USAF Issues RFP for New Launch Vehicles

The U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposals (RFP) last Thursday for a new launch vehicle to handle national security space (NSS) requirements.

“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.

“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.
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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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Moog Completes First Project Under USAF’s Booster Propulsion Maturation Program

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The first of ten contracts awarded under the Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) was recently completed. Moog Inc. successfully completed a “Non-Destructive Evaluation, Standards, and Testing” project, March 13. The company met all program objectives and completed all deliverables on time and on budget during the 15-month period of performance.

The Space and Missile Systems Center awarded the Booster Propulsion BAA contracts between November 2015 to January 2016 with the objective of maturing technologies and reducing risk in support of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The BAA was part of a comprehensive Air Force plan to transition off the Russian made RD-180 propulsion system used on the Atlas V rocket by investing in domestic industry launch solutions.

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RiskIt: NASA’s High Risk Commercial Cargo Strategy

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

Commercial Cargo’s Lower Costs Brought Higher Risks

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In October 2014, NASA engineers were deeply worried about Orbital Sciences Corporation’s upcoming Orb-3 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

An Antares booster was set to send a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with 2,215 kg (4,883 lb) of supplies to astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. It would be the third of eight Cygnus flights to the station under a Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract worth $1.9 billion.

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Atlas V Cleared for Flight After Anomaly Investigation

A United Launch Alliance  Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., June 15, 2016 (ULA PR) – ULA successfully delivered the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 22. During the first stage burn, the Atlas V system experienced an anomalous propellant mixture ratio resulting in an early booster shutdown and degradation of first stage performance. The Atlas V’s robust system design, flight software, vehicle margins and propellant reserves enabled the successful outcome for this mission.

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McCain Relents on Russian RD-180 Engines

Capitol Building
The Senate has approved a defense measure that will allow United Launch Alliance to purchase 18 Russian-built RD-180 engines for use in Atlas V national security launches.  The number is twice that wanted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ).

His committee unanimously passed a draft National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the military to buy nine more, and only nine, to help bridge the gap until an American-made replacement could be fielded. Today, McCain agreed to the double that number to the full 18 RD-180s requested by the administration and approved by the House.

McCain declared victory nevertheless because he won a provision not in the House bill: a deadline of 2022, after which the Pentagon could no longer buy RD-180s, even if some of the allotted 18 were left. That deadline would hold the Pentagon tightly to its goal of developing a replacement rocket by 2021 and certifying it for flight by 2022. If that schedule slips — as happens all too often on high-tech defense procurements — well, too bad.

“I supported this compromise because it contains a legislative cutoff date for the use of Russian rocket engines,” McCain said in a statement praising Flroida Sen. Ben Nelson for brokering the deal. “For the first time, Senate authorizers and appropriators agreed to a legislative cutoff date for the use of Russian rocket engines in national security space launches. As a result, no space launch contracts using Russian rocket engines may be awarded after 2022, and the number of Russian engines utilized could actually be lower than the 18 provided in the House bill.” (Emphasis on “could”).

Read the full story.

Administration Objects to Senate Restrictions on Use of RD-180 Engines

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
S. 2943 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017

Multiple Provisions Imposing Restrictions on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program: The Administration strongly objects to sections 1036, 1037, 1038, and 1611. Section 1036 would restrict DOD’s authority to use RD-180 engines, eliminate the Secretary’s authority to waive restrictions to protect national security interests, and —  with section 1037 — disqualify a domestic launch service provider from offering a competitive, certified launch service capability. Section 1038 would repeal the statutory requirement to allow all certified providers to compete for launch service procurements. Section 1611 would redirect funds away from the development of modern, cost-effective, domestic launch capabilities that will replace non-allied engines. The combined effect of these provisions would be to eliminate price-based competition of EELV launch service contracts starting in FY 2017, force the Department to allocate missions, inhibit DOD’s ability to maintain assured access to space, delay the launch of national security satellites, delay the on-ramp of new domestic launch capabilities and services, and increase the cost of space launch to DOD, the Intelligence Community, and civil agencies. The authorization to use up to 18 RD-180 engines is necessary and prudent to expeditiously and affordably transition to the new domestic launch capabilities currently under development.

Blue Origin Update From Jeff Bezos

Commissioned pre-burner facility (Credit: Blue Origin)
Commissioned pre-burner facility (Credit: Blue Origin)

Back in March, we shared with you our efforts on building two new test cells to further support risk reduction testing on the BE-4.  We began the construction of these additional facilities in October last year and we’ve just commissioned the first of these cells last week.  This test cell is pressure fed and supports the development of the preburner start and ignition sequence timing that will be used on the upcoming full scale powerpack test campaign.

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Senate Armed Services Committee Limits ULA Engines

John McCain
John McCain

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday that limits United Launch Alliance (ULA) to purchasing nine Russian-made RD-180 engines for use in the first stage of the company’s Atlas V booster to launch national security payloads.

The move sets up a showdown with the House Armed Services Committee, which earlier put the number of engines ULA could purchase at 18. ULA and the U.S. Air Force support the higher number, saying the engines are needed to meet military launch needs.

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ULA: Atlas V Anomaly Traced to Fuel Valve

Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission to the ISS. (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission to the ISS. (Credit: ULA)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., April 29, 2016 (ULA PR) — ULA successfully delivered the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to its precise orbit as planned on March 22. During the launch, the system experienced a premature first stage shutdown. Atlas is a robust system. The Centaur upper stage compensated for the first stage anomaly, delivering Cygnus to a precise orbit, well within the required accuracy. The ULA engineering team has reviewed the data and has determined an anomaly with the RD-180 Mixture Ratio Control Valve (MRCV) assembly caused a reduction in fuel flow during the boost phase of the flight. In addition to analysis and testing, all RD-180 engines are being inspected.

Last Friday, in preparation for the MUOS-5 launch, the Atlas V completed the Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) operation, erecting the Atlas V into the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. LVOS will allow configuration of the vehicle to support RD-180 engine inspections and confirm all engine components are ready for launch. The Atlas V MUOS-5 launch is targeted for early summer; a new launch date has not been secured on the Eastern Range. The impact to the remainder of the Atlas V manifest is in review with new launch dates being coordinated with our customers. All missions manifested for 2016 are expected to be successfully executed by the end of the year, including OSIRIS-REx, which will remain in early September to support its critical science window.

House Armed Services Committee Wants AR-1 Engine in Atlas V

Artist's conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)
Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

The House Armed Services Committee appears determined to require United Launch Alliance (ULA) to re-engineer its Atlas V booster with a new Aerojet Rocketdyne engine in its first stage even though the launch provider doesn’t really want the motor.

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McCain Demands Answers About ULA From Air Force Secretary

John McCain
John McCain

Washington, D.C. ­(John McCain PR) – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah James today expressing concern about her recent congressional testimony about how much it would cost to eliminate U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines, and the participation of Russian nationals in space launches under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.

During the hearing, Secretary James estimated that ending the United States’ reliance on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines by replacing the Atlas V launch with a combination of Delta IV and Falcon 9 launches would cost as much as $5 billion. But, shortly before the hearing, Secretary James indicated to the Committee that transitioning to Delta IV and Falcon 9 launches would cost roughly $1.5 billion. Secretary James’ testimony was also contrary to recent independent cost estimates by the Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), which has determined that the cost of ending reliance on Russian-made rocket engines could be similar to what the United States pays today. In the letter, Chairman McCain invited Secretary James to clarify her testimony in light of these contradictions.

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SpaceX Threatens Roscosmos, Russian Dominance in Launch Market

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over plans for Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The Moscow Times looks at how SpaceX and changes in U.S. policy are threatening Roscosmos and Russia’s 40 percent share of the global launch market.

SpaceX hopes to begin reusing its rockets 10 to 20 times, and Musk has on various occasions claimed that reusability can reduce costs for launching things into space by a factor of 100.
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Atlas V First Stage Shut Down Early During Tuesday Launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

ULA has confirmed that the main engine on the Atlas V booster shut down six seconds earlier than planned on Tuesday, requiring the Centaur upper stage to fire longer than normal to get a Cygnus cargo ship to its proper orbit.

The company said the RD-180 first stage engine burned kerosene with a higher than normal ratio of liquid oxygen. Engineers are reviewing data to determine why this occurred.

Despite the anomaly, ULA officials said the Altas V placed the Orbital ATK freighter within a fraction of a kilometer of its intended orbit. The problem had no adverse impact on the mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.