Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin

Orion faces more budget and schedule delays

A new inspector general report of NASA’s Orion has found that the program still faces significant budget and technical problems in meeting the planned August 2021 launch date for its first manned mission.

The report makes it clear that this launch will almost certainly be delayed until 2023, meaning that from the date President George Bush proposed Orion in 2004, it will have taken NASA a full two decades to launch the first manned Orion capsule.

Let me repeat that: Two decades to build and launch a single manned mission. Does anyone see something wrong here?

As for what will happen after that first flight, the report itself [pdf] makes it pretty clear that not much is likely. From page 11:

For Orion missions after 2023, NASA has adopted an incremental development approach. According to the Program Plan, the approach is cost-driven and will provide a core vehicle the Agency can upgrade to provide additional capabilities for missions beyond cis-lunar space. Each incremental upgrade will build on flight experience to ensure the vehicle’s design is based on viable technology and capabilities. Consistent with this incremental approach, NASA has not committed to specific missions after 2023 and therefore has not developed detailed plans, requirements, or costs for such missions. According to NASA officials, the Agency will instead focus on building capabilities through defined roadmaps that identify technology development paths and capability requirements for deep space exploration missions. Officials explained the Agency will fund basic research, pursue development of the technologies that appear most viable, and build capabilities based on available funding. Missions will be selected based on the progress and maturity of the developed technology.

A translation of this gobbly-gook into plain English can be summed up as follows: Congress has given us no money for future missions, so we can’t plan anything.

Considering the cost and the ungodly amount of time it took NASA to get to this one flight, and considering how badly this record compares with the numerous flights that private commercial space will achieve prior to this single flight, don’t expect Congress to fork up more money after 2023. SLS and Orion are going to die. Unfortunately, their slow death will have cost the American taxpayer billions of wasted dollars that NASA could have been better spent on other things.

Starliner and Orion drop tests

The competition heats up: NASA and Boeing have begun drop tests on land and water respectively of their Orion and Starliner manned capsules.

Both sets of tests are taking place at Langley. With Orion they are dropping the mockup in water to test how it will respond to a variety of circumstances. With Starliner they have finished the water drop tests and have begun drop tests on land.

NASA finalizes more cubesat deals for first SLS launch

Lockheed Martin and NASA have signed a deal to put a science cubesat on the first SLS rocket, planned for an unmanned launch of Orion in 2018.

The adapter ring that connects Orion to the rocket will include 13 bays for CubeSats, shoe-box sized payloads that until now haven’t been delivered in significant numbers into deep space. Each of those payload operators is working to finalize contracts with NASA for the ride into space, and on Monday, Lockheed Martin announced a few details of its 6U CubeSat, called SkyFire. Lockheed’s payload will capture high-quality images of the Moon. And in exchange for the ride into deep space, NASA will receive data from the mission.

“The CubeSat will look for specific lunar characteristics like solar illumination areas,” James Russell, Lockheed Martin SkyFire principal investigator, said in a news release. “We’ll be able to see new things with sensors that are less costly to make and send to space.”

This is without doubt a great opportunity for Lockheed Martin and others to test the use of a cubesat in interplanetary space. Whether it makes sense to use SLS to launch them is another matter entirely.

New Navy communications satellite in trouble

A Navy communications satellite launched two weeks ago by a ULA Atlas 5 rocket is having trouble reaching its planned geosynchronous orbit.

From that highly elliptical preliminary orbit, the Lockheed Martin-built satellite would perform 7 firings of its Liquid Apogee Engine to raise the low point to circularize the orbit and reduce its orbital tilt closer to the equator.

But after an unspecified number of burns were completed, the trip to geosynchronous orbit was stopped, the Navy said in response to questions submitted by Spaceflight Now. “The satellite experienced an anomaly that required the transfer maneuver to be temporarily halted,” the Navy says. “The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Space Systems has reconfigured the satellite from orbital transfer into a stabilized, safe intermediate orbit to allow the MUOS team to evaluate the situation and determine options for proceeding.”

SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Mars

Two stories this week illustrate the difference between lobbying the government to get anything accomplished, and doing it yourself with the goal of making money from it from private customers.

In the first case SpaceX is planning to fly a Dragon capsule to Mars, using its Falcon Heavy rocket, and do it by 2018. It would not be manned, but would do the initial engineering testing for later manned missions, using larger interplanetary spacecraft. SpaceX is not asking the government to help pay for it. They are only making sure they have dotted all the legal “I”s required. The goal is to build spacecraft that can take anyone to Mars who is willing to pay for the flight.

In the second case Lockheed Martin is proposing a big government program to put six astronauts in orbit around Mars, in 2028. They haven’t really built anything yet to do this, they merely are lobbying the federal government to pay for it.

Which do you think is more likely to happen? Anyone who reads Behind the Black knows that I choose SpaceX. For 40 years I have seen many different variations of Lockheed Martin’s proposal, all of which came to nothing. They are powerpoint proposals, not real engineering, designed to wow Congress and NASA and get funding for the company. Nothing will ever be built, since the actual construction is so far into the future and so untested that it is impossible to predict what will really happen.

SpaceX however is planning a real mission, which is being designed to lay the groundwork for later more complex attempts. Rather than propose something big for far in the future, they are building something reasonable and doable now. Moreover, they aren’t lobbying the government, they are advertising their skills to the entire world, with the goal of convincing everyone to buy their very real product.

UPDATE: I should add a link here to Orbital ATK’s proposal in Congressional hearings on Monday to use their Cygnus capsule to build a cislunar space station by 2020. Like Lockheed Martin, they are lobbying Congress to build a mostly powerpoint concept. Why don’t they instead make an investment of their own money, like SpaceX, to send some Cygnus capsules to lunar space and demonstrate the concept, while also learning what needs to be done? I would have greater faith in the reality of their concept if they did that.

ULA’s parent companies express caution about Vulcan

The competition heats up? The executives in charge of ULA’s parent companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, today expressed mixed support for the development of the Vulcan rocket, designed to replace the Atlas 5.

For more than a year, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been investing in the rocket on a quarter-by-quarter basis and the ULA board leaders said this week that the practice would continue. “We have to be prudent, disciplined stewards of any kind of investment,” Ambrose [Lockheed Martin] said. “Vulcan would be like any other investment decision.”

In September 2015, ULA’s leaders said a ban by Congress on the Russian RD-180 rocket engine, which powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, was a leading driver behind the measured investment in Vulcan. But that issue was temporarily resolved in December, when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) used a must-pass spending bill to eliminate the engine restrictions that had become law just weeks earlier.

Now, Ambrose pointed to “uncertainties” with launch policy, while Cooning [Boeing] said disagreements between lawmakers and the Air Force on the best approach for ending RD-180 dependence have given them pause, further justifying a “cautious and conservative approach.”

In other words, now that the law requiring a quick replacement of the Russian engine has been repealed, these executives feel less compunction to build Vulcan, something I had sensed in December and had commented on. As a result, they are telling us, in their tangled corporate ways, that they are not going to invest much of their own money on Vulcan, unless the government forks up a lot of cash for them to proceed.

Lockheed Martin ready to build Orion?

O joy! After more than a decade of design work, costing billions, Lockheed Martin now says it is ready to begin building the first Orion capsule for eventual launch only 8 years from now!

“The vast majority of Orion’s design is over, and now we will only change things when new requirements come into play,” said Michael Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion vice president and program manager. “Considering the incredible complexity of this spacecraft, the team is very proud to have successfully completed the design review and is looking forward to seeing it fly.”

For those who don’t detect my sarcasm, I find this project more than absurd. Bush proposed Orion in 2004. Lockheed has been spending billions for years just designing it. In about six to eight years from now they might finally get one capsule completed for launch in 2023, almost two decades after it was first proposed.

Two decades to build one capsule! With a cost in the billions. Let these facts sink in for a bit and then ask yourself: Why are we spending money on this pork project that will never fly?

Army building its first operational ray gun?

Lockheed Martin has begun production on a laser weapon designed to be mounted to U.S. Army vehicles.

The ATHENA laser can be operated by a single person and is made up of multiple fiber laser modules, which not only allows for greater flexibility, but also lessens the chance of the weapon being knocked out by a minor malfunction, so frequent repairs aren’t required. Lockhead Martin also says that the modular design means that the laser power can be varied across an extremely wide range to suit specific mission needs. Using off-the-shelf commercial fiber laser components to keep down costs, the modules can be linked together to produce lasers of up to 120 kW.

ATHENA was tested in March when it took out a pickup truck with a sustained 30 kW burst.

While stun and disintegration ray guns seem cool in science fiction, in battle something as complex and as cutting edge as this is likely not be be very practical. New technology needs a lot of testing to make its workings robust, something that is essential in the harsh conditions of battle. To me, this sounds more like pork, government money being wasted to keep people employed.

ULA rejects Aerojet Rocketdyne $2 billion bid to buy company

The competition heats up: Boeing today said that it has rejected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s $2 billion bid to buy ULA, the Boeing/Lockheed launch partnership.

“The unsolicited proposal for ULA is not something we seriously entertained,” Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said. Boeing said it remained committed “to ULA and its business, and to continued leadership in all aspects of space, as evidenced by the agreement announced last week with Blue Origin,” a company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos that is designing the engine for a new rocket being designed by ULA.

Lockheed declined comment, saying it did not discuss transactions with other companies. A source familiar with the matter said Lockheed’s refusal to comment did not reveal any disagreement between Lockheed and Boeing, and both companies agreed to reject the bid.

This might not end the issue, as Aerojet Rocketdyne officials might still follow up with a more formal proposal.

Orbital ATK orders second Atlas 5 for launching cargo to ISS

In the heat of competition: Even as it has accepted delivery of two new Russian engines to power its Antares rocket, Orbital ATK has ordered a second Atlas 5 rocket to launch its Cygnus cargo capsule to ISS.

I suspect they want to give themselves some cushion time to test and install these new Russian engines prior to an actual launch. In order to fulfill their contract with NASA, however, they have to launch several times next year, thus requiring more replacements for Antares.

ULA has dubbed its next generation rocket Vulcan

ULA has announced its plans for replacing the Delta and Atlas 5 rockets, dubbing its new rocket Vulcan.

They plan to develop Vulcan’s first stage first and use it initially on Atlas 5 rockets so they can replace the Atlas 5 Russian engines as soon as possible. Also, they plan to recover the Vulcan rocket’s engines by having them separate from the booster after use and then get captured in a mid-air before hitting the ground. (See the graphic at the link to see a launch profile.)

In watching the press conference, ULA officials made it very clear that they are focusing a lot of their effort on lowering the cost of the rocket.

Lockheed Martin enters the competition to supply cargo for ISS

The competition heats up: Lockheed Martin has joined Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK, Boeing, and SpaceX in bidding for NASA’s next contract to ferry cargo to ISS.

Lockheed’s proposal is different in that it proposes a two spacecraft operation. The cargo would be hauled up in a very simple storage bin, where a long-term orbital tug would grab it and take it to ISS. The idea is that they would only have to build and launch the complicated thrusters, robot arms, computers, and avionics of their cargo freighter once, thereby saving money.

Two companies will be chosen. Since the first competition back in the mid-2000s, when NASA picked SpaceX and Kistler for the first cargo round, the quality of the bids has improved remarkably. Back then, NASA had to choose from a bunch of new companies, none of which had ever done this before. The big companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) then poo-pooed the competition, saying that it couldn’t be done as cheap as the new companies claimed. After Kistler went under and was replaced by Orbital, they and SpaceX proved the big companies were wrong.

Now the competition includes all the big players, except that those big players are no longer offering expensive systems but cut-rate efficient designs that are as cost effective as SpaceX and Orbital’s first designs.

Blue Origin to build rocket engine for Atlas 5

The competition heats up: Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin has signed a contract with the United Launch Alliance to build a rocket engine for the Atlas 5 rocket so that it will no longer have to depend on Russian engines.

Neither executive [of either company] would discuss a dollar figure, although it’s likely somewhat less than $1 billion. Bruno said a typical liquid-fueled rocket engine takes seven years and $1 billion to develop, but Blue Origin is already several years along on the BE-4. Bruno said the engine could be ready within four years to serve as the main engine on the company’s Atlas V rockets.

This is excellent news, because it shows that ULA is being pro-active in solving this problem, rather then waiting for Congress to act.

Dream Chaser air frame unveiled

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada and Lockheed Martin today unveiled the composite airframe that will be used for the Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Essentially this is the first major structural component of the actual spacecraft. Lockheed was chosen by Sierra Nevada as the subcontractor to build it because of that company’s extensive experience with composites. It also gets them bonus points in Congress by using this powerful well placed company with many employees in important Congressional districts.

The U.S. military has awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to build the next generation radar system that will be used to track objects in orbit.

The U.S. military has awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to build the next generation radar system that will be used to track objects in orbit.

While the military needs this specifically for surveillance and to track the orbiting spacecraft of other countries, it is also the system that everyone in the world uses to identify orbiting space junk, including small objects like lost tools.

In order to lower costs, Lockheed Martin wants to get more American parts into the European-built service module for the Orion capsule.

In order to lower costs, Lockheed Martin wants to get more American parts into the European-built service module for the Orion capsule.

And why do they want to lower costs? It ain’t for the normal free market reasons you’d expect. Instead, the Frankenstein project that is SLS/Orion has the U.S. building the capsule while Europe builds the service module. However, Europe doesn’t want to spend the money to build two service modules. Instead,

for financial reasons, ESA prime contractor Airbus Defense and Space may provide only “one and a half” service modules, Larry Price, Lockheed’s Orion deputy program manager, said in an interview here.

“They may not complete both of them, depending on funding,” Price said. But “we think we can drive Europe’s cost down so they can deliver two complete service modules” by steering the European company toward American suppliers already working on the Orion crew module. “If we use common parts, they can be lower price,” Price said. He added that ESA is set to deliver a full service module for the 2017 flight.

Read the article. It better than anything I can say will make it clear how much of a dead end project SLS/Orion really is. The rocket costs more than $14 billion per launch, has no clear mission, and the contractor (Europe) for the capsule’s service module only intends to build one and a half. What will NASA do after that? No one has any idea, nor does anyone at NASA have any plans to figure this out.

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

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.

The Air Force has hired the Aerospace Corporation to evaluate how long it will take to replace the Russian engine used by the Atlas 5 rocket.

Government dithering: The Air Force has hired the Aerospace Corporation to evaluate how long it will take to replace the Russian engine used by the Atlas 5 rocket.

“I see numbers all over the map,” [Ray Johnson, vice president at Aerospace] said May 14 during the World Space Risk Forum here. “Some people say they could do it in five years. Others estimate it’s going to be longer than that, and that it could be eight.” Aerospace Corp. work evaluating what it would take to develop a hydrocarbon engine to replace the RD-180 — if U.S.-Russia relations sour to the point where the engine is no longer available or wanted — “is literally just a few weeks old,” Johnson said.

Time is critical on this issue. It seems to me a better thing to do would be to immediately issue of Request for Proposals, which would quickly tell the Air Force what the American aerospace industry has to offer. They could then proceed right to construction, rather than studying the issue endlessly beforehand.

Moreover, why isn’t Lockheed Martin doing something about this? It is their rocket that is dependent on the Russians. Why is it the Air Force’s responsibility to save them?

Read the full transcript of Tuesday’s briefing in Russia on the subject of the U.S./Russian cooperation in space.

Read the full transcript of Tuesday’s briefing in Russia on the subject of the U.S./Russian cooperation in space.

It is very worthwhile reading the entire thing. The text makes it very clear that Russia is not kicking us out of ISS, as has been wrongly reported by several news agencies. It also makes clear that the Russians consider the Obama administration’s actions childish, thoughtless, and unproductive. They also emphasize how the U.S. government is generally an “unreliable” partner in these matters, something that I have noted before when our government has broken space agreements with Europe.

The text also clarifies the GPS situation. The stations we have in Russia are in connection with scientific research, something they wish to do also in the U.S. If an agreement isn’t reached, that research will cease. Actual use of GPS for navigational purposes will not be effected.

Side note: NASA says that they have not yet received any official notice from Russia concerning the briefing above. This might be because Rogozin’s briefing was meant merely as a shot across the bow, or it could be that the Russians have not yet gotten around to doing it. We shall see.

Russia fights back

Much has been made about the sanctions the Obama administration has imposed on any cooperation with Russia due to the situation in Ukraine and how those sanctions might damage the commercial and manned space efforts of the United States.

So far, all evidence has suggested that the sanctions have little teeth. The Obama administration exempted ISS from the sanctions. It also appears to be allowing the shipment of all commercial satellites to Russia for launch. Even a court injunction against using Russia rocket engines in U.S. military launches was lifted when the Obama administration asked the judge to do so.

The Russians now have responded. Why do I take their response more seriously?
» Read more

In response to the Obama administration’s request a judge has lifted her injunction against the purchase of Russian rocket engines for the Atlas 5 rocket.

In response to the Obama administration’s request a judge has lifted her injunction against the purchase of Russian rocket engines for the Atlas 5 rocket.

More here. It appears that, at least for the moment, the Atlas 5 rocket will be allowed to buy these engines. Whether the Russians will continue to allow them to buy them however remains an open question, especially if things in the Ukraine get worse.

Obama administration officials from three departments have asked a federal judge to lift her injunction against Lockheed Martin’s use of Russian engines in its Atlas 5 rocket.

Obama administration officials from three departments have asked a federal judge to lift her injunction against Lockheed Martin’s use of Russian engines in its Atlas 5 rocket.

Not much teeth in these sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, is there? They exempt ISS, which is the bulk of NASA’s effort with the Russians. Now they wish to exempt the Atlas 5. Pretty soon I expect them to exempt almost everything else.

Putin and the Russians are certainly watching this story unfold, and will use what happens here to help gauge how much they can get away with in the Ukraine. And based on some fascinating information conveyed by a caller to my appearance last night on the Space Show, the Russians are definitely going to have to grab more of the Ukraine to make their capture of the Crimea stick. Expect that situation to remain very hot for the near future.

I will again be discussing this subject in depth tonight on Coast to Coast with George Noory.

SpaceX has won an injunction from a federal judge, preventing ULA from buying any further Russian engines.

SpaceX has won an injunction from a federal judge, preventing ULA from buying any further Russian engines.

Federal Claims Court Judge Susan Braden said her preliminary injunction was warranted because of the possibility that United Launch Alliance’s purchase of Russian-made engines might run afoul of the sanctions. NBC News’ past coverage of the issue was cited in Braden’s ruling.

Wednesday’s injunction prohibits any future purchases or payments by the Air Force or United Launch Alliance to NPO Energomash, unless and until the Treasury Department or the Commerce Department determines that the deal doesn’t run counter to the U.S. sanctions against Russian officials. Braden stressed that her ruling does not affect previous payments to the Russians, or purchase orders that have already been placed. United Launch Alliance says it already has some of the engines on hand.

This injunction is not directed specifically at the Air Force’s bulk buy from ULA, nor does it address the cartel-like nature of the ULA monopoly for Air Force launches that SpaceX is challenging. However, it does put a serious crimp, if temporary, on the use of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 rocket, which depends on the engine for all its launches. Though the company has engines in stock, they will quickly run out with no way to immediately replace them.

Sierra Nevada has subcontracted Lockheed Martin to help build its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Sierra Nevada has subcontracted Lockheed Martin to help build its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

The article is about the beginnings of construction at the Michoud Assembly facility in Louisiana, but to me the significant fact revealed by this article is that Jim Crocker of Lockheed Martin is involved in the effort. Crocker was one of the key engineers who came up with the solutions that helped return focus to the Hubble Space Telescope back in 1993. He is one of the country’s best aerospace engineers, and his participation here is excellent news.

Lockheed Martin announces they will either give a full refund or refly a payload for free if their Atlas rocket fails at launch.

The competition heats up: Lockheed Martin announced on Wednesday that they will either give a full refund or re-fly a payload for free if their Atlas rocket fails at launch.

This means that Lockheed Martin’s customers will no longer have to shop or pay for insurance. Instead, the company is providing it for them free, thus lowering the cost for those customers.

Lockheed Martin announced today that it is closing down five facilities and laying off 4,000 employees.

Lockheed Martin announced today that it is closing down five facilities and laying off 4,000 employees.

This is actually good news for the company (reflected in a rise in its stock price today) as well as the taxpayer. Faced with less easy money from the federal government, the company is trimming some of its waste and unneeded fat. I am confident these cuts will have zero impact on their ability to operate and compete. If anything, they will improve the company’s abilities.

The cuts are also a recognition that the federal cuts from sequestration are not going away, even though those cuts have resulted in literally no visible problems in any federal program. To me, this is another demonstration that there was (and continues to be) plenty of fat in the federal government that can be trimmed away, without serious harm to any federal program.

Lockheed Martin successfully powered up the first Orion capsule last week.

Lockheed Martin successfully powered up the first Orion capsule last week.

During the test, operators in the Test Launch and Control Center (TLCC) introduced software scripts to the crew module’s main control computers via thousands of wires and electrical ground support equipment. During this process, the foundational elements, or the “heart and brains” of the entire system were evaluated. The main computers received commands from the ground, knew where to send them, read the data from different channels, and successfully relayed electrical responses back to the TLCC. The crew module power systems will continue to undergo testing for six months as additional electronics are added to the spacecraft.

It is a good thing that NASA has finally gotten this far with this very expensive capsule. However, pay no attention to their claims that the capsule “is capable of taking humans farther into space than they’ve ever gone before.” Any long journey it takes will be quite limited in scope. Humans can’t really travel beyond lunar orbit in just a capsule. You need a real interplanetary spaceship for that, and Orion does not fit this bill.

Aerospace defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon all show better than expected profits despite sequestration.

Chicken Little report: Aerospace defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon all show better than expected profits despite sequestration.

It seems that each of these companies, finding their profits from defense pork to be relatively flat or dropping slightly, worked harder to sell their other products to other customers, and were generally successful. What a concept!

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