The Rockets’ Red Ink: from EELV to a Competitive Space Launch Future
May 14/15: DefSec Carter and DNI Clapper have urged Congress to allow United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin/Boeing joint venture, to use Russian RD-180 engines for “assured access to space.” If the current law were to change from the current 2015 defense authorization law banning the use of Russian engines in US launches, ULA would be capable of competing for 18 out of 34 competitive launches between 2015 and 2022, versus the current 5 as the law stands, with the Air Force pushing for more launches by the private sector.
Feb 26/15: The Air Force is looking nervously at its capacity to meet the congressionally-mandated deadline of 2019 to stop relying on Russian rocket engines. Air Force Secretary Deborah James told senators on Wednesday that to try to meet the deadline by 2019 would mean exchanging one monopoly franchise for another. Except, of course, it wouldn’t be controlled by Russia, a quality that of late has started to have more and more charm. It was an interesting remark given that the new monopoly in question might be that of SpaceX, the firm that has shown unprecedented speed to development. James indicated a decade was more realistic, which sounds more like the preferred timeframe of the Air Force’s long-time partner United Launch Alliance, which has a good record, but not one for sprightliness.
Feb 3/15: In addition to a new GPS III satellite procurement, the new Air Force budget would pay for five launches, two of which would be “set aside” for competition. This follows the very public recent settlement of a SpaceX protest that the Air Force had deliberately prevented competition when it awarded United Launch Alliance a bevy of launches over many years not long before SpaceX was expected to gain certification to compete. ULA uses Russian engines to loft satellites into orbit, and the new Air Force budget also has a line item to reduce reliance on Russian hardware, although the mechanism for doing so isn’t yet clear.
Jan 26/15: SpaceX has said it will call off the legal dogs on the Air Force. SpaceX sued after the Air Force bundled up a great number of future space launches and pre-contracted for the services without letting SpaceX bid. In an odd sort of settlement, SpaceX will drop its suit, and in return, the Air Force will add more launches that will not necessarily go to the Boeing-Lockheed-led United Launch Alliance consortium. When asked directly this morning an Air Force representative said that there was not a specific number of launches attached to that settlement. The Air Force has also agreed to work toward getting SpaceX certified for launches, although it is unclear if that last aspect is actually part of the settlement, as it is something that wouldn’t be properly withheld. When asked, the Air Force referred back to the single-paragraph statement. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk previously accused an Air Force official of seeking employment from the bidders during the process, an offer SpaceX had refused. That accusation made news at the time (May 2014) partly because of the significance of the contract size, but primarily because it is fairly rare for a contractor to speak of such alleged behavior publicly.
The EELV program was designed to reduce the cost of government space launches through greater contractor competition, and modifiable rocket families whose system requirements emphasized simplicity, commonality, standardization, new applications of existing technology, streamlined manufacturing capabilities, and more efficient launch-site processing. Result: the Delta IV (Boeing) and Atlas V (Lockheed Martin) heavy rockets.
Paradoxically, that very program may have forced the October 2006 merger of Boeing & Lockheed Martin’s rocket divisions. Crosslink Magazine’s Winter 2004 article “EELV: The Next Stage of Space Launch” offers an excellent briefing that covers EELV’s program innovations and results, while a detailed National Taxpayer’s Union letter to Congress takes a much less positive view. This DID Spotlight article looks at the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, emerging challengers like SpaceX and the new competition framework, and the US government contracts placed since the merger that formed the United Launch Alliance.Displaying 687 of 14,867 words (about 38 pages)
The EELV System
Military Satellite Payloads
EELV Budgets & Structure
Competition Again? The New “Open” Launch Framework
Going Forward: Block Buys in a Broader EELV Program
Contracts & Key Events
FY 2014 – 2015
FY 2008 – 2009
FY 2006 – 2007
Firms & Platforms
Official Reports & Legal
News & Views
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