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posted by martyb on Thursday October 11 2018, @05:36AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the if-these-companies-had-cheerleaders,-would-they-be...booster-boosters? dept.

The military chooses which rockets it wants built for the next decade

On Wednesday, the US Air Force awarded its much-anticipated new round of "Launch Service Agreements," which provide funds to rocket companies to complete development of their boosters. There were three winners:

  • United Launch Services: $967,000,000 for the development of the Vulcan Centaur launch system.
  • Northrop Grumman: $791,601,015 for development of the Omega launch system
  • Blue Origin: $500,000,000 for the development of the New Glenn launch system

At least two other companies were believed to be in the running for these awards, as they won grants during an earlier round of funding in 2016. It was not a surprise to see Aerojet Rocketdyne fail to win an award, as that company does not appear to have a customer for its AR1 rocket engine, which the military initially supported. It was something of a surprise not to see SpaceX win an award.

[...] These are hugely consequential awards for the rocket companies. Essentially the US Air Force, which launches more complex, heavy payloads than any other entity in the world, believes these boosters will have a significant role to play in those missions during the next decade. And when the military has confidence in your vehicle, commercial satellite contracts are more likely to follow as well.

"This is a big win for companies like United Launch Alliance, that have the space pedigree they have, and for a company like Blue Origin that is aiming to establish itself," said Phil Larson, an assistant dean and chief of staff at the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science. "It is great to see the Air Force embracing public private partnership-type arrangements even more, and of course, with anything contract related, the devil will be in the details."

[...] the Air Force funding means ULA can press ahead toward a mid-2020 launch (at the earliest) of Vulcan. This was a huge lifeline for a company that has provided the Air Force with more than a decade of costly (but supremely reliable) launches and which has struggled in the face of stiff competition from SpaceX in recent years.

This was also a game-changing win for Northrop. This company, also, seemed unlikely to pursue development of its Omega rocket without significant government funding. The Omega rocket, which uses solid-propellant rockets for its first and second stages and a liquid hydrogen upper stage, could be ready for its first flight by 2021. Such a large award for solid-rocket booster technology was a surprise to some aerospace officials Ars spoke to.

Wednesday's announcement also was a huge vote of confidence in Blue Origin and its BE-4 rocket engine, which will power both the New Glenn and Vulcan rockets. The award will allow the company to rapidly build infrastructure needed for New Glenn, including a vertical-integration facility at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, as well as perform other certification activities.

[...] Regardless of the reasons, the lack of an award for SpaceX means that the successful, innovative, and individualistic company from California will now face three companies receiving military support as it competes with them in the the global launch industry. As ever, the battle will be epic and captivating.


Original Submission

Related Stories

Blue Origin to Provide Multiple Orbital Launches for Telesat 1 comment

Telesat signs New Glenn multi-launch agreement with Blue Origin for LEO missions

Canadian fleet operator Telesat has agreed to launch satellites for its future low-Earth-orbit broadband constellation on multiple New Glenn missions, Blue Origin announced Jan. 31.

The agreement, for an unspecified number of launches and satellites, makes Telesat the fifth customer to sign up to use the reusable launcher, which is slated for a maiden flight in 2021.

"Blue Origin's powerful New Glenn rocket is a disruptive force in the launch services market which, in turn, will help Telesat disrupt the economics and performance of global broadband connectivity," Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said in a news release.

Blue Origin already has eight other New Glenn missions in backlog: one each for Paris-based Eutelsat, Sky Perfect JSAT of Japan and Thai startup Mu Space, plus five launches for low-Earth-orbit megaconstellation company OneWeb.

SpaceX's Starlink constellation would compete with Telesat's low Earth orbit broadband offering. Perhaps that factored into the choice of Blue Origin as launch provider.

New Glenn rocket.

Related: Blue Origin to Compete to Launch U.S. Military Payloads
Blue Origin Wins Contract to Supply United Launch Alliance With BE-4 Rocket Engines
The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade
Blue Origin Starts Construction of Rocket Engine Factory in Alabama


Original Submission

SpaceX Will Need Taller Fairings to Compete for U.S. Air Force Launch Contracts [Repost] 4 comments

[Ed note: This story was originally posted 2019.08.14 21:36 UTC but was lost when we had the site crash this morning. Prior comments have, unfortunately, been lost. takyon: This story has been further updated to avoid confusion.]

SpaceX may have signed an agreement with ULA supplier RUAG for bigger Falcon fairings (Update: no agreement)

Update: Tim Chen has retracted his earlier comments and has stated that there is actually no agreement currently in place with SpaceX for RUAG to produce taller fairings out of its new Decatur, AL factory.

[...] SpaceX has three obvious responses at its disposal: design and build an entirely new variant of its universal Falcon fairing, purchase the necessary fairings from an established supplier, or bow out of launch contract competitions that demand it. The latter option is immediately untenable given that it could very well mean bowing out of the entire US military competition, known as Phase 2 of the National Security Space Launch program's (NSSL; formerly EELV) Launch Services Procurement (LSP).

For dubious reasons, the US Air Force (USAF) has structured the NSSL Phase 2 acquisition in such a way that – despite there being four possible competitors – only two will be awarded contracts at its conclusion. The roughly ~30 launch contracts up for grabs would be split 60:40 between the two victors, leaving two competitors completely emptyhanded. In short, bowing out of the Phase 2 competition could mean forgoing as many as one or two-dozen contracts worth at least $1-2B, depending on the side of the 60:40 split.

[...] Interestingly, although ULA's RUAG-built Atlas V fairing is slightly narrower than SpaceX's 5.2m (17 ft) diameter fairing, Atlas V's largest fairing is significantly taller, supporting payloads up to 16.5m (54 ft) tall compared to 11m (36 ft) for Falcon 9 and Heavy. Given that just a tiny portion of military spacecraft actually need fairings that tall, SpaceX is apparently not interested in simply modifying its own fairing design and production equipment to support a 20-30% stretch.

This likely relates in part to the fact that one of SpaceX's three NSSL Phase 2 competitors – Northrop Grumman (Omega), Blue Origin (New Glenn), and ULA (Vulcan) – are guaranteed to receive hundreds of millions of dollars of development funding after winning one of the two available slots (60% or 40% of contracts). SpaceX, on the other hand, will receive no such funding while still having to meet the same stringent USAF requirements compete in LSP Phase 2. Of note, Congressman Adam Smith managed to insert a clause into FY2020's defense authorization bill that could disburse up to $500M to SpaceX in the event that the company is one of Phase 2's two winners.

RUAG.

Previously: The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade
Blue Origin Urges U.S. Air Force to Delay Launch Provider Decision
SpaceX Sues the U.S. Air Force, Again
SpaceX's attempts to buy bigger Falcon fairings complicated by contractor's ULA relationship


Original Submission

SpaceX Sues the U.S. Air Force, Again 3 comments

Now we know why SpaceX is suing the US government

SpaceX's rivals just blew the cover off the rocket company's secretive lawsuit against the US government. Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman (NOC) and United Launch Alliance all received Air Force contracts in October in response to the government's request for Launch Service Agreement proposals, or LSAs, which are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. SpaceX did not receive an LSA contract. Those awards are at the heart of SpaceX's new lawsuit, and they want to be involved in the proceedings to protect their interests, according to documents filed Tuesday and Wednesday.

[...] The Air Force developed the LSA to help awardees develop massive new rockets that could one day be capable of launching national security payloads for the military. ULA was promised up to $967 million for its forthcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket. Northrop Grumman, which is building a launch vehicle called OmegA, will receive up to $792 million. And Blue Origin will get $500 million for its New Glenn rocket. The awards, however, do not guarantee that the new rockets will one day win military launch contracts, which are extremely lucrative and coveted in the space industry.

[...] SpaceX, like the other companies, is also developing a new launch vehicle: It's called Starship and Super Heavy, a rocket and spaceship system that Musk has described as the technology that will allow humans to colonize Mars. Theoretically, the rocket could be used to help launch heavy military payloads into orbit as well.

The redacted SpaceX complaint posted Wednesday states that the company's proposal asked for money to support all three of [its] rockets — the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which are already operational, and Starship. But officials determined that including Starship would render "the entire SpaceX portfolio the 'highest risk'" of all the options. SpaceX called that claim "unreasonable," according to the complaint. "The Agency wrongly awarded LSAs to a portfolio of three unproven rockets based on unstated metrics, unequal treatment under the procurement criteria, and opaque industrial planning," SpaceX alleged.

Also at Space News, CNBC, and Reuters.

Previously: The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade
Blue Origin Urges U.S. Air Force to Delay Launch Provider Decision


Original Submission

Blue Origin Urges U.S. Air Force to Delay Launch Provider Decision 11 comments

Blue Origin urging Air Force to postpone launch competition

Blue Origin wants the U.S. Air Force to wait until 2021 before picking the two companies it intends [to] use for launching critical military satellites in the decade ahead.

The Air Force, however, aims to solicit proposals this spring and choose its two preferred launch providers in 2020 — perhaps a year or more before the new rockets that the Air Force is fostering at Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance and Northrop Grumman make their first flights.

All three companies were chosen in October by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center to share $2.3 billion in so-called Launch Service Agreement (LSA) funding to support development of next-generation rockets capable of meeting the military's satellite launch needs.

The Air Force said last fall that all three LSA winners plus SpaceX would be required to submit new proposals in 2019 if they want to be among the two providers the Air Force intends to select in 2020 to split up to 25 future launch contracts.

Wait long enough, and maybe Starship will become a contender.

See also: The Air Force will soon take bids for mid-2020s launches. It's controversial

Related: Blue Origin to Compete to Launch U.S. Military Payloads
The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade


Original Submission

SpaceX Seeks Approval for 1 Million Starlink Ground Stations, Faces Pentagon Audit 15 comments

SpaceX seeks FCC OK for 1 million satellite broadband Earth stations

SpaceX is seeking US approval to deploy up to 1 million Earth stations to receive transmissions from its planned satellite broadband constellation.

The Federal Communications Commission last year gave SpaceX permission to deploy 11,943 low-Earth orbit satellites for the planned Starlink system. A new application from SpaceX Services, a sister company, asks the FCC for "a blanket license authorizing operation of up to 1,000,000 Earth stations that end-user customers will utilize to communicate with SpaceX's NGSO [non-geostationary orbit] constellation."

The application was published by FCC.report, a third-party site that tracks FCC filings. GeekWire reported the news on Friday. An FCC spokesperson confirmed to Ars today that SpaceX filed the application on February 1, 2019.

If each end-user Earth station provides Internet service to one building, SpaceX could eventually need authorization for more than 1 million stations in the US. SpaceX job listings describe the user terminal as "a high-volume manufactured product customers will have in their homes."

ULA's Vulcan Rocket Design Nearly Complete 4 comments

Boeing-Lockheed's Vulcan rocket design 'nearly fully mature'

A joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp will conduct the final design review for its new flagship Vulcan rocket within months, it said on Wednesday, as the aerospace company heads for a showdown with Elon Musk's SpaceX and others in the launch services market.

The final design review is a crucial milestone as the company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), tries to move into full production ahead of a first flight in spring 2021 after slipping from its initial 2019 timetable.

"The design is nearly fully mature," ULA systems test engineer Dane Drefke told Reuters during a tour of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

[...] ULA has started cutting and building hardware and has begun structural and pressure testing at its Decatur, Alabama factory. Engineers were also modifying the Florida launch pad and tower to accommodate Vulcan.

Previously: SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
Blue Origin Wins Contract to Supply United Launch Alliance With BE-4 Rocket Engines
The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Thursday October 11 2018, @05:45AM (5 children)

    by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday October 11 2018, @05:45AM (#747299) Journal

    It's not clear that SpaceX made a bid. And the Air Force wants multiple companies that can provide it launches, so that it has options to fall back on. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are already available. The Air Force is one of the few entities that has paid for a Falcon Heavy launch.

    The real travesty continues to be the SLS monster pork rocket:

    Will the US waste $100+ billion on SLS, Orion and LOP-G by 2030? [nextbigfuture.com]
    SpaceX BFR will beat SLS rocket to orbit so cancel SLS now [nextbigfuture.com]
    SLS rocket will waste billions more which be better going to SpaceX [nextbigfuture.com]

    If BFR development could be sped up by even a few months, it could provide us a slim chance to kill the SLS and Orion programs and save a lot of money. SpaceX needs to make SLS look like the turd it is, and it can start by getting to orbit before SLS does. Luckily, the NASA Office of Inspector General believes the launch date for the first SLS Block 1 will slip. Unlike JWST, the SLS may not be "too big to fail" if it experiences slippage while the BFR remains on track (with an admittedly aggressive timeline).

    --
    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Thursday October 11 2018, @06:17AM (4 children)

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday October 11 2018, @06:17AM (#747308)

      it's a good thing that SpaceX is not public. Diverting so much money from the cash cow Falcon9 to a BFR which doesn't have customers lining up, would be difficult if shareholders were involved.

      • (Score: 0, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:14AM (3 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:14AM (#747328)

        Diverting so much money from the cash cow Falcon9 to a BFR which doesn't have customers lining up, would be difficult if shareholders were involved.

        Why?? Would they vote out the board and put in their own? Would they kick out Musk as CEO? I don't think so.

        SpaceX is doing just fine and them investing in new technology like BFR is essential for their success. BFR would enable even more efficient launches. Customers do not need to line up, as anyone requiring BFR would be working on a project that they currently can't launch! And that would be insane.

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Thursday October 11 2018, @03:42PM (2 children)

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 11 2018, @03:42PM (#747466) Journal

          investing in new technology like BFR is essential for their success.

          Investing is something you do for the future.

          Stockholders, CEOs and the bored of directors don't care about the future. Only this quarter's results and today's share price. Investing is something that someone else can do after they pull their golden parachute.

          --
          Employers should not mandate wearing clothing. It should be a personal choice. It only affects me. Junk can't breathe!
          • (Score: 2) by forkazoo on Friday October 12 2018, @09:02PM (1 child)

            by forkazoo (2561) on Friday October 12 2018, @09:02PM (#748038)

            You know that stockholders are literally investors doing investing, which is the thing you said is "for the future," right?

            I mean, it's true that short term gains are often over emphasized, but I am not sure that's the best way to put it.

            • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday October 12 2018, @09:49PM

              by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday October 12 2018, @09:49PM (#748063) Journal

              Day Traders are "stock holders". But I wouldn't call them "investors". And I think they don't "hold" stock very long. At least some of them. Just an observation.

              I think it is undeniable that there are plenty of cases where it is obvious that some corporations focus heavily on the short term.

              --
              Employers should not mandate wearing clothing. It should be a personal choice. It only affects me. Junk can't breathe!
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @06:45AM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @06:45AM (#747310)

    Essentially the US Air Force, which launches more complex, heavy payloads than any other entity in the world, believes these boosters will have a significant role to play in those missions during the next decade.

    What complex, heavy payloads are they launching? Are they building something up there?

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:02AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:02AM (#747316)

      The latest launch seems to have been this argentinian satellite whose mission is "the benefit of society, emergency management and economic development."

      https://www.afspc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1657265/vandenberg-launches-spacex-falcon-9/ [af.mil]
      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAOCOM [wikipedia.org]

      So, is the US defense budget paying for the launch of satellites with poorly defined missions from other countries?

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday October 11 2018, @01:18PM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday October 11 2018, @01:18PM (#747409) Journal

        SpaceX conducts launches from Vandenberg under an agreement they have with the Air Force. So of course the USAF is going to "watch the skies" or whatever it does to support the mission.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by driverless on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:17AM

      by driverless (4770) on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:17AM (#747319)

      What complex, heavy payloads are they launching? Are they building something up there?

      The Orbiting Peace Platform isn't just going to lift itself up into space, y'know?

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bob_super on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:19AM

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:19AM (#747321)

      They regularly team up with the NRO. Nobody builds anything more complex than the NRO, outside of maybe the ISS.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:51AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:51AM (#747325)

      Consider things like their X-37B [wikipedia.org] series of space ships. These launches are not classified, though the payloads and purpose are. And they are big, and are probably only going to get bigger in the future. Or consider things like the NRO, national reconnaissance office (spy sats), back in 2012 handing a couple of hand me downs to NASAs. These satellites they viewed as disposable were literally at least as powerful as hubble (same primary mirror size + some niceties). They also gave them key components needed to assemble a third. The point of this is that if that's their throw aways, imagine what the state of the art we have up their right now. And I'd expect the launching was tasked to the air force rather than carried out directly through the NRO/DOD or whatever. Point being even just conventional stuff they're sending up is going to be pretty huge.

      Second thing is that as the rest of the world starts to achieve space successes of their own, it's going to become more of a pissing contest in space. This is going to be incredible for progress in space tech and will also mean we're going to see a lot more stuff going up. We'll even eventually need to start doing things like testing weapons systems and other technologies in 0 and low-g environments (such as the moon). Yes, this goes completely against the Outer Space Treaty. No, it doesn't matter.

      And finally for my own personal speculation. There was a lot of hype around the EM drive. We went all the way to having NASA test it and then contract out assembly and testing to three different contractors once it passed their tests to try to confirm. And it passed all those tests as well. After that, they went silent. That makes no sense at all. And in my opinion further work and testing has likely been classified. I think it is being actively tested upon one of those X-37B. It even fits the one statement they secretary of the air force made on their purpose -- that being "risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long-term developmental space objectives". Anyhow, if it passed small scale tests on the X-37 the next step would be to scale it up massively and see how it operates independently. Again, big stuff.

      Basically, the future is looking fun, but classified.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:00AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:00AM (#747326)

        So you think thats the next bubble? Makes some sense.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 11 2018, @10:41AM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 11 2018, @10:41AM (#747374) Journal

        Second thing is that as the rest of the world starts to achieve space successes of their own, it's going to become more of a pissing contest in space. This is going to be incredible for progress in space tech and will also mean we're going to see a lot more stuff going up. We'll even eventually need to start doing things like testing weapons systems and other technologies in 0 and low-g environments (such as the moon). Yes, this goes completely against the Outer Space Treaty. No, it doesn't matter.

        On that last point, it doesn't go against the Outer Space Treaty, unless one fails to withdraw from the treaty first. It's very easy to leave the treaty, just give one year's public notice to the other treaty holders and you're complying with the terms of the treaty.

        My view is that the days of the treaty are numbered. It has a bad model for property ownership. And of course, there will eventually be conflict off of Earth.

    • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Thursday October 11 2018, @03:30PM

      by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Thursday October 11 2018, @03:30PM (#747458)

      NRO satellites, aka spy satellites, are not small payloads. Like any telescope their imaging capabilities are directly related to mirror size. Bigger mirrors=Better images. Add to that their life is limited by fuel. More fuel means a longer life in the same orbit, or the same life in a lower (better for imaging) orbit.

      It isn't unreasonable to assume we'll develop offensive satellite capability in the next decade too. Those payloads will need very large post-orbit maneuvering capability to disguise what they are doing from launch observers.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @06:48AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @06:48AM (#747312)

    Capitalism is the ultimate democracy. Maybe we'll try it some day.

    • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:01PM

      by PiMuNu (3823) on Thursday October 11 2018, @08:01PM (#747612)

      > Capitalism is the ultimate democracy. Maybe we'll try it some day.

      We can't afford it.

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by MostCynical on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:43AM (2 children)

    by MostCynical (2589) on Thursday October 11 2018, @07:43AM (#747324) Journal

    if SpaceX applied...

    For one, SpaceX has already built and flown a rocket that can reach all of the Air Force's reference orbits—the Falcon Heavy. Moreover, the Falcon Heavy is already certified for the Air Force and has won contracts. Air Force officials may also feel that, through NASA contracts for commercial cargo and crew, the government already facilitated development of the Falcon Heavy—which uses three Falcon 9 rocket cores.

    It also depends upon what SpaceX bid for. The government would have been more inclined to fund development of an advanced upper stage for the Falcon Heavy or vertical integration facilities. But it seems like the military would not have been as interested in the Big Falcon Rocket, which is more booster than it deems necessary at this time. So if SpaceX bid the BFR, that is one possible explanation for no award.

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/10/air-force-makes-consequential-awards-to-rocket-developers/ [arstechnica.com]

    also, other money was 'awarded', but none had such big numbers.. https://dod.defense.gov/News/Contracts/Contract-View/Article/1658771// [defense.gov]

    --
    “I've learned from experience that asking politely never works unless you have the upper hand.” Daisuke Aramaki, GIS:SAC
    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 11 2018, @10:43AM (1 child)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 11 2018, @10:43AM (#747375) Journal
      It's worth noting that money comes with strings attached. That might have outweighed the money for SpaceX.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @01:21PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11 2018, @01:21PM (#747411)

        They'll want to be able to fly "sharks with fricken laserbeams on their heads".

        Wouldn't you say "Sure thing dude" for $500M? Of course they'll only get a few ill tempered sea bass. But that isn't the point.

         

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