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Space Force awards launch contracts (two each) to ULA and SpaceX

Capitalism in space: On March 9th the Space Force announced that it has awarded four new launch contracts, two each to ULA and SpaceX, for a total cost of just under $400 million, all to launch in ’23.

Under the task orders issued March 9, ULA and SpaceX will each launch two missions. ULA was awarded $225 million to launch and integrate the USSF-112 and USSF-87 missions on its Vulcan Centaur rockets while SpaceX was awarded $160 million to launch and integrate USSF-36 and launch NROL-69 on its Falcon 9 rockets.

Based on these numbers it appears ULA is charging about $113 million per launch for its new Vulcan Centaur rocket, while SpaceX is charging about $80 million using its Falcon 9.

For ULA, that is less that what it would charge using its Atlas 5 rocket, but not by much. For SpaceX this price is high, probably because the military might be demanding the company use new boosters for its launches.

These high prices for both are to me a sign of how little our federal government cares about saving any money for the taxpayer. While the competition brought on by SpaceX’s arrival is saving the military money, the way these contract awards are structured, with both ULA and SpaceX guaranteed to win them, neither company has an incentive to reduce its prices. Instead, they can overcharge and the military can do nothing about it.

In a more sane world the military would use the competition in the launch market to get an ever better deal. Instead, our federal government sees its budget as a blank check, and they are using it.

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. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

10 comments

  • Col Beausabre

    Somebody tell the guys on HEAVY RESCUE and HIGHWAY THROUGH HELL that they’re missing out on a big opportunity

  • janyuary

    In a more sane world, free self-owned people would be masters of their government. In today’s temporarily crazy world, hypnotized by its media, government is the master and people exist to serve it.

    But after all, in a sane world, people serious about resisting a dangerous Corona virus would always wear a counter-clockwise-rotating propeller beanie … er, cap, instead of a mask. The rotating propeller will push air down, away from the mouth and nose, therefore protecting the wearer from inhaling the virus. Certainly if people can be convinced of the scientific properties of masks, then there is equal scientific justification for propeller caps.

    And they would be a lot more entertaining.

    Yes, in a SANE world, we would be seeing newscaster somberly reporting on world events not in masks, but in propeller caps. Weather reporters standing in storms would exhibit propellers whirling at a furious pace, while more sedate political reporters’ propellers would stay in steady calm rotation, like an upside down ceiling fan. In a SANE world.

    In a sane world, public officials, teachers, bus drivers, pharmacists, law enforcement, bank clerks, real estate agents — all who work or are in the public — would be tossing the masks and exchanging them for counter-clockwise-rotating propeller caps, to protect them from this pandemic.

    But that would be in a sane world.

    ;^)

  • Lee Stevenson

    Forgive my ignorance here, but I would presume that the contracts were given mostly biased towards proven reliability, and if they are fixed price then there is no room for price fixing, or am I missing something? Are there other launch providers with proven track records that could provide the same service for a more competitive price? Serious question.

  • Ray Van Dune

    What incentive does ULA have to cut prices, knowing that the USSF cannot risk having a single-supplier situation for national-security launches? And even if B-O got off it’s ass and flew something, the idea of a Bezos-led company flying national-security payloads gives me the willies.

    So how did we get into THIS fine mess?! Who was the genius that decided to reward Boeing and Lockheed doing a little price-fixing by granting them a monopoly, and the. letting them use Russian engines to hobble our own developers? It is sometimes hard not to assume our national defense industries must have been infiltrated by traitors, except that they would have been passed-over for promotion by the congenital idiots in HR!

  • Sayomara

    Depending on the weight of the payload SpaceX might be planning to to not save the boaster. They have done that a few times. Sometime that is on the high end of what Falcon 9 can launch without recover but not something Space Force wants to pay for a Falcon Heavy launch.

    Just a thought

  • Lee Stevenson: The Space Force issued a contract stipulation late last year that restricted future contract awards for launch services through 2026 to just ULA and SpaceX. No one else can bid. And while you might think that these companies bid against each other, I suspect what really happens is that the Space Force picks who should launch what payload, and the company comes back with its price. No bidding at all.

    At the moment there aren’t really any other companies available that can do what ULA and SpaceX can do, but that is partly because of this restricted bidding system created by the military. Both Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin wanted in on the right to bid, but the Space Force denied them that. Had they had that right, they would have had an incentive to develop and build their rockets. Northrop Grumman abandoned the effort after the Space Force decision. Blue Origin has been slow-walking its development.

  • Jeff Wright

    They still want those steely-eyed missile men. I think there was a problem with long coasts but I think Musk fixed that. There is a person called ‘Hungarian Gas Mask’ -maybe Jim from NSF-who talks about unique capabilities. Jim also goes by the name BYEMAN, I believe. There was a Knauf who wrote a goodbye to Delta II not long ago…one is to go to a rocket garden.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @ Bob, thanks for the clarification, now you point it out it makes nothing but (non) sense! Refusing to even consider tenders from anyone else for the next 5 years worth of launches does stink, if not of price fixing, of some kind of cronyism!

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “For ULA, that is less that what it would charge using its Atlas 5 rocket, but not by much. For SpaceX this price is high, probably because the military might be demanding the company use new boosters for its launches.

    Another factor to consider is that national security spacecraft tend to need specialized support. Their missions tend to be specialized and are optimized for performance and often secrecy rather than cost. Our soldiers appreciate the superior performance, as it can save lives or even the country.

    Commercial launches tend to require less support, because commercial operators require cost efficiency in order to compete with other companies. The price for launch on Falcon 9 is lower, for this reason, and ULA would likely charge less, too.

    Each industry has its priorities straight, but the Space Force was created in order to reduce the cost while improving the performance. As more launch companies are included in the launch competition, we should see even lower launch costs, and this is why it is a shame that Blue Origin and Northrup Grumman were excluded from bidding for the next few years, even if they had proved to be reliable.

    Lee Stevenson,
    Falcon 9 and the ULA Centaur upper stage have proven track records, although a larger diameter version of Centaur is being developed for Vulcan. The Vulcan launch vehicle has not yet been tested during launch, but ULA has a reputation for reliability.

  • Jeff Wright

    The Blue Suits, spooks and The Aerospace Company get their gold parachutes from the same place.

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