First ULA Vulcan launch delayed a year to 2021


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The first ULA Vulcan launch has been delayed a year to 2021.

In an interview [at a recent conference, John Elbon, chief operating officer of ULA,] said the shift in the first launch to April 2021 is linked to the requirements of the LSA award from the Air Force. “As the procurement schedule was laid out, the Air Force schedule changed, and we synced up with that,” he said, adding that the company was moving ahead with more aggressive internal schedules for Vulcan’s development.

“While ULA was on schedule from a technical standpoint to meet 2020 target, once we reviewed the Air Force’s timeline in the LSA proposals & incorporated [additional] requirements into our plan, we aligned #VulcanCentaur launch dates to meet the Air Force schedule,” the company tweeted.

The LSA awards were Air Force subsidies ranging from $500 to $1 billion given to ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin last week to support development of their new rockets. And just as Blue Origin was forced to immediately delay its first New Glenn launch after obtaining this award, so has ULA.

In other words, gaining big development money from the Air Force forced both companies to delay their launch to meet the Air Force’s demands, something that SpaceX apparently decided not to do.

We shall see in the coming years which approach works best for making the most money. I favor SpaceX.

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3 comments

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “We shall see in the coming years which approach works best for making the most money. I favor SpaceX.

    I see two problems with accepting Air Force money. The first is that the one-year delay in first launch, and thus in becoming operational, means a loss of revenue, some of which will likely go to SpaceX. Delays in getting Falcon Heavy have resulted in contracts going to other companies, and Blue Origin will necessarily lose out on a year’s worth of launch contracts, as may happen to Northrop Grumman and ULA.
    https://spacenews.com/viasat-books-falcon-heavy-for-viasat-3-launch/

    The contract announced Oct. 25 marks the second time Viasat will attempt to launch on Falcon Heavy, having switched its ViaSat-2 satellite from Falcon Heavy to the Ariane 5 from European launch provider Arianespace in 2016 because of delays with the rocket’s development.

    The other problem is that the Air Force may continue to insist upon design or requirements changes, and this is the larger of the two problems. The deal that ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin made with the Air Force came with strings, as the article makes clear. It is unclear just how long those strings remain attached. It is also unclear how much those strings will cost directly. If Blue Origin, for instance, has to spend its half billion dollars just to make those changes, then their delay is strictly a cost to them. The Air Force is in the habit of changing requirements before a project becomes operational. It is one of the reasons that projects go over budget and suffer from schedule slips.

    The Air Force can be a good customer, but it can also be a devil in disguise, as I think Blue Origin will discover, since they are attempting to be commercial, not a government contractor like ULA and Northrop Grumman. I believe that Blue Origin will rue the day it agreed to take half a billion dollars from the Air Force.

    As Robert noted in his second link, SpaceX continues to be at liberty to “build [BFR] according to its desires, not the Air Force’s.” The importance is that SpaceX may continue to build BFR for the customers it expects, not for the Air Force as the main customer. The following video explains that SpaceX did not choose to make Falcon 9 the best rocket on the market, nor is it the best for many government payloads. Their trade-off was to make an inexpensive rocket. If the Air Force is requiring performance and other qualities over launch price, how would that affect future contracts for Blue Origin?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoUtgWQk-Y0 (14 minutes: “What SpaceX & Falcon 9 Can’t Do Better Than Alternatives”)

  • Des

    There are multiple reports that Spacex submitted a bid for BFR and was turned down e.h.

    https://spacenews.com/military-launch-poised-for-new-era-as-air-force-prepares-to-move-beyond-eelv/

    Spacex will still be able to bid for the next stage, actual launch contracts..

  • Dick Eagleson

    Des,

    Those “reports” are personal speculations on the part of those making them. There is no evidence to back any of them up.

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