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posted by cmn32480 on Friday March 18 2016, @11:17AM   Printer-friendly
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.

TFA has some more juicy details, and I would recommend reading the rest. More coverage at The Verge, Ars Technica, GovExec.


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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18 2016, @02:57PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18 2016, @02:57PM (#319994)

    He's not reporting waste, fraud, and abuse. He's saying ULA couldn't compete because they are 2X more expensive, largely out of pursuing 100% reliability at all costs.

    I thought his comments were very candid and correct. He's resigning because he embarrassed ULA by pointing out that they can't compete on price right now, and he was probably too blunt in talking about the involvement of the Senators.

    I read a lot of his reported statements and he sounds like the upper-management boss that you wish you had: pro-company but with a firm grasp on reality and willing to state it. They could very easily have taken the gist of his comments as a good rallying cry, the sort of "better, cheaper, faster" type of momentum going forward. Instead, it looks like they're pulling back into the "he doesn't represent our views" mode and you'll end up seeing just more of the same.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18 2016, @05:57PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18 2016, @05:57PM (#320077)

    He said that the Air Force had been trying to tweak to requirements to favor ULA. That's not OK, even if ULA opted out due to being overpriced.

  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Friday March 18 2016, @07:39PM

    by frojack (1554) on Friday March 18 2016, @07:39PM (#320139) Journal

    Had he not pointed fingers at the Senators he would have gotten away with it. Even the bit about the government tilting the contract to their advantage.

    ULA isn't the only bunch prevented from buying Russian Rocket Motors. (Which the US is fully licensed to build [wikipedia.org] in-house.)

    The only investigation likely to occur here is the mention of McCain.

    --
    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.