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posted by martyb on Thursday October 11 2018, @05:36AM   Printer-friendly
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.


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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).

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  • (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.

        --
        You can not have fun on the weak days but you can on the weakened.
        • (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.

            --
            You can not have fun on the weak days but you can on the weakened.