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VP of Engineering at United Launch Alliance Resigns Over Comments About the Space Launch Industry

Accepted submission by takyon at 2016-03-17 23:05:49

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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