Replacing the Russian-made rocket engines used by the Atlas 5 and Antares rockets would take about four years, according to a industry analysis.


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Replacing the Russian-made rocket engines used by the Atlas 5 and Antares rockets would take about four years, according to Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The company presently refurbishes the Russian engines used by Antares, and is building a host of other engines for other rockets.

In related news, ULA has begun considering shifting some of its military launches from the Atlas 5 to the Delta family of rockets. The company has also released previously undisclosed pricing information for its bulk buy military launches.

Michael Gass, chief executive of Denver-based ULA, said the company’s average per-launch price to the U.S. government is $225 million, a figure that includes the block buy contract as well as pre-existing launch backlog. That figure represents the combined value of the contracts divided by the number of missions.

That $225 million figure, though far less than previously believed, is a little more than twice what SpaceX says it would charge for a comparable launch.

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25 comments

  • wodun

    “is a little more than twice what SpaceX says it would charge for a comparable launch.”

    I am uncertain if that is true if the government is the customer. ISS resupply missions are significantly more expensive than the listed launch price for a satellite. Part of that is the increased complexity but it part of it is also due to the demands of the customer.

  • Pzatchok

    Even fudging the numbers with million dollar accountants they could only get to a price per launch of twice Space X’s.

    Nice.

    I feel so proud our government is spending my money. I mine as well just burn it in the backyard.

  • Kelly Starks

    A lot of the pricing numbers SpaceX reports don’t add up, or prove out.

  • Dick Eagleson

    As you are employed by their “competitor” I take your unsubstantiated assertions on this matter with all the seriousness they deserve- zero.

  • Pzatchok

    The cost per launch of Space X is exactly what they are charging.

    Unlike those others they can not come back later and charge 50000 dollars for a hammer to make up any losses.

    If Kelly wants to add in the relatively miniscule costs of the development “awards” then he can, but the price per launch is still way lower than anyone else.
    If you want to add in 60 years of research costs that our governments cash has already paid for then add that to all the aerospace companies. It will just be a wash.
    The fact is all of that research is property of the US government and available to the public at large. Its what we paid for and what we can now use freely.

    The fact is the company is charging what it wants and or needs to stay in business. If they do not they will go out of business. If the government does not want to pay it they don’t have to. They can go elsewhere and find launch services. Like Russia. Which is even over charging the US government.

  • Kelly Starks

    Bottom line. SpaceX was Bragging about costing $140M a flight, being 10 times cheaper then shuttle, when the actuals were $440M, and cost per ton per ton was 30%-40% HIGHER.

    SpaceX has about 4000 employees. Given normal rules of thumb for engineering organizations that would suggest expense’s for salaries, offices, equipment tools etc, of about a $billion a year. Given SpaceX tours show they are very heavy with equipment and facilities, they might be higher. (SpaceX might cut costs on people or processes, but realestate, and tooling they have to get at normal retail.) They fly, or are planning to fly 4 flights in 2013, 9 in’14, they list up to 20 in 2015 but that seems to be a bit of a stretch. Anyway ignoring extra costs for purchases for the flights (materials, electronics, etc) you have $2B in costs for 2013&2014, for 13 flights or about $154M a flight, which they say cost far less then that to the customer.

  • Pzatchok

    Well Kelly you seem to be “in the know”.

    Exactly how are planning to stay in business at a billion dollars lost a year?
    How do they expect to regain any losses? Selling spare parts at hugely inflated prices like those military aircraft manufacturers do? Or are they planning on directly getting government tax dollars for providing nothing, like a government agency?

    By the way I do like having you around. there is no point without a counterpoint.
    We need other opinions around just to make us think at least.

  • Pzatchok

    Sorry Kelly but we go by what they are charging per flight.

    Not by what you think they should be charging.
    Sorry but they are in charge of their own private company. If they want to charge less than what you think it really costs them to launch then thats their problem. As their customer(the guy paying the bill) I like their price.

    And seriously Kelly. If the shuttle ever flew at a profit it would still be around. I don’t care what you think the cost per ton was or not. They NEVER charged enough to make a profit. And quite frankly they should have. They never ran it like a service company and still don’t.

    The shuttle was designed for ONE military job and one job only. And that job was cancelled before the shuttle made its first flight. Everything after that was fill in work to justify the original expense of its design and construction since its original job was top secret.
    It was NEVER a good construction platform.
    It was never designed to recover and or fix satellites in orbit. As evidenced by the fact no satellites launched at that point were designed to be captured by it. We actually had to grab them by hand.
    And it was never a good launch platform for delivering satellites into orbit. That was always done cheaper by conventional rockets.
    And as a science platform it fell short of that job also.

    It was all we had at the time but it was not the best we could have done.
    And in the end it was to risky to fly. Killed to many people. And it never flew close to as many flights as they said it would or could.
    We were even reduced to reusing shuttle engines from one craft to another at one point.

  • Kelly Starks

    > Well Kelly you seem to be “in the know”.

    > Exactly how are planning to stay in business at a billion dollars lost a year?

    If you mean SpaceX, I didn’t say they were losing money – said the charges for the launches don’t come close to paying the cost for them. Same thing with Tesla. They lose tens of thousands on every car – and make it up in gov kickbacks.

  • Kelly Starks

    > Sorry Kelly but we go by what they are charging per flight…

    Great way to get coned. Saw Sprint nearly get whipped up merging with World Com who posted huge profits– right up to the point where they went bankrupt.
    ..or Solyndra.. or a long list of other companies that played with the books, and and a long list of investors who ignored the reports of same from auditors.

    >…And seriously Kelly. If the shuttle ever flew at a profit it would still be around…

    Oh don’t be rediculas. NASA owned the shuttles, and the launch facilities. Shuttles flew as often as they and the political winds wanted. It was utterly irrelevant if they made a profit (whatever that would mean in a fed program) except NASA needed to up cost per flight to generate more voter support.

    >…I don’t care what you think the cost per ton was or not. ..

    Again ignoring auditors and budget numbers?

    > he shuttle was designed for ONE military job and one job only…

    False. NASA wanted it for its missions, but needed to pleed to get mil support for it with congress. The mil was not at all enthusiastic about it. I worked with several mil folks “on loan” to NASA to familiarize themselves with flight ops. They thought shuttle was great for big projects, on orbit construction and servicing etc – but useless for most of their missions other then as a launch platform – and they did NOT want to become dependant on NASA

    >… It was NEVER a good construction platform.

    Hubble, ISS, and several other repair and construction missions proved otherwise.

    >…was never designed to recover and or fix satellites in orbit. As evidenced by the fact no satellites
    > launched at that point were designed to be captured by it. We actually had to grab them by hand.

    And with clamps etc. I.E. though the sats weren’t designed to be serviced by shuttle, they could and were serviced by shuttle.

    >….in the end it was to risky to fly. Killed to many people…

    It had the best safty record of anything that flew people to orbit. Twice as safe as what Orion was projected to be while I was there.

    >.. And it never flew close to as many flights as they said it would or could.

    No missions. It “only” flew half of all cargo tonnage and 3/4ths of all the people, lifted in human history.

  • Pzatchok

    What cash kick backs?
    Tax breaks do equal cash back.

  • Pzatchok

    ” except NASA needed to up cost per flight to generate more voter support.”

    They had to raise flight costs to gain voter support?!
    Are you high? If that worked politicians would just say it cost a quadrillion dollars and every voter would jump on the band wagon.

    The only voters they hoped to gain by raising the costs per flight was the workers. And even including all sub contractors it didn’t out weigh the detractors.

    They needed to prove they could lower costs. And then did it. Then every other voter would have been willing to send them more money by the bucket.
    Just like investors are willing to throw money at a profitable company that makes its estimates and unwilling to give loans to companies that don’t make a profit or meat estimates.

    Private union workers no longer hold a significant voting block. The only ones left with any real voting power are government unions. And contractors and sub contractors are not government workers. In fact they are envious or government workers and there is a growing resentment to them in the private unions. Don’t count on private unions giving 100% support to government unions.

  • Edward

    >> Exactly how are planning to stay in business at a billion dollars lost a year?

    >If you mean SpaceX, I didn’t say they were losing money – said the charges for the launches don’t come close to paying the cost for them. Same thing with Tesla. They lose tens of thousands on every car – and make it up in gov kickbacks.

    I have yet to hear of a single “kickback” from the government to either SpaceX or Tesla. Do you have a link to any reports on these kickbacks?

  • Edward

    Kelly,

    Your history on the Shuttle is wanting. The original, NASA, design of the shuttle was a small craft that carried 5 to 7 people and had an experiment bay. NASA could not fund this version, so it went to the Air Force, which agreed to support funding if the experiment bay were large enough to carry large, heavy satellites. There were no requirements for on-orbit servicing or construction capabilities. Those abilities were kluged together later. It was this terrible compromise that doomed the shuttle into an expensive albatross around NASA’s neck (as opposed to the original albatross-as-good-luck-symbol – lesson from Coleridge: don’t kill the albatross). It became a large craft that flexed so much that it required those pesky tiles as a heat shield, and they led to very long and expensive maintenance times between flights.

    Instead of flying 12 to 24 flights per year and each craft lasting for 100 flights, the best year saw only 6 flights, and the shuttle averaged 27 flights each.

    On safety, my calculation shows that the shuttle carried 819 people (depending upon how you consider some of the MIR missions in which different numbers went up than came down) and killed 14 for a rate of 1.71% killed. Soyuz flew 343 people and killed 4, for rate of 1.17%. It looks to me like Soyuz is safer than the shuttle.

    (The X-15 killed only one out of 199 flights, but only 2 or 13 of those flights went to space. Depending on your definition of space and your definition of safety, that is a rate of 0.5%, 7.7%, 50% or 0% killed. It may have been the safest of the long-lasting spacecraft. Several flew fewer than a dozen flights without a casualty.)

    Although we learned a lot about spaceflight with the shuttle, I think that NASA’s original design would have cost us far less in blood and treasure and would have produced a flight rate that would have brought us far more knowledge and the ability to spend our treasure on more advancements in space, such as space stations, advanced hardware (including engines that could have replaced the Russian ones we currently use) and other explorations. It probably would have brought us much closer to the vision in the movie “2001: a Space Odyssey” than we are now.

  • Pzatchok

    The shuttle was designed in the early 70’s. First launched in 81.

    It was originally designed to carry the hexagon spy satellite in its cargo bay. Which it did, I guess, a few times.

    But technology was advancing at the same time. And sometime in the mid 70’s the US launched its first digital satellite. By the mid 80’s the digital CCD technology was advanced enough that the physical film satellite Hexagon was no longer needed. So by 86 it was cancelled and replaced with smaller digital camera equipped satellites.

    The shuttle was no longer needed. Since the challenger accident all shuttle missions have been fluff.

    And considering how many times each one flew we more than likely didn’t need 3 of them. They were supposed to fly 100 plus times each and have a refit turn around time of 30 days. Goals never even tried for.

  • Kelly Starks

    > Your history on the Shuttle is wanting…

    Given I was in the program in flight planning dept from before first flight to past Challenger, and studied it a lot in my spare time. I disagree.

    > … The original, NASA, design of the shuttle was a small craft that carried 5 to 7 people and had an experiment bay.
    > NASA could not fund this version, so it went to the Air Force, which agreed to support funding if the experiment bay
    > were large enough to carry large, heavy satellites. ….

    Not quite. NASA had lots of early designs, but the initial serious ones were for on orbit servicing and construction to build the big stations, deep sp[ace craft, moon bases etc. Initially a 15 ton cargo capacity was penciled in, but it was to small for some NASA and other missions and congress didn’t want to need a second ship which would double the cost (reasonable since boosting the shuttles size had negligible cost impact) but they also wanted it to be capable of handeling all the gov missions so they needed the DoD’s endorsement, not funding.

    >…It became a large craft that flexed so much that it required those pesky tiles as a heat shield,..

    No, the tiles were a NASA bright idea to (someone thought) save money by allowing a cheap riveted aluminum structure by wraping it in insulating tiles. Given the tiles were brittle and might come off, they made them small. Better cheaper designs and refits were proposed by industry and NASA folks – but that would reduce the operating costs.

    >..of flying 12 to 24 flights per year ..

    They were actually planning for 50 flights a year. Which given there aren’t that many globally most years….

    > On safety, my calculation shows that the shuttle carried 819 people (depending upon how you consider some of
    > the MIR missions in which different numbers went up than came down) and killed 14 for a rate of 1.71% killed.
    > Soyuz flew 343 people and killed 4, for rate of 1.17%. It looks to me like Soyuz is safer than the shuttle.

    That’s not how you normally calculate safety. (And given they knew the first flight was a suicide flight, they only carried a single crewmen which skews your numbers). 1 out 20 Shuttle flights had a incident that either could have killed a ship and crew if not caught, or did. 1 out of 70 flights weer lost. Soyuz is 1 out of 5, and 1 out of 50. Ergo, Soyuz is much less safe.

    Also given the breakdown of the Russian manufacturing capacity – I suspect Soyuz numbers are getting worse then since I read the metrics.

    >..The X-15 killed only one out of 199 flights,..

    True, but I was counting craft that carried folks into orbit, not just space — which gets into which suborbitals do you count?

    > Although we learned a lot about spaceflight with the shuttle, I think that NASA’s original design would have cost us far less
    > in blood and treasure and would have produced a flight rate that would have brought us far more knowledge and the ability
    > to spend our treasure on more advancements in space, ..

    No, It wouldn’t have saved money, though quick and dirty changes or stupid design choices (like the 3 day redesign to the current config Nixon ordered (stupid external tank and SRBs), or a metal skinned rather then just tile skinned exterior, and some time to do the “illities” to cut service costs (rejected because it would cut costs)) could have easily dropped the costs by a order of magnitude.

    >… It probably would have brought us much closer to the vision in the movie “2001: a Space Odyssey” than we are now.

    Shuttle was designed for that, which is why 2001 based their shuttle on early industrial configs of the shuttle. But their was no support for such a program.

    As for engines we should have developed. a rocket / ramjet combined cycle to double average ISP from Earth to orbit would be real nice!! Something to build toward a runway HTOL – SSTO shuttle? Star-Raker anyone?

    The fact were still talking about ICBM style boosters and capsules is disgusting.

  • Kelly Starks

    As to kick backs. I ment things like NASA paying off all their R&D, and practically everything else they ever spent, in a payment for R&D never done? Contracts rewritten to allow SpaceX to compete when they weren’t qualified, etc.

  • Kelly Starks

    >>” except NASA needed to up cost per flight to generate more voter support.”

    > They had to raise flight costs to gain voter support?!

    Surveys consistently show about the only two things about NASA that generates any voter support is the prestigue of having a NASA, and the serveral times bigger survey selection — they spend money near the voter. Hence why NASA always designs up to Galactica programs. Or as the old saying goes, its far harder to get a million dollar program funded then a billion dollar program.

    >..They needed to prove they could lower costs. And then did it. Then every other voter would have been willing to send them more money by the bucket…

    No, because the voters don’t see any intrinsic value in anything NASA does.

    Space advocates long talk about the “Why throw money away in space when we have problems on Earth?” question and the space advocate answer of “Were not throwing money into space, were spending it here paying folks to build the ships and infrastructure we need to get to space and learn about….”

    But most voters heard “Were not throwing money into space, were spending it here paying folks to bla bla bla….blah blah” I.E. they heard NASA is a huge pure pork program. Since that’s the only thing voters see as valuable from NASA, NASA makes damn sure they provide it.

  • Edward

    I’m sticking to my story.

    As for your conclusion that it would have been nice to have had the money to develop more advanced hardware than to spend it all on an expensive shuttle that only mildly advanced our knowledge and experience and on an expensive space station that has taken almost its originally-designed lifetime to become operational, I agree. We wound up with stifling hardware instead of innovative and inspiring hardware.

    During that time, we lost the imagination of the US public and the college graduates. We squandered the talents and excitement of two generations of scientists, engineers, and technicians, and ended up with a generation that doubts that we ever went to the moon because (and I am not making this up, I have talked to several) we can’t get there now. And now NASA’s management is squandering its role as leader in space technology.

  • Edward

    Kelly,

    If that is what you mean by kickback, then you must think that every company that has had a government contract has received kickbacks.

    If SpaceX was not qualified, then how do you explain their success at taking supplies to the ISS? How were the early rocket manufacturers more qualified when in the late 1950s, as Tom Wolf once wrote, “Our rockets always blow up”? How many SpaceX rockets have blown up so far? What other US company had a cargo spacecraft qualified to take supplies to the ISS, and if there weren’t any, do you really think that they would have signed contracts that did not compensate them for R&D expenditures to develop those craft?

    As I said, it sounds like you kickbacks are standard operating procedure, but that SpaceX can’t receive the same treatment as Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada, or Boeing (whom you don’t complain about, despite Orbital also delivering supplies to ISS).

    But your definition of kickback does not explain your Tesla comment. They are not a government contractor, nor are they being compensated by the government for their R&D. I am curious; how is it that they are receiving kickbacks (please include links to articles or other supporting documents)?

  • Kelly Starks

    > then you must think that every company that has had a government contract has received kickbacks.

    Only the ones who get big payments for non services.

    > If SpaceX was not qualified, then how do you explain their success at taking supplies to the ISS?.

    Qualified under the contract rules, certification rules, quality verification, etc.. Though given the high failure rate of their gear….

    > How were the early rocket manufacturers more qualified when in the late 1950s, as Tom Wolf once wrote..

    It isn’t the 1950’s. Its like the British firm that made the Comet airlines that kept blowing up saying by the standards back during the Wright brothers era weer doing great!

    >.. How many SpaceX rockets have blown up so far?

    Complete blow up..2-3, partial another 1 at least.

    > What other US company had a cargo spacecraft qualified to take supplies to the ISS,..

    ULA and USA, which weren’t allowed to bid since they didn’t qualify under the terms of the contract SpaceX didn’t qualify under either.

    > …, do you really think that they would have signed contracts that did not compensate them for R&D expenditures to develop those craft?

    SpaceX didn’t do ay R&D for the contract, yet they were compensated almost a billion for their no dev work.

    > As I said, it sounds like you kickbacks are standard operating procedure, but that SpaceX can’t receive the same treatment as
    > Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada, or Boeing (whom you don’t complain about, despite Orbital also delivering supplies to ISS).

    Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing didn’t get special treatment outside the contract rules, and paid most of a billion for non services. Also they don’t take the kind of short cuts in quality V&V etc.

    > But your definition of kickback does not explain your Tesla comment…

    As I said, the gov set up a carbon trading systems for car makers. So Tesla losses money on their cars since they sell them well bellow cost. But make enough sell carbon credits to other car makers to put them in the black.

  • Kelly Starks

    > As for your conclusion that it would have been nice to have had the money to develop more advanced hardware than to spend
    > it all on an expensive shuttle that only mildly advanced our knowledge and experience and on an expensive space station that
    > has taken almost its originally-designed lifetime to become operational, I agree. We wound up with stifling hardware instead of innovative and inspiring hardware.

    That’s not what I said. I said

    >..As for engines we should have developed. a rocket / ramjet combined cycle to double average ISP from Earth to orbit would
    > be real nice!! Something to build toward a runway HTOL – SSTO shuttle? Star-Raker anyone?

    Its not that these took a lot of money. Nore for that mater was shuttle particularly expensive to develop. A R&D program to develop a booster and capsule normally comes to about $50 B for NASA, the full shuttle dev price was $37B.

    > During that time, we lost the imagination of the US public and the college graduates….

    Lets face it, it wasn’t that exciting to most folks even during the Apollo era and then we were in a big space race. If we as a nation was really doing something in space (no I don’t mean another nothing flags and footprints program, really doing something) that might have inspired a lot of folks.

    All the aerospace industry in the US is pretty much gone by now.

    >….a generation that doubts that we ever went to the moon because (and I am not making this up, I have talked to several) we can’t get there now. …

    Which does sound plausible. The fact we could do so much more in the 60’s (Roads, water project, navigation projects, mil, most major industries) then then we could do now is confusing/scary.

    >….And now NASA’s management is squandering its role as leader in space technology.

    They are doing the job the voters want, and hence Congress directs. So can’t blame them for that one.

  • Kelly Starks

    > The shuttle was designed in the early 70′s. First launched in 81.

    I know, I was at JSC watching it.

    > It was originally designed to carry the hexagon spy satellite in its cargo bay. Which it did, I guess, a few times.

    more correctly it could lift about all the sats in work by anyone, since all cargo then was under the 25+ ton capacity and 20X 60 foot cargo bay. And did wind up carry the bulk of all US cargo in history.

    >… by 86 it was cancelled and replaced with smaller digital camera equipped satellites.

    The recon sats often aren’t any lighter because the heavy (Hubble sized) optics drive the size and weight.

  • Edward

    Kelly,

    I get it now. When you use a word (e.g. Kickback), it means just what you choose it to mean, neither more nor less, for each company/person/organization/whatever. It is more interesting having a discussion with Humpty Dumpty than I expected. (In the “Chinese curse” sense.) Same with the words: subsidy, failure rate, success rate, qualified, etc. Maybe even the words: green and carbon credits. It is difficult to have a discussion with you when words change meaning in mid sentence or for different subjects or objects.

    SpaceX gets a kickback, but Orbital Sciences does not because the meaning of kickback changed at the comma. Tesla gets a kickback, because the meaning changed again, possibly at the period, but maybe it changed multiple times at various places in the two sentences without notice (you gave no notice, and I did not notice). Further, I think that you use the word subsidy when the word profit is more appropriate (profit being the productivity that exceeds the resources expended). A company that reduces the resources expended deserves the additional profits earned. At least until its competitors figure out how to reduce waste and reduce their prices.

    I wish you would settle for consistent meanings, because it is generally educational to have these discussions with you. At least it has been educational when there was consistency.

    I think that you are complaining that we live in a crony capitalist society, where government tries to choose winners and losers depending upon who is friends with the government or friends with people in the government, rather than living in the old free market capitalist society that is more like the one we grew up in. I, too, would rather that the country go back to free markets so that We the People choose the winners based upon their price, technology, quality, or service.

    George Bush gave up free market principles in order to save the free market system. I, too, am still waiting for the saved system to return.

  • Edward

    > That’s not what I said.

    Well, Kelly, in my book, a rocket / ramjet combined cycle would be hardware that is more advanced than we have now.

    > Lets face it, it wasn’t that exciting to most folks even during the Apollo era …

    It was more exciting than a lot of things, back then. Those who couldn’t name all the astronauts (a common measure of how uninterested the population had become, because naming all 30 astronauts was harder than naming the “original seven”) could still name John Glenn and Alan Shepard, yet most could not even name their own congressman or senators. Even today, people who can’t name Joe Biden can name Neil Armstrong.

    It was exciting enough that for decades people and advertisements would say “if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we …” Even: “Houston, we have a problem” and “failure is not an option” are still often-used phrases.

    It was exciting enough that millions of Americans became scientists and engineers because they were inspired by Mercury, Gemini, and especially Apollo. Are you one of them?

    > They are doing the job the voters want, and hence Congress directs. So can’t blame them for that one.

    Well, I *do* blame them. Wasting America’s treasure and squandering our talent is *not* why they are in Washington. They are supposed to be our leaders, not our followers. And we should *not* be satisfied with the lousy job that they are doing for us.

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