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ULA slashes launch prices for Atlas 5

Capitalism in space: In order to compete with SpaceX ULA announced this week that it will cut its launch price for the Atlas 5 rocket by one third.

United Launch Alliance has dropped the price of its workhorse Atlas 5 rocket flights by about one-third in response to mounting competition from rival SpaceX and others, the company’s chief executive said on Tuesday. “We’re seeing that price is even more important than it had been in the past,” Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance, or ULA, said during an interview at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “We’re dropping the cost of Atlas almost every day. Atlas is now down more than a third in its cost,” Bruno said.

It appears that they have discovered that the prime reason they lost their bid of an Air Force GPS satellite launch to SpaceX was because their price was too high.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • geoffc

    What? An upstart can reduce prices and force the big boys to have to match it to stay competitive? That is UNPOSSIBLE! We have been told thusly for decades. Must be fake news.

  • LocalFluff

    Wow, cutting at least 70 million dollar pounds right out of the profit flesh per launch must hurt.

  • See immediately preceding post by BtB – – a 30% or so price cut won’t be enough to be competitive when SpaceX starts selling flights to USAF on re-used Falcon 9 boosters.

  • wayne

    James Ulvog– Good stuff on Russell Roberts at your site!

  • Scott Jolley

    Why doesn’t ULA swollew its pride, admit they were wrong, and start down the road of recovering their boosters. Space X has proven its possible, Blue Origin is working towards it, so it must be the way of the future. That rubbish about catching the engine assembly mid air with a helicopter is looking even more ridiculous than when they first announced it. They have brilliant engineers that could come up to speed with the tech. I mean, the hardest part was probably not knowing if recovery, then reuse was possible.

    Does anyone know how the RD 180 would go in a re-use situation?


  • Frank

    The toughest part, Scott, is to fundamentally change the culture of existing organizations. ULA and the Europeans will never turn around managing by consensus. Musk and Bezos are classic visionary entrepreneurs who take risks with their own resources. They are out in front setting expectations for results that disrupt markets to change customer buying habits.

  • Scott Jolley

    Thanks Frank. I agree that the culture is a problem. That’s why, I thought, Tory Bruno was appointed; to make them competitive. Reducing the workforce will only get them so far. They are all smart. They must look at what Space X is doing and think “we’re stuffed unless we start doing what they are doing”. What are the shareholders saying? Will there be questions at ULA’s next annual shareholder meeting, asking the uncomfortable questions that need to be asked, namely, what the F are you guys doing to compete with Space X and soon, Blue Origin (I know that Boeing and LM are the shareholders, but they have shareholders).

    I don’t know. I’m just shaking my head.


  • Tom Billings

    Scott said:

    “I agree that the culture is a problem. That’s why, I thought, Tory Bruno was appointed; to make them competitive. ”

    Tori Bruno was hired when it became obvious that the CEO who had spent 10 years schmoozing congressional committee chairs was not going to be able to keep the ULA monopoly in place. However, Tori Bruno is on a short leash, held by a BoD made up completely of LockMart and Boeing Space and Defense Corp. board members. Both of these groups have spent the last 70 years in the cultural vat that Congress has used to produce compliant corporate dependents of their will.

    Congress shifted what the profit center for aerospace corporations was completely between 1947 and 1987. Their corporate profits are now mostly made in the R&D phase of a government project. Production, much less operations, is mostly a tedious afterthought for their CFOs. The ULA BoD is still looking longingly to the Hill to save them, while they risk as little as possible of their own money. That is why Tori Bruno has to go with a method for recovering hardware that allowed him to point to at least one group of BoD members and say, “You guys have done this before!”.

    In 1960 the first recovery of film capsules in the Corona program, run by Lockheed and the CIA, were finally successful. The capsule dropped from orbit behind its re-entry shield, fell to 50,000 feet, and popped open a parachute that lowered it slowly toward the ocean. A C-119 cargo plane flew by above capsule, and snagged it by its parachute, and then hauled it into the cargo bay. This went on for nearly 10 years, IIRC.

    Lockheed is still quite proud of its achievements in this, and that gave Tori the leverage to get any recoverability for Vulcan past the ULA BoD at all. He then combined it with forward movement on the ACES stage that has been a slow march project inside ULA since about 2012, IIRC. That does not need a heat shield, because it is to be re-used in Space. IMHO, its use may be the sum total of ULA operations by sometime between 2025 and 2030.

  • Frank

    Hello. I just heard your JBS interview this evening – good stuff as usual. Re: the interview, Slashdot ran this

    April 8, 2017 article about even more innovation – a single stage booster to LEO. I don’t have the engineering background to judge feasibility, of course, but it certainly looks like more creative competition, and booster recovery has probably occurred to ARCA. As you always explain, and I agree, competition only benefits everyone . . .

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