Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Air Force to still limit launch contractors to two

The bureaucracy wins again! Though Blue Origin’s protest of the Air Force’s planned launch contract rules was sustained, and the Air Force plans to revise its contracting rules accordingly, the Air Force today announced that because the ruling itself was somewhat limited, it will still be able to limit future bidding for launches to only two contractors, through 2026.

[T]he Air Force intends to award in mid-2020 five-year contracts to two providers. Four companies submitted proposals: Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

Although Blue Origin challenged the Air Force’s decision to pick two providers as harmful to the industrial base, GAO had no objections to that approach. “On the whole, we are pleased that the GAO upheld the major components of the National Security Space Launch competition, especially award timelines, quantities, and period of performance,” said [Air Force acquisition executive Will] Roper.

If you read the article, you will discover why the Air Force still wants to limit to two the number of contractors who can bid on launches. Its rules and methods, as described, are so tortuousness and complex that I suspect even the Air Force doesn’t completely understand them. Thus, to deal with more than two bids individually for each launch is beyond the comprehension or ability of these military bureaucrats. Rather streamline their bidding rules, they have decided it is better to put limits on American private enterprise, raise costs for the taxpayer, and squelch innovation and fast development within the military space effort.

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  • Richard M

    Limiting the awards to two *could* be bearable if a) the process was really transparent and not loaded in favor of a certain contractor, and b) the Phase II NSSL program consisted of fewer payloads, allowing the losing contractors to get another crack at the pie considerably sooner.

    Blue Origin seemed willing to settle even for just the latter.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Richard M,

    Yes. Blue had three issues at litigation and won on only the least important of the trio. The GAO ruled, not that Blue was wrong on the other two – the limitation of awards to only two and the 5-year term of the contracts – but that these were matters of USAF policy rather than compliance with federal contracting regulations. The GAO ruled, in effect, that it lacked authority to rule in matters of policy.

    As one who has seen far too much overreaching by government agencies in recent years, I view it as a unalloyed good thing the GAO declined to indulge in any attempted institutional mission creep with this ruling.

    I favor Blue’s viewpoint on both policy matters but, that said, do not see Blue as a particularly sympathetic or effective plaintiff anent pushing the case for the desirable policy changes.

    Blue’s prior history as an almost comically narrow-focused litigant when pursuing what it sees as its own interests can certainly be no help here. Amazon has been an aggressive patent troll for a long time. Blue, for its part, filed nuisance litigation – unsuccessfully – against SpaceX’s lease of LC-39A several years ago – prompting Elon’s now-famous dancing unicorns quip. Blue also attempted to patent the general idea of booster landings on sea-going vessels – in which attempt it was also handed its own arse by SpaceX in court.

    The fact of the matter is that Blue has been neither smart nor successful in deploying legal challenges aimed at benefiting itself. This latest GAO ruling is just the most recent example of this general truism. SpaceX has not only proven to be a much better space launch company, to this point, than has Blue, but it also has notably better judgement anent the use of litigation to advance its purposes. Elon and Gwynne do not seem to have lawyers on their speed-dials. Bezos does seem to.

    Blue needs, in sum, to quit diddling around with pointless litigation and get busier making an actual rocket. Failing at that will render all its attempted legal hugger-mugger moot.

  • Scott M.

    Dick Eagleson, you hit it on the head. BO needs to start doing more of the Ferociter and less of the Gradatim if they want to be taken seriously as a launch provider. I wonder how restless ULA is getting, since their next-gen rocket will use BE-4 engines.

  • Edward

    Dick Eagleson recommended: “Elon and Gwynne do not seem to have lawyers on their speed-dials. Bezos does seem to.
    Blue needs, in sum, to quit diddling around with pointless litigation and get busier making an actual rocket.

    Essentially, this is what happened to the Wright brothers. They spent their time in litigation trying to defend their wing warping patent as the concept of using roll as a means to enhance the turning ability of an airplane. This left them with little time to actually improve on their basic flying machine design. Others did almost all the improvements, including the aileron.

    This is the importance of choosing one’s battles.

    If Bezos is choosing battles just to cause a nuisance then he is not the pro-space entrepreneur that I thought that he was.

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