ULA backing off from reuseablity and Vulcan upgrades?


Readers!
 
Scroll down to read this post.
 
For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. They practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.
 
Thus, I must have your direct support to keep this webpage alive. Not only does the money pay the bills, it gives me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.

 

Please consider donating by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below.


 

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

 

You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

Capitalism in space: According to this Space News story today, it appears that ULA is shifting away from building a major upgrade to the upper stage of its Vulcan rocket, even as it also appears to be backing off from pushing plans to recover and reuse its first stage engines.

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye told SpaceNews by email that the company still plans to introduce an “advanced upper stage,” but only after Vulcan flies. Rye also declined to provide a specific timeline.

Similarly, ULA officials also refused to give a timeline for when they will begin recovering Vulcan’s first stage engines and reusing them.

Right now the company expects to launch the first iteration of Vulcan, using as Atlas 5 Centaur upper stage, sometime in 2021. It also appears that those first launches will not recover the first stage Blue Origin BE-4 engines.

In the long run, I do not see how ULA can compete. They certainly appear hesitant about introducing any new innovations or upgrades to Vulcan, which will result in an expendable rocket that costs far too much.

In fact, the arrival of this apparent timidity seems to have occurred almost to the day the company accepted a development contract for Vulcan from the Air Force. Thus, it increasingly appears that it is our federal government that is squelching the company’s creativity.

Why am I not surprised?

Share

4 comments

  • Scott M.

    Add this news to Blue Origin’s similarly timid behavior after winning government funding.

    I was disappointed that SpaceX didn’t get any funding for Starship development, but now I see it as a blessing in disguise.

  • Richard M

    “In the long run, I do not see how ULA can compete.”

    But ULA’s stakeholders don’t care about the long run. Vulcan just has to be good enough to win a Phase II award from the Department of Defense, and that’s all. No fancy upper stage or SMART recovery needed for *that*. And we all know it’s going to get that award.

    Presumably after that, Boeing and LockMart can sell off the pieces to whoever will buy them.

  • wodun

    Vulcan just has to be good enough to win a Phase II award from the Department of Defense

    This is true. Well, it’s true in the sense that is all they need to do. I don’t know if that makes the shareholders happy.

    I get it when Orbital Dynamics played this game. They didn’t have the means to do what SpaceX did but ULA does have the means. They also have the people and a blueprint provided by SpaceX. BO even intends to use the same engines to do what SpaceX does.

    It seems to me that separating the engines from the rocket in order to recover in mid-air adds needless complexity.

    I don’t think creating a product to narrowly meet a government contract is necessarily a bad decision but since ULA relies on the engines being built by a competitor and that competitor also wants to capture government and operate in the commercial market, what ULA is doing is extremely bad for their medium term health. That should upset the shareholders.

  • Richard M

    “I don’t know if that makes the shareholders happy.”

    But the only shareholders are Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA is a joint venture co-owned by both companies.

    And their approach seems to be to keep ULA just as a government contractor, with as much development cost shouldered by the government as possible.

    In the end, it will be hard for it to compete with TWO launch providers taking advantage of reusability. But that is far enough down the road (late 2020’s?) that this is not a worry for today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *