Air Force agreement with ULA expires

The 2005 agreement between the Air Force and ULA that established the ULA launch monopoly that was only broken by SpaceX in the past two years has apparently expired.

David Hardy, associate deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space, and the deputy director, principal Defence Department space advisor staff, said on 9 May that he was the compliance officer for the agreement and that the Pentagon no longer has oversight duties now that the agreement has expired. He told Jane’s these oversight duties included compliance requirements to what communications and relationships the two parent companies, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, could have with ULA, their joint venture.

It is very unclear how this will effect ULA. Will it continue to get the $800 million subsidy, as outlined by the agreement? It even appears from the article that the partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin might be dead.

ULA gets three launch contracts

Capitalism in space: ULA last week won three launch contracts, two from the Air Force and one from NASA.

Both rockets are part of the existing EELV Block Buy between the Air Force and United Launch Alliance. The mission assignments were announced Friday by the Pentagon. The missions exceed the lift performance of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets that has been certified by the Air Force for national security payloads, making ULA the only provider available to execute these heavy launches.

In other government-launch news, NASA said last month that the second satellite in the next-generation era of U.S. civilian weather observatories will be launched atop an Atlas 5-401 rocket. The Atlas 5 beat out the Falcon 9 in a competition to win the rights to launch the Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft No. 2 in 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

For SpaceX to truly compete with ULA they need to get the Falcon Heavy flying.

Competition with SpaceX forced ULA CEO out

A news story today in Defense News speculates that the competitive pressure from SpaceX is what forced ULA’s CEO to step down.

Changes at the CEO level are usually accompanied by a change in how business is done, said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners. “Generally, when you see abrupt leadership changes, there’s an abrupt change of strategic or tactical course needed,” Callan said. “You don’t make those changes unless you see something that needs fast corrective action.”

Caceres said he expects to see layoffs and a streamlining of ULA to find all possible cost savings. “My sense is you’re going to see at ULA a restructuring of some sort, because ultimately they’re going to have to find a way to be a lot more competitive on price,” he said.

This restructuring is entirely the result of the new competition from SpaceX, as repeatedly noted by the article.

Congress applies pressure to ULA and the Air Force

Two congressional committees are holding up approval of a budget revision for the Air Force’s launch program because of concerns about cost overruns and the program’s dependency on a Russian rocket engine.

Such requests must be approved by each of the four congressional defense committees, and so far, the EELV proposal has won the support of only two. The Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee and the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee have green-lighted the plan, while the House and Senate Armed Services committees have deferred approval, according to budget documents dated July 25 and July 31, obtained by Defense News.

[The Senate Armed Services Committee] (SASC) asked the Air Force to draw up a plan, by Sept. 30, “that leads to the production of a liquid rocket engine by 2019,” according to one of the documents, sent to Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord by SASC Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Meanwhile, others legislators are questioning the program’s cost overruns. Though only hinted at in the article, this hold up is also related to SpaceX’s demand that the bidding for Air Force launches be opened up to competition.

Six Senators on Wednesday demanded the Air Force open up competition to more companies for launching its military satellites.

The competition heats up: Six senators on Wednesday demanded the Air Force open up competition to more companies for launching its military satellites.

U.S. senators on Wednesday urged the Air Force to allow more competition in the multibillion-dollar market for launching government satellites, citing rising costs and concerns about Russian-made engines that power some of the U.S. rockets.

Lawmakers said the Air Force’s budget plan for fiscal 2015 reduced opportunities for privately held Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and others to gain a foothold in a program now dominated by the two biggest U.S. weapons makers, Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.

This demand also bodes badly in an indirect way for SLS. It indicates that these senators are beginning to notice the cost benefit of competition and of using the private market. Such a realization is going to eventually leak into their peanut brains about SLS, and that will not do that program any good, especially if the new commercial private companies like SpaceX continue to show success.

In testimony to Congress Wednesday, Elon Musk described how allowing SpaceX to compete as a military launch provider would significantly lower costs.

The competition heats up: In testimony to Congress Wednesday, Elon Musk described how allowing SpaceX to compete as a military launch provider would significantly lower costs.

[Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama)] said the Air Force EELV contracts require compliance with complex oversight and accounting practices that add costs to the program. As a result, he suggested comparing the cost of a SpaceX Falcon 9 and a ULA Atlas or Delta was comparing apples and oranges.

Musk agreed “there is additional cost for U.S. government missions due to the mission assurance process.” And he said SpaceX’s costs for launching a military mission would be 50 percent higher than for a purely commercial launch. Even so, he said, SpaceX could provide a Falcon 9 rocket for around $90 million as opposed to nearly $400 million for a ULA launcher. “Even when you add the Air Force overhead, there’s still a huge difference,” he said. [emphasis mine]

The only reason that Congress is against eliminating the military launch monopoly given to ULA and allowing SpaceX to compete is because the monopoly feeds a lot of pork to the districts of certain but powerful legislators like Shelby.

ULA and Shelby are losing the argument however. The cost differences are too high, and SpaceX has proven that it can do the job efficiently and effectively. Eventually the monopoly will die, and the sooner the better.

GAO and SpaceX blast military’s plans to spend $15 billion for all its launches through 2018 in one purchase

GAO and SpaceX blast the military’s plans to spend $15 billion for all its launches through 2018, in one bulk purchase.

The reason given by the military for buying all these launches up front is to save money. In reality, it is to favor the companies they want to do business with, rather than open up the business to as many competitors as possible.