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posted by chromas on Wednesday April 10 2019, @04:59PM   Printer-friendly
from the wait-for-me! dept.

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

Related Stories

Blue Origin to Compete to Launch U.S. Military Payloads 1 comment

Blue Origin's orbital rocket in the running to receive U.S. military investment

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.

Previously: U.S. Air Force Awards SpaceX $40.7 Million for Raptor Engine Development
Aerojet Rocketdyne Seeks More U.S. Air Force Funding for AR1 Rocket Engine

Related: Jeff Bezos' Vision for Space: One Trillion Population in the Solar System
NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s

Original Submission

The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade 20 comments

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.

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

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.


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

ULA and SpaceX Awarded NSSL Phase 2 Contracts 5 comments

The U.S. Air Force Space Force has awarded National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 contracts to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX:

During a video call with reporters, William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said that United Launch Alliance will receive approximately 60 percent of the launch orders and SpaceX will receive the other 40 percent. Two other bidders, Northrop Grumman with its Omega rocket, and Blue Origin with its New Glenn vehicle, will not receive awards.

"The ability to meet our technical factors to do the mission is the most important thing," Roper said, in response to a question on the Air Force criteria. Secondary factors included past performance, the ability to work with small businesses, and total evaluated price. The military has nine reference orbits for large and complex payloads that these rockets must meet.

A tertiary factor: bidding a launch vehicle that has already been flown.

From 2022 to 2026, Roper said the Air Force expects to award a total of 30 to 34 contracts for missions. Assuming the 60-40 split in total contracts, this likely will result in contract values of about $3.5 billion for United Launch Alliance and $2.5 billion for SpaceX—but these are rough estimates and the US Air Force has not released specific amounts. These awards ensure that ULA and SpaceX will continue a long-running rivalry.

As part of Friday's announcement, the Air Force said ULA has been assigned the USSF-51 and USSF-106 missions scheduled for launch in second quarter fiscal year 2022 and fourth quarter fiscal year 2022, respectively. SpaceX has been assigned USSF-67, scheduled for launch in fourth quarter fiscal year 2022. Task orders for the launch service support and launch service contracts will be issued to ULA for $337M and SpaceX for $316M for launch services to meet fiscal year 2022 launch dates. (This latter value suggests the SpaceX mission will likely fly on the Falcon Heavy rocket.)

The large initial award to SpaceX could also include funding for an extended payload fairing and vertical integration.

See also: News Analysis | With Pentagon award, SpaceX joins the establishment

Also at Space News and Teslarati.

Previously: SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
Blue Origin Urges U.S. Air Force to Delay Launch Provider Decision

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:04PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:04PM (#827512)

    and Bozos wants a pony.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:13PM (3 children)

      by takyon (881) <> on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:13PM (#827516) Journal

      Blue Origin are not the only ones to complain about this round of contracts. See the March Ars story [] and comments.

      And although SpaceX stands to benefit somewhat, having the contracts awarded later and more frequently could allow more use of Falcon Heavy, and even Starship. The current arrangement could benefit ULA by keeping ultra-cheap and huge Starship launches out of the picture for years.

      Blue Origin has to take some blame here since they were founded about a year and a half before SpaceX and still have not gone orbital.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:22PM (2 children)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:22PM (#827522) Journal

        Blue Origin has to take some blame here

        I didn't and don't have much respect for sub orbital amusement park joyrides for super rich people . . . WHILE ALSO . . . pretending to be a serious player.

        It's not that I think Blue Origin couldn't have been in a position to compete, it's that they didn't want to. Now they wish they had. I'm not criticizing their technical competence. This is clearly a management problem. A lack of vision. A lack of will to push to make it happen.

        The (mis?)-impression that I get is that they want to take a leisurely development pace.

        SpaceX OTOH, had a vision of Mars from the beginning, even if it wasn't and still isn't practical. It is a driving direction. A grand goal.

        The most difficult part of the art of fencing is digging the holes and carrying the fence posts.
        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday April 10 2019, @06:05PM (1 child)

          by takyon (881) <> on Wednesday April 10 2019, @06:05PM (#827548) Journal

          I forgot to quote Blue Origin's motto: Gradatim Ferociter, aka "Step by Step, Ferociously". Now Bezos is seeing the downside of that approach.

          I would drop the myth that Blue Origin is not a serious venture. They are selling their BE-4 engines to ULA. New Glenn is planned for initial launch in 2021. Even if New Glenn doesn't materialize, the engines will live on.

          Bezos's vision [] for the company involves supporting millions, billions, or even a trillion humans (including a "thousand Einsteins") living off-Earth. He also [] wants heavily polluting industries moved from Earth to Earth orbit, and asteroid mining. These are obviously much longer term goals than SpaceX is pursuing talking about, and SpaceX has a 2024 target date for getting humans on Mars. Even if SpaceX slips by 5-10 years, they could be the first to land humans on Mars. Building a full-scale colony is a longer-term pursuit, but it's flexible and the human presence can slowly grow over time.

          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
          • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday April 10 2019, @08:18PM

            by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 10 2019, @08:18PM (#827599) Journal

            I do actually take Blue Origin seriously. And I did indicate a belief in their technical competence.

            But when the visible focus, and perception seems to have long been on sub orbital joyrides, it is hard to take them seriously. Even if they are serious. Obviously they are capitalized and able to spend a lot of money developing. It is not a business you do on a shoestring.

            As for Bezos vision, he doesn't seem to be passionate about it. Maybe with Musk, that passion comes through and is exciting.

            In short I am inspired by SpaceX. Not by Blue Origin. Now that could change. But BO has to change it.

            The most difficult part of the art of fencing is digging the holes and carrying the fence posts.
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Snow on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:09PM (2 children)

    by Snow (1601) on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:09PM (#827513) Journal

    Maybe he should get to orbit first instead of just going up and down. Then maybe people will take him more seriously.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Wednesday April 10 2019, @07:43PM (1 child)

      by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday April 10 2019, @07:43PM (#827591)

      Definitely true.
      But at the speed the space industry is going, I would not want to lock a purchase of 25 launches right now, if it was my cash.
      Award 5 to 10 launches now, as it is likely that in three to fours years the prices will drop with more launchers on the market.

      • (Score: 3, Touché) by DannyB on Wednesday April 10 2019, @08:21PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 10 2019, @08:21PM (#827601) Journal

        if it was my cash.

        But it is the taxpayer's cash. Therefore it is available in absolutely unlimited amounts!

        So why not do things inefficiently -- if that inefficiency can profit you. ala Boeing.

        Your post simply is too practical and sensible to ever become reality.

        The most difficult part of the art of fencing is digging the holes and carrying the fence posts.
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:22PM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:22PM (#827523) Journal

    It's wonderful that you're about to get off of that mudball that spawned you. But, could you just slow down a little bit? I need to get in position to make a profit first.


    ‘Never trust a man whose uncle was eaten by cannibals’
  • (Score: 2, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:58PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10 2019, @05:58PM (#827542)

    Blue appears to be building multiple ground support facilities before they have a working vehicle to use them.
    And now after diluting their efforts, asking for more time to have a vehicle.

    Sounds like a textbook case of:
          "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part"

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday April 10 2019, @08:24PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 10 2019, @08:24PM (#827602) Journal

      Wow. Now imagine that during vehicle development, some changes become necessary which now require changes to multiple already existing ground facilities.

      The most difficult part of the art of fencing is digging the holes and carrying the fence posts.