SpaceX Protests USAF Launcher Development Awards to Rivals

SpaceX is protesting the U.S. Air Force decision to award $2.3 billion in launch vehicle development funding to rivals Blue Origin,  Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance last year.

SpaceX “respectfully challenges the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s evaluation of proposals and portfolio award decision under the Launch Services Agreement (“LSA”)…as arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law,”  the company said in its complaint. “SpaceX does not seek any advantage, but only the opportunity to compete for national security missions on a fair and level playing field.”

The protest, which SpaceX had hoped to keep secret, says that awards were given to “three unproven rockets based on unstated metrics, unequal treatment under the procurement criteria, and opaque industrial planning.” SpaceX said.

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ULA Completes Final Design Review for New Vulcan Centaur Rocket

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

CENTENNIAL, Colo., May 20, 2019 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance leaders and engineers completed an important milestone with the conclusion of the system Critical Design Review (CDR) for the company’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket. The system-level CDR is the final review of the design for the overall rocket.

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UAW Accepts ULA’s 5-Year Contract Offer

Centennial, Colo., (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) was notified today that employees represented by United Auto Workers (UAW) in Harlingen, Texas, have voted to accept the company’s new five-year contract offer. Represented employees at the Harlingen facility build structural components for the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.

The collective bargaining agreement will take effect on May 13, 2019, and covers nearly 60 employees from UAW Local No. 2346 at ULA’s production operations facility. Negotiations began on May 6 and concluded on May 9, with the union voting May 10. The vote to ratify the collective bargaining agreement came roughly a week after ULA signed a five-year lease extension with the Harlingen Airport Authority for continued use of the manufacturing facility.
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ULA Progresses Towards Purpose-Built Vulcan Centaur for National Security Space Missions

The Centaur enters the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. (Credit: NASA)

Centennial, Colo., April 8, 2019 (ULA PR) – Today, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno gave an update on the continued progress of the Vulcan Centaur during a ULA media event at the 35th Space Symposium.

“As the nation faces growing threats in the space environment, ULA is unleashing the energy of American ingenuity by developing the Vulcan Centaur,” said Bruno. “Purpose built to meet our nation’s needs for expanding space missions, the Vulcan Centaur’s innovative technology is transforming the future of launch and will advance America’s superiority in space.”

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SpaceX Drops Protest Over Contract for Lucy Mission

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has dropped it protest of NASA’s decision to award a launch contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for its Lucy asteroid mission.

SpaceX did not disclose the reason it withdrew the protest, and a company spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by SpaceNews about the withdrawal. According to GAO’s website, SpaceX filed a separate protest over the same contract March 25, which was also withdrawn April 4. The company also declined to comment on the difference between the two protests.

When it filed the protest in February, SpaceX argued it could perform the same mission for a “dramatically lower” price than the $148.3 million value of the ULA contract. “We believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” a company spokesperson said then. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

ULA said that it was selected in part because it offered schedule assurance for the mission. Lucy must launch during a 20-day window in October 2021 in order to carry out its complex trajectory of flybys of six Trojan asteroids and one in the main asteroid belt. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

Northrop Grumman Completes Second Ground Test of New Rocket Motor for ULA’s Atlas V

Northrop Grumman conducted the second ground test of its newly-developed GEM 63 rocket motor April 4, 2019, in Promontory, Utah. The GEM 63 will fly on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle starting next year. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

DULLES, Va., April 4, 2019 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) conducted its second ground test of a 63-inch diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63) today in Promontory, Utah. The company developed this new side-mounted rocket motor to add power to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle.

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NASA Galactica: The Plan

No. 6 with two old model Cylons.

“The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.”

— Battlestar Galactic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Watching the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactic,” I was never quite sure exactly what the Cylons’ plan was beyond the whole exterminate all humans with nukes thing. In an apparent nod to this lack of clarity, the producers created a two-hour TV movie called, “Battlestar Galactic: The Plan,” to explain it all.

NASA has suffered from a similar lack of clarity over the past week. At a National Space Council meeting last Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced it was the Trump Administration’s policy to land astronauts on the south pole of the moon by the presidential election year of 2024 — four years ahead of the current schedule.

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United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches WGS-10 Mission

A Delta IV rocket carrying the tenth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite lifts off from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: ULA)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 15, 2019 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the tenth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite for the U.S. Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 on March 15 at 8:26 p.m. EDT. ULA has been the exclusive launch provider for all ten WGS satellites.

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Opposition to Bridenstine’s Plan to Fly Orion Mission on Commercial Boosters

Orion spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

There has been some push back to the proposal by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a flight test around the moon next year using a pair of commercial boosters instead of the Space Launch System (SLS).

“While I agree that the delay in the SLS launch schedule is unacceptable, I firmly believe that SLS should launch the Orion,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)  in a statement to SpaceNews.

NASA has recently stated that it is reevaluating weather it can launch SLS with Orion during the first half of 2020. The schedule for this launch and subsequent flights with crews has been slipping for years.

The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration issued a statement opposing the change.

This morning at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, NASA Administrator Bridenstine mentioned that NASA is investigating an alternate approach to flying an Orion crew vehicle and European Service Module (SM) to the Moon by June of 2020. This approach would continue the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), enabling a full testing regime for this critical national asset, and bring SLS and Orion together for the following mission.  

No launch vehicle other than the SLS can enable the launch of a fully-outfitted Orion, including the SM, to the Moon. As a result, the Administrator noted that this approach would require at least two launches of heavy-lift vehicles. It could also include in-orbit assembly of a launch vehicle with an upper stage, which would then be used to direct Orion and the SM to the Moon. The analysis to determine whether this approach is feasible is still ongoing. The integration challenges are significant. It is also clear that this approach would require additional funding, since the idea is to undertake both this mission and to continue development of the SLS apace.

The assessment of options such as these are the hallmark of both NASA and the aerospace industry that supports it. Distributed across all 50 states in civil, commercial and military space, the aerospace and defense industry is crucial to U.S. competitiveness across the globe and to American leadership in science, security, entrepreneurship and human exploration of space. The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and its member companies strongly support forward-leaning efforts to speed human return to the Moon. We welcome the opportunity to join NASA in the flights of Orion, SLS and the Exploration Ground Systems that support these journeys, and the rapid expansion of science, commerce and human exploration at the Moon and beyond.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), whose Delta IV Heavy booster launched the first Orion capsule on an Earth orbit mission in 2014, also issued a statement.

ULA recognizes the unparalleled capabilities of NASA’s Space Launch System for enabling efficient architectures in Cislunar and Mars exploration. We are proud to work collaboratively with The Boeing Company to develop the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for the first flight of the SLS.

If asked, we can provide a description of the capabilities of our launch vehicles for meeting NASA’s needs, but acknowledge that these do not match the super heavy lift performance and mission capabilities provided by SLS for the Exploration Missions proposed by NASA.

ULA Delta IV WGS-10 Mission Set to Launch on Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (ULA PR) — Everything is progressing toward the ULA Delta IV launch carrying the WGS-10 mission for the U.S. Air Force. The mission is set to lift off on Friday, March 15 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Today’s forecast shows a 70 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. The launch window begins at 6:56 p.m. ET and extends to 9:05 p.m. ET.

Live broadcast coverage of launch will begin at 6:35 p.m. ET on March 15. Live launch updates and webcast available at: www.ulalaunch.com and www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance
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SpaceX Protests NASA Contract Award to ULA

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has filed a protest over NASA’s decision to award an $148.3 million contract to rival United Launch Alliance for the launch of the Lucy asteroid mission.

“NASA has issued a stop work order on the agency’s Lucy mission after a protest of the contract award was filed with the Government Accountability Office,” agency spokesperson Tracy Young said Feb. 13. “NASA is always cognizant of its mission schedule, but we are not able to comment on pending litigation.”

SpaceX confirmed that the company was protesting the contract. “Since SpaceX has started launching missions for NASA, this is the first time the company has challenged one of the agency’s award decisions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount, so we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” the spokesperson added. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin….

A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

The Government Accountability Office has until May 22 to render a decision.

Lawmakers Seek Review of U.S. Air Force Decision Not to Award Funding to SpaceX

BFR in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.

At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.

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NASA Selects ULA’s Atlas V to Launch Lucy Mission to Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41. (Credit: ULA)

Centennial, Colo., Jan. 31, 2019 ULA PR) – NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Atlas V vehicle to launch the Lucy mission, which is the first mission to Jupiter’s swarm of Trojan asteroids. This award resulted from a competitive Launch Service Task Order evaluation under the NASA Launch Services II contract.

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