from the I-am-altering-the-deal... dept.
Aerojet Rocketdyne wants the U.S. Air Force to contribute more funding for the development of its AR1 rocket engine. But that may be a hard sell when the mostly privately funded BE-4 from Blue Origin is close to being ready to fly:
In recent years, Aerojet has sought funding from the US Air Force to design and build the AR1, which has approximately 20 percent more thrust than a space shuttle main engine. The Air Force, in turn, has pledged as much as $536 million in development costs provided that Aerojet puts its own skin in the game—about one-third of research and development expenses.
According to a new report in Space News, Aerojet is now saying that even this modest investment is too much, and the company is seeking to reduce its share of the development costs from one-third to one-sixth. "As we look to the next phase of this contract, we are working with the Air Force on a smart and equitable cost-share," Aerojet spokesman Steve Warren told the publication. "We are committed to delivering an engine in 2019."
According to the report, the Air Force is not inclined to renegotiate the agreement. The Air Force's hesitation to increase its investment is probably because the military may not really need the AR1 rocket engine any more due to the emergence of Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
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Today, private spaceflight venture Blue Origin announced its plans to manufacture the company's new rocket engine, the BE-4, at a state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville, Alabama. It's an interesting move for the company, which has been mostly developing the engine at its headquarters in Kent, Washington, and testing the hardware in Texas. But the benefits for Blue Origin are both practical and political.
On the surface, it's a seemingly innocuous decision meant to capitalize on Huntsville's decades-long history of rocket development. The city is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V rocket was developed and where NASA's future massive deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, will also be worked on. Plus, many private space contractors are based in Huntsville, making spaceflight a key part of the city's economy and a huge jobs creator. It's why Huntsville has been nicknamed Rocket City.
"Alabama is a great state for aerospace manufacturing and we are proud to produce America's next rocket engine right here in Rocket City," Robert Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, said in a statement.
[...] Of course, Blue Origin probably also had some nice economic incentives to move to the state that factored into the decision. And the company will definitely have a good support system there. Blue Origin's move to Huntsville is supposed to generate 342 jobs at the new facility, located in Cummings Research Park, with salaries averaging $75,000. And given the city's history, Blue Origin should have no problem finding aerospace experts in the area. Phil Larson, a former science advisor to the Obama administration and a former SpaceX spokesperson, pointed out that SpaceX, in part, moved to Los Angeles because it had the largest concentration of aerospace engineers in the country at the time. "Alabama has that same sort of strong technical work force," he tells The Verge.
Source: The Verge
[One] problem with legacy hardware, built by traditional contractors such as Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne, is that it's expensive. And while NASA has not released per-flight estimates of the expendable SLS rocket's cost, conservative estimates peg it at $1.5 to $2.5 billion per launch. The cost is so high that it effectively precludes more than one to two SLS launches per year.
[...] [The RL-10] engines, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are also costly. (Ars understands that NASA paid an average of $17 million for each RL-10 engine for the maiden Exploration Upper Stage vehicle). So in October, to power the EUS, the space agency issued a request for information to the aerospace community for "a low cost drop-in replacement engine to minimize program cost." According to the document, the initial set of four engines would be needed in mid-2023 to prepare for the third flight of the SLS rocket, known as Exploration Mission-3.
Then, after an extension of the deadline for responses beyond mid-November, NASA revised the RFI on December 1. The revised document no longer seeks a "drop-in replacement" for the RL-10 engine, rather it asks for a "low-cost replacement engine." Although this seems like a subtle change, sources within the aerospace industry indicated to Ars that it is significant. According to NASA, it was done to increase the number of responses.
[...] That would probably include Blue Origin's BE-3U engine, which the company plans to use for its upper stage on the New Glenn heavy lift rocket. This is a modified version of the BE-3 engine that powers the New Shepard rocket, which has now flown successfully seven times. Blue Origin has previously marketed the BE-3U to Orbital ATK for its Next Generation Launch System, which is looking for an upper stage engine. A single BE-3U provides about 120,000 pounds of thrust, which exceeds the 100,000 pounds of thrust provided by four RL-10 engines.
Just cancel SLS and give that money to SpaceX, Blue Origin, or anybody willing to launch competitively.
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The successful launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is a game-changer that could actually save NASA and the future of space exploration. [...] Unfortunately, the traditionalists at NASA — and their beltway bandit allies — don't share this view and have feared this moment since the day the Falcon Heavy program was announced seven years ago.
The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket that is unnecessary and obsolete now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost? [...] Once operational, SLS will cost NASA over $1 billion per launch. The Falcon Heavy, developed at zero cost to the taxpayer, would charge NASA approximately $100M per launch. In other words, NASA could buy 10 Falcon Heavy launches for the coat of one SLS launch — and invest the remainder in truly revolutionary and meaningful missions that advance science and exploration.
While SLS may be a "government-made rocket", the "beltway bandits", also known as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, are heavily involved in its development. The United Launch Alliance (Boeing + Lockheed Martin) have also shown that they can build their own expensive rocket: the Delta IV Heavy, which can carry less than half the payload to LEO of Falcon Heavy while costing over four times as much per launch.
NASA's marketing of how many elephants, locomotives and airplanes could be launched by various versions of SLS is a perfect example of the frivolity of developing, building and operating their own rocket. NASA advertises that it will be able to launch 12.5 elephants to LEO on Block I SLS, or 2.8 more elephants than the Falcon Heavy could launch. But if we are counting elephants — the planned Block II version of SLS could launch 30 elephants, while SpaceX's BFR could launch 34. Talk about significant.
Wait, what? 70 metric tons (SLS Block 1) / 63.8 metric tons (Falcon Heavy) = ~1.09717868339. 1.097 * (12.5 - 2.8) = ~10.6 elephants lifted by SLS Block 1 versus 9.7 for Falcon Heavy.
NASA documents list 12 elephants for SLS Block 1 (70 metric tons), and 22 for SLS Block 2 (130 metric tons). The author might have lifted some numbers from a Business Insider article that (incorrectly) estimates that 12.5 elephants can be lifted by Falcon Heavy, while SLS Block 2 can lift 30 elephants, and 34 for BFR. Perhaps we are dealing with a mix of adult and juvenile elephants?
Blue Origin submitted a proposal late last year in what's expected to be a four-way competition for U.S. Air Force funding to support development of new orbital-class rockets, a further step taken by the Jeff Bezos-owned company to break into the military launch market, industry officials said. The proposal, confirmed by two space industry sources, puts Blue Origin up against SpaceX, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance, which could use Blue Origin's BE-4 engine to power its next-generation Vulcan rocket. It also sets up the New Glenn rocket, in development by Blue Origin, to be certified by the Air Force for national security missions.
Blue Origin received funding in an earlier phase of the Air Force's initiative to help companies develop new liquid-fueled U.S.-built booster engines in a bid to end the military's reliance on the Russian RD-180 powerplant, which drives the first stage of ULA's Atlas 5 rocket. The Air Force's money supported development of the BE-4 engine, which was designed with private money, and is still primarily a privately-funded program. The Pentagon funding announced in early 2016 for the BE-4 program was directly awarded to ULA, which routed the money to Blue Origin's engine program.
SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne also received Air Force funding in 2016 for propulsion work. SpaceX used the Air Force money for its methane-fueled Raptor engine, which will power the company's next-generation super-heavy BFR launcher. Orbital ATK is developing its own launcher for national security missions, which would use solid-fueled rocket motors for the initial boost into space, then use a hydrogen-fueled upper stage for orbital injection. Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1 engine is a backup option for ULA's new Vulcan rocket.
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