Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

New Air Force launch contracts for SpaceX and ULA

Capitalism in space: The Air Force announced yesterday that it has awarded launch contracts to ULA and SpaceX worth nearly $650 million.

Colorado-based ULA was awarded a $355 million contract for its launch services to deliver two Air Force Space Command spacecraft, labeled AFSPC-8 and AFSPC-12, to orbit. The missions are expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by June 2020 and March 2020, respectively.

…SpaceX, meanwhile, secured a $290 million contract to launch three next-generation Global Positioning System satellites for the Air Force, known as GPS III. The first is expected to launch from the Space Coast by March 2020, either from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 or Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A.

Note the price difference between the ULA and SpaceX.launches. ULA’s cost is $177.5 million per launch, while SpaceX’s is $96.7 million per launch. While it could be that the ULA launches need to cost more because of the nature of the payloads, I don’t buy it. The company simply charges too much, partly because its rockets are expensive. The Air Force however has a strategic need to have more than one launch company, so they bite their tongues and pay the larger amount.

I should add one positive aspect about ULA’s price. The price is considerably below what they used to charge, before SpaceX entered the game. Then, their lowest launch price was never less than $200 million, and usually much more. This lower price indicates they are working at getting competitive. Though SpaceX offers the Falcon Heavy at $90 million (with reused boosters) and $150 million (all new) to commercial customers, its price for the Air Force will likely be higher because of the Air Force’s stricter requirements. This means that ULA’s per launch price of $177.5 here is getting quite close to being competitive with the Falcon Heavy.

Note that the article mentions that SpaceX has also gotten two more commercial launch contracts with DigitalGlobe, so that company’s business continues to boom.


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  • Dick Eagleson

    The $90 million price for Falcon Heavy is for a mission in which all three cores are recoverable. The $150 million price is for a completely expendable FH mission, regardless of whether any or all its components are new or used.

    The extra $34+ million for a USAF mission, over and above SpaceX’s standard $62 million price for a Falcon 9, is not due to “stricter requirements” so much as just more requirements including a pallet or so of NatSec-only paperwork. That’ll put the minimum for a USAF FH mission in the $125 – 185 million neighborhood depending upon the degree of expendability required. Still quite a bargain compared to a Delta IV Heavy or even a high-end Atlas 5.

    The DigitalGlobe announcement is significant in two important respects. First, it’s an instance of one of ULA’s few erstwhile commercial customers being lured away by SpaceX. DigitalGlobe’s three previous sats went uphill on Atlas 5’s. That is, to say the least, not good for ULA over the long haul.

    Second, is Maxar’s – DigitalGlobe’s new parent company’s – explicit self-identification in its press release as a NewSpace company (though they spelled it as “new space”). All Maxar’s various pieces were once OldSpace companies, but the new umbrella company name seems to come with a new PR facelift too. This just validates the increasing mojo attached to a NewSpace identity. We will be seeing an increasing number of such defections from OldSpace, especially amongst 2nd-and-lower-tier subcontractors – what I like to call “crumb-chaser outfits.”

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “The Air Force however has a strategic need to have more than one launch company, so they bite their tongues and pay the larger amount.

    Even commercial satellite operators like to have three launch companies available for each of their satellites. When I was doing satellite testing, I would sometimes get the vibration profile for each of the three launch vehicles that the satellite was designed to launch on. One launcher was the primary, and the other two were alternates in case the primary rocket became unavailable, such as being grounded for an extended time after an launch accident.

    Dick Eagleson noted: “The extra $34+ million for a USAF mission, over and above SpaceX’s standard $62 million price for a Falcon 9, is not due to “stricter requirements” so much as just more requirements including a pallet or so of NatSec-only paperwork.

    Paperwork is only part of the extra requirements. There are plenty more. Zuma, for example, certainly required that only a minimum number of employees with appropriate security clearances be present when the Zuma spacecraft was being unpacked, checked out, integrated to the launch vehicle, up to the time the fairing was secured in place. That would make the room all this was done in unusable for any other purpose, such as unclassified work on the rocket or preparations for other spacecraft. This limits SpaceX’s flexibility in its work schedule.

    Robert wrote: “While it could be that the ULA launches need to cost more because of the nature of the payloads, I don’t buy it.

    Security for classified work costs money and schedule. ULA certainly has a standing army of security-oriented people who ensure that proper security methods are used. This goes far beyond just added security guards, it means that there is a department in the company that monitors virtually everything from individual employee security clearances to overall corporate security compliance.

    This kind of thing can become part of the company’s corporate culture, making it difficult to trim for efficiency. It is probably also one of the reasons why the rockets cost more.

    The Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) might have an office at the manufacturing and test sites for the ULA rockets. They may impose quite a few requirements on operations.

    I once worked on a defense project in which we could not move the payload assembly without informing the onsite DCMA office and giving them the option of having an inspector present during the move. If they wanted to be present, we had to schedule the move well in advance, and we often lost time by having the payload ready for the move early. An early lesson that I learned is that you don’t want to bore an inspector by having him wait around while you got ready for his inspection (the move); he will start looking for problems to report on, no matter how minor, trivial, or non-problematic, because writing a problem report is less boring than waiting around for a crew that is behind schedule — and responding to a problem report is even more costly and frustrating than being ready several hours early. I had developed the habit of chatting with inspectors to prevent them from getting bored.

    By “move the payload” I meant any move at all. Not just taking it to another building for test, or lifting it onto a test stand or shipping container, or moving the payload on its work stand from one part of the room to another, but also just rotating the payload on its stand. Maybe the DCMA office wanted to be present just in case that we snagged a test wire during a rotation.

    When I worked on commercial satellites, the customers’ representatives seemed to regard the relationship as more cooperative than adversarial.

  • mkent

    This contract went exactly as I predicted it would go. (I’m not the only one to predict this.)

    While SpaceX is less expensive than ULA, it is also less reliable, both in terms of mission success and in terms of schedule. In addition, there are a host of missions that SpaceX just can’t do at any price (hence the block buy). That’s one of the reasons they’re less expensive — they don’t have to meet all of the EELV requirements that ULA does. ULA is required to meet *all* EELV requirements — even the expensive ones. SpaceX is allowed to not meet certain requirements. They don’t get to launch related payloads as a result, but they have that option. ULA doesn’t.

    In the end, SpaceX will get more capable and ULA will get less expensive. They may not quite meet in the middle, but they’ll be within sight of each other. You’re already beginning to see it.

  • Joe From Houston

    The path of least resistance is how the money flows. Just follow the compass needle that points to the money. If you could build up another launch service for half the cost, in half the time, with State-of-the-art technologies, and drop the idea of paying twice as much to take twice as long with old technologies under a President that fires people who don’t march to his tune, wouldn’t you do it?

    Any time money sits on the table with a buyer and a few sellers seated next to it, any outcome can happen. It is a matter of human tolerance to basic emotions that dictate that outcome. And we’re seeing a lot of basic human emotion with new competitors on the cusp of tweaking the status quo.

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