from the lets-play-the-feud! dept.
The now former vice president of engineering at the United Launch Alliance (ULA) was a little too candid when discussing the advantages of ULA's competitor SpaceX at a talk with engineering students at the University of Colorado. Brett Tobey has resigned from his position, and Senator John McCain has called for an investigation into his comments:
Brett Tobey, vice president of engineering at the United Launch Alliance, has resigned after he spilled the beans on ULA's feud with SpaceX. He made the remarks to students at his alma mater in a speech that was recorded and then put online.
ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that lofts US military satellites into orbit. The biz has been at loggerheads with SpaceX after the Elon Musk-led upstart was locked out of the bidding for government contracts. SpaceX sued Uncle Sam, and was eventually allowed to bid on a launch. ULA didn't put in a counter-bid because it said it couldn't meet the requirements of the contract.
However, Tobey told students at University of Colorado-Boulder this week that other factors were involved – chiefly that ULA couldn't match SpaceX on price. He explained that SpaceX was offering to do the entire launch for $60m, and ULA would have charged $125m. That figure rises to $200m when you factor in the $800m a year the US military pays ULA for a "capability contract" to provide short-notice launches in an emergency. "ULA opted to not bid that," Tobey said. "The government was not happy with us not bidding that contract because they felt that they had bent over backwards to lean the fill to our advantage. But we saw it as a cost shootout between us and SpaceX."
Tobey also ranted about SpaceX using Senator John McCain to block access to key technology for ULA. The consortium uses RD-180 rocket engines that are made in Russia, but after Putin started acting up, the ULA was barred from buying the rockets under conditions of embargo – at SpaceX's bidding, Tobey suggested. Luckily for ULA, the ban on Russian rockets was overturned by Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who represents a district where ULA has a major manufacturing plant. Nevertheless, ULA has now hired two firms to develop a new rocket for its launches.
It was about a year ago that Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg first began saying his company would beat SpaceX to Mars. "I'm convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket," he said during a Boeing-sponsored tech summit in Chicago in October 2016.
On Thursday, Muilenburg repeated that claim on CNBC. Moreover, he added this tidbit about the Space Launch System rocket—for which Boeing is the prime contractor of the core stage—"We're going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we're going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon."
Unlike last year, Muilenburg drew a response from SpaceX this time. The company's founder, Elon Musk, offered a pithy response on Twitter: "Do it."
The truth is that Boeing's rocket isn't going anywhere particularly fast. Although Muilenburg says it will launch in 2019, NASA has all but admitted that will not happen. The rocket's maiden launch has already slipped from late 2017 into "no earlier than" December 2019. However, NASA officials have said a 2019 launch is a "best case" scenario, and a slip to June 2020 is more likely.
Also, the next SpaceX flight is an ISS resupply mission and is scheduled for this coming Tuesday (December 12, 2017) at 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST) from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The plan is for the booster to return to landing at Landing Zone-1, also at Cape Canaveral.
Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
Elon Musk Publishes Mars Colonization Plan
SpaceX Appears to Have Pulled the Plug on its Red Dragon Plans
SpaceX Putting Red Dragon on the Back Burner
SpaceX: Making Human Life Multiplanetary
Related: VP of Engineering at United Launch Alliance Resigns over Comments About the Space Launch Industry
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