential competitor to the Falcon 9 in terms of capability to his lawsuit where he again has made unsubstantiated claims regarding the RD-180, to blatantly accusing ULA of unethical/illegal hiring practices and this latest sally in his lawsuit, which is based on Senator McCain’s ramblings. Then there is rhetoric about Orbital Sciences, which is his direct competitor for commercial cargo and very real potential competitor for DoD launch business. All this has the smell of Mr. Musk using the veil of “open competition” as a hunting expedition to be rise to the top of the food chain and essentially create the same type of launch monopoly that ULA currently has.

          I know the Space X fans won’t believe this, but when you take a cold, hard look, Mr. Musk is taking a page from hard capitalism and use a shrewd strategy to make his company the only player in town, which leads us the exact situation we have now with ULA. This is my opinion; you’re entitled to yours.

          • common sense

            The problem with those like you who oppose SpaceX is not so much that you oppose SpaceX. It is rather that you make a lame case to do so. Same for the SLS groupies. Can’t you get your act together and come up with some solid argument? Because the way it is now is that SLS will just go away and ULA might as well and rather soon. So rather than whining what SpaceX does and does well – whether you or I like it – you should come up with a substantiated argument to fight.

            For now nothing came out that makes a good case for the ULA block buy. All we can see is a case of inept if not corrupt way to procure DOD services and products.

            Come on. For once.

            SpaceX will eat your lunch and they actually are already.

            For example: ULA commercial??? Yeah for sure.

            Darn.

            • MORE REALITY

              It’s not about opposing Space X, and if you have to pull out that barb then your position is questionable. This is about not glorifying Mr. Musk as the second coming and taking a hard look without any biases. No matter what argument I or any other of the minority of posters on this board make, the Space X faithful will not cast their eyes away for one minute to have a truly non-biased discussion. Of course, politics is all about bias so I suppose its presence is apt considering the nature of this board.

              So, wave the flag and Space X pom poms all you like. It doesn’t change the fact that ULA and Space X have similar business objectives and have their playbooks by which to achieve them. Take the stars out of your eyes for a few minutes and exercise some of that common sense and you might see it.

            • Art

              You nailed it on the head about that block buy. The Air Force fiscal year 2014 started on Oct 1, 2013 & ends on Sep 30, 2014. So this block buy being approved at the end of the 1st quarter of fiscal year 2014, under pressure from ULA, can possible be called coercing a gov institution. The Air Force could have waited until second the end of the second quarter of FY 2014. Especially, when they knew that there would be competition. Ideally the award could have waited until the end of the third quarter of FY 2014. The fact that it did not means that the civilian official in the contracting office resorted to illegal means to achieve a high level job opportunity as a reward. Suddenly this Air Force contracting official retires the same FY & receives a VP post in a supplier of ULA hardware. Come on!! The only reason this individual didn’t get on with ULA is because the blatant corruption couldn’t be easily hidden. Just my opinion.

          • Coastal Ron

            MORE REALITY said:

            Your assumption is that Mr. Musk wants competition…

            No, my assumption is that Mr. Musk wants the opportunity to compete for U.S. Government launches, which according to him will allow the government to save money for the exact same service.

            If competition is good, then Musk’s actions must be construed as good, right?

            …yet his actions and rhetoric all point to eliminating competition so that his company can become king of the hill.

            You should ask Boeing and Lockheed Martin what their views are on competition… I don’t think you’ll find much difference.

            However in this case Musk wants to compete based on competition, and ULA wants to compete based on keeping competition out. You tell me which is worse.

            Classic examples of rhetoric include…

            Oh please. Are you really that naive? Government contracting is a cutthroat business, and if you don’t see mud slinging in the press you can be sure it’s going on in the back rooms where representatives of companies are meeting with their potential customers (which are usually low-paid government employees).

            Also, you do remember that ULA had an advertising campaign out directly targeting SpaceX years ago? This latest stuff is based on issues that have been known for years, like the RD-180, but have become relevant because of what Russia has been doing in Ukraine.

            Should we be ignoring geo-political issues that like? Are you into appeasement? If not, then everything is on the table, including talk about relying on Russia for getting our most important satellite assets to space. SpaceX is not the only entity bringing up these issues, and Elon Musk is not responsible for Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Let’s keep some perspective here.

            • MORE REALITY

              Naive? Not in the least. :) Mr. Musk exudes the altruism of Nicola Tesla all the while using Thomas Edison’s business playbook. It’s pretty shrewd, and I admire it.

              I would note that at the time ULA was slinging mud at Space X, ULA was launching rockets while Space X was not. So, while they were talking trash they had a track record to back it up.

              Honestly, this whole “competition” and “fairness” schtick is getting old. This isn’t about competition and cutting corners just to be fair. It’s about acquiring the most reliable ride to space for national security assets, period. Failure to recognize that suggests its own brand of naiveté. :)

              • Coastal Ron

                MORE REALITY said:

                Honestly, this whole “competition” and “fairness” schtick is getting old.

                Capitalism and free trade never gets old.

                It’s about acquiring the most reliable ride to space for national security assets, period.

                Actually, no. The government is not willing to pay any price in order to ensure every launch is successful. There is an economic trade off.

                And let’s remember that the Air Force itself does want competition, and that it has remarked in the past about how the increases in launch costs are unsustainable.

                So again, no this isn’t about acquiring the most reliable ride to space, but the overall most cost effective one.

          • common sense

            “It’s not about opposing Space X, and if you have to pull out that barb then your position is questionable.”

            Not sure what is questionable about my position. I support SpaceX. Clear enough?

            “This is about not glorifying Mr. Musk as the second coming and taking a hard look without any biases. No matter what argument I or any other of the minority of posters on this board make, the Space X faithful will not cast their eyes away for one minute to have a truly non-biased discussion. Of course, politics is all about bias so I suppose its presence is apt considering the nature of this board.”

            The nature of your comment does show that you have no substance in your argument. “second coming”? “SpaceX faithful”?

            “So, wave the flag and Space X pom poms all you like.”

            I wave nothing. I do not “pom pomp” anything either. I leave it to those who have no substantiated argument in either camp.

            “It doesn’t change the fact that ULA and Space X have similar business objectives and have their playbooks by which to achieve them.”

            I see. So now you know the business objectives of both ULA and SpaceX. Wow you are quite the informed poster obviously. And all that without link or reference to your argumentation. Neat.

            “Take the stars out of your eyes for a few minutes and exercise some of that common sense and you might see it.”

            I might reply something nasty about taking things out of other things but I will not just to be polite. However I will not take the stars out of my eyes since they drove me thus far. And as far as of “common sense” goes believe you me I have heard it all from those like you in this forums and others. And so far I would like to be proven wrong. Once. Just once.

      • Malmesbury

        “With that said, it would be nice to see launch costs come down and to have ULA start poaching in commercial launch market and give Space X some competition there. One has to wonder what Mr. Musk’s response to his “competition” mantra would be if ULA found success in booking commercial launches.”

        That is quite specifically what ULA doesn’t want to happen – their spokesman actually turned up to a Senate committee meeting to declare that competition was bad….

        The entire structure and ethos of ULA is based on cost plus. To introduce cost control would require one of those burn-the-company-down-to-change-it revolutions in management that very, very rarely happen.

        ULA was designed to suck up all the money that the DoD had for space launch. It was also assumed that cutting costs was impossible. So Ariane ate their lunch on the commercial market

        OSC can control costs – ULA can’t. All they can do is repeat the mantra of “aerospace inflation is higher than CPI”.

      • Fred Willett

        it would be nice to see launch costs come down and to have ULA start poaching in commercial launch market and give Space X some competition there.
        Ain’t gunna happen. ULA rockets are just too expensive.
        ULA can’t compete even with a $1B annual “assured access” subsidy.
        ULA’s commercial launches are few and far between. SpaceX currently has 30% of the global launch market and is eyeing off 50%.
        The fact is ULA needs the protection of the block buy to stop SpaceX eating its lunch.

        • Neil

          Yep even ESA doesn’t require a billion dollar subsidy. It’s more like $100 or so million.
          ULA simply can’t compete unless, they’ve been significantly feathering their nest and price gouging the DoD which I think they have anyway but the question is by how much? This I would not put past them.
          Cheers.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Have any of you thought about Orbital/ATK competing in a rebid?

  • MrEarl

    This horse has not just been beaten to death but to a pulp!
    I hate when congress is out of town. They’re the ones that need the pummeling. (sigh)

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