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.

ULA backing off from reuseablity and Vulcan upgrades?

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?

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  • 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.

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