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.


ULA Union Workers Reject New Contract But Get It Anyway

Union workers at United Launch Alliance facilities in Alabama, California and Florida rejected the company’s new three-year contract on Sunday only to have it take affect anyway when a vote to strike fell short, according to published reports.

The vote involved approximately 860 workers ULA’s production facility in Decatur, Ala., and its launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The workers are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) .


Sierra Nevada Welcomes ULA Human Launch Services Organization

Sparks, NV (SNC PR)– Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) welcomes the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) new Human Launch Services organization, which will support the company’s efforts to human rate the Atlas V launch vehicle.  This office will now serve as an interface between SNC’s Dream Chaser® orbital crew vehicle team and ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle team.  ULA and SNC have been working together for seven years on development of the Dream Chaser®Space System (DCSS).  The DCSS is a U.S. commercial space transportation system funded under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program that is capable of carrying crew and cargo to low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station.


Shelby Hails ULA During Decatur Visit

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) at the ULA production facility in Dacatur. (Credit: ULA)

DECATUR, Ala., March 24, 2012 (ULA PR) — U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby today discussed important issues facing Alabama and the nation, including job growth, during his visit to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) production facility in Decatur, Ala., where ULA manufactures both Atlas and Delta launch vehicles. ULA launches critical space capabilities for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and other commercial customers.

Sen. Shelby toured ULA’s production facility and hosted a town hall meeting with Decatur-area constituents, including ULA employees.


ULA Celebrates 5th Birthday, Looks to Human Launches in Future

ULA's Atlas V

ULA PR — CENTENNIAL, Colo., Dec. 6, 2011 — United Launch Alliance was formed just five years ago, bringing together the world’s two most experienced launch teams and two highly reliable launch systems, Atlas and Delta. ULA’s unparalleled recipe of experience is built on the Atlas and Delta legacy of 1,300 launches during the past five decades, propelled by ULA employees and suppliers located in 46 states.

ULA’s impressive record of success lies in the 56 successful launches the company has achieved in just 60 months. In total, ULA has launched 30 national security missions, 17 NASA missions and nine commercial missions.

“We’re very proud of the record ULA team has amassed over the past five years,” said ULA President and CEO Michael Gass. “Just this year, ULA has launched 11 missions with nearly 20 billion dollars of critical, irreplaceable assets, all of which were safely delivered to orbit. Most recently, we launched five science missions for NASA in six months.”

The evidence of ULA’s success is literally on orbit.


Senators Call for Air Force to Halt Talks with ULA on Bulk Rocket Buy

ULA's Atlas V

The U.S. Air Force’s plan to purchase 40 rockets from United Launch Alliance has hit another snag, Aviation Week reports:

The top two senators from the Senate Armed Services Committee are calling for the U.S. Air Force to halt talks worth up to $15 billion with its top rocket provider owing to insufficient pricing data and management insight for the service to make “informed decisions” for crafting a new buy strategy for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV).

“Given the current climate of fiscal austerity, these developments are profoundly troubling,” says Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in an Oct. 21 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.


Analyst Rips SpaceX on Price Increases, Schedule Delays

Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit

Loren Thompson has a piece on in which he tries to tear down what he views as myths and falsehoods concerning Elon Musk and SpaceX. Among other things, the Lexington Institute chief operating officer doesn’t believe Musk’s numbers:

The easiest ways to track prices in the launch services market are to follow cost per launch and cost per pound lifted into orbit — metrics that may diverge considerably depending on the intended payload size and orbital plane. Measured either way, SpaceX tends to over-promise when it announces a new vehicle and then raise prices later. For example, the price of a Falcon 1 launch was initially stated at about $6 million in 2003-2004, but then gradually rose to about $11 million in 2010-2011. The price of a Falcon 9 launch rose from $35 million prior to 2008 to $60 million today. The lower prices were quoted before the two vehicles had actually been launched, so the later prices presumably reflect complications encountered in development — a key problem when implementing any new business strategy. Similarly, the per-pound cost of launching payloads into orbit on either vehicle has risen over 100 percent since initial estimates were made by the company.


AIA Names New Vice President for Space Systems

AIA PR — Frank Slazer, an executive with nearly 30 years of experience on space policy issues and programs, has joined AIA as the Vice President of Space Systems.

Most recently, Slazer developed and implemented business development strategies across the NASA civil space market for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. He was responsible for developing and managing customer relationships and all aspects of the business acquisition process.


Report: CCDev Competition Down to at Least 7 Companies

A Boeing CST-100 crew module docks at a Bigelow Aerospace space station. (Credit: Boeing)

Space News is reporting that the competition for $200 million in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) funding is down to at least seven companies:

  • ATK
  • Blue Origin
  • Boeing
  • Orbital Sciences Corporation
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation
  • Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)
  • United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Citing industry sources, the publication says that representatives from the companies were invited to Johnson Space Center in Houston earlier this month to discuss their proposals. NASA plans to award funds next month contingent on Congressional action on its budget.


Bigelow and Space Florida Sign MOU

Bigelow's space station would have space to accommodate up to 12 people. (Photo: Douglas Messier)

Bigelow Aerospace and Space Florida signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) today at Cape Canaveral. Robert Bigelow and Frank DiBello signed the MOU on behalf of their respective organizations. The event, attended by about 100 people, also featured Dr. George Sowers, Vice President of Business Development and Advanced Programs at United Launch Alliance.

Bigelow is planning to orbit two space stations later in the decade, a project that would use ULA’s rockets for some of the launches. The Las Vegas company wants to launch from Cape Canaveral and other locations, including Wallops Island in Virginia.

Edward Ellegood posted Tweets on the event. Below are the highlights:

Bigelow and Space Florida will collaborate on various activities. Bigelow expects to require 156-186 total launches between 2015-2023.

No facility development is planned under this MOU. Space Florida will seek suitable location for exhibits. Bigelow would open small office.

Bigelow would work with Central Florida’s simulation industry/institute to develop and test concepts. Exhibits would be 1/3 scale.

Bigelow plans two operational space stations: “Alpha” and “Bravo”.

Bigelow looking at 2011-2014 as preparatory time for designing and developing space hardware. He wants FAA AST to be the regulator.

Bigelow would have to build a third mfg facility to develop their third and largest station modules. Would need to be near launch site.

DiBello: Space Florida goal is to increase the state’s launch rate. ULA says its EELV sites are operating below capacity.

NASA CCDev Update: Three Down, Two to Go

The government has published status updates on NASA’s five Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 1 grants which were awarded last February. Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin and Paragon Space Development Corporation have completed their work as planned by the end of the calendar year. The Bigelow/Boeing team and United Launch Alliance have been given extensions through March and April, respectively. NASA awarded a total of $50 million for the first round; it will award about $200 million in additional grants in March.

Individual status reports follow after the break.

Atlas V Becomes Baseline for Multiple Commercial Crew Projects

What is old is new again in the American space program.

The possibility that United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V booster will be sending Americans into space within a few years increased significantly this week as bids were submitted for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Atlas V is a descendant of the rocket that sent the first American, John Glenn, into orbit around the Earth in 1962.

Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation has proposed building a new lifting-body spacecraft that would launch aboard the Atlas V. The rocket is also the baseline booster for Boeing’s CST-100 capsule and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser shuttle, which are also in the running for crew missions. Both OSC and Boeing have said they are designing their vehicles to launch on other rockets as well.

NASA will fund multiple options when it awards CCDev contracts in March. The space agency wants redundant access to orbit that would use a combination of different boosters and spacecraft to get crews into orbit. That goal is shared by Bigelow Aerospace, which is a partner with Boeing on the CST-100 capsule. Bigelow plans to launch a series of commercial space stations into orbit beginning in 2014-15. It will eventually need more than 20 launches annually to support its facilities.

The selection of Atlas V would mean a lot of work for ULA’s assembly facility in Decatur, Ala., where 680 employees do the final assembly on the rocket. The company also builds the Delta IV rocket, a more powerful and expensive that is also a potential candidate for human missions. ULA’s main competitor for CCDev funding on the rocket side is SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which successfully lofted a Dragon spacecraft into orbit last week.

Orbital Sciences Corp. Proposes “Blended Lifting Body” for NASA Commercial Crew

Orbital Sciences Corporation's blended lifting body vehicle. (Credit: OSC)


Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) today announced that it has submitted a proposal to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response to the Commercial Crew Development-2 contract solicitation. The company also provided several top-level details of its proposal for providing safe and affordable transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and for commercial activities in Earth orbit. Orbital’s concept includes the following details:

  • A “blended lifting body” vehicle that will launch atop an expendable launch vehicle and return to Earth with a conventional runway landing. This design derives from studies performed by Orbital for NASA under the Orbital Space Plane program between 2000 and 2003.
  • The vehicle would seat four astronauts, providing a cost-effective solution for NASA’s astronaut transportation needs, as well as enabling future commercial applications.
  • The proposal baselines using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, but is flexible enough to accommodate other launch vehicle options.


CCDev Third Quarter Report: ULA’s Emergency Detection System

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.

Program: NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev)
United Launch Alliance
Emergency Detection System for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets
Award: $6.7 million

Third Quarter Progress Report
(July 1-Sept. 30, 2010)

During this quarter, ULA successfully executed the Design Review which is the 3rd of 4 milestones in the July – September 2010 reporting period. In addition ULA performed a real time demonstration at the launch site, demonstrating ULA’s launch operations processes to the commercial crew team and the astronaut community.

Several technical reviews were held to determine the fault modes of the rocket that need to be detected in order to keep the crew safe and reliably send an abort signal. ULA hosted several members of the NASA human spaceflight community during all of these reviews and demonstrations, and worked well with the review teams.

We continue to make progress towards the demonstration opportunity in the fall, where ULA will demonstrate to the NASA and SC community the ability to abort during several crew emergency situations. We also worked with the crewed spacecraft community to make sure we understand the interfaces they require to make the Emergency Detection System functional, and include all the required interfaces in the final design.