Launch Provider Panel at Space Tech Expo

Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012)
Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012)

At the Space Tech Expo last week in Long Beach, Calif., representatives from Arianespace, Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) discussed the fierce competition in the industry and their plans for the future.


Carissa Christensen
Managing Partner
The Tauri Group

Gwynne Shotwell
President & Chief Operating Officer

Daniel J Collins
Chief Operating Officer
United Launch Alliance

Clay Mowry

Frank Culbertson
Executive Vice President
Orbital Sciences Corporation


Arianespace – Ariane 5, Soyuz & Vega

An Ariane 5 rocket soars into orbit on Dec. 29, 2010. Credits: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo Optique vidéo du CSG
An Ariane 5 rocket soars into orbit on Dec. 29, 2010. Credits: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo Optique vidéo du CSG

Clay Mowry

  • Arianespace has full range of launch capabilities, including light (Vega), medium (Soyuz), and heavy (Ariane 5)
  • Launch market has been competitive for some time, need to adapt systems to compete
  • Ariane 5 started at 6 metric ton cargo, now at 9.5 tons & will go to 11 tons with Ariane 5 ME
  • Insurance rates in launch industry are lowest they have every been, a real credit to reliability
  • Market in US not accessible to Arianespace while the European one is open (with preference for Arianespace).
  • There are no plans to “Americanize” the Ariane 5 for competition in U.S. market
  • Have geographic return policy in Europe, must spread out Arianespace spending across continent based on contribution
  • What SpaceX has done with a new system is incredible
  • ITAR rule changes don’t affect launch side, which makes sense because its ballistic missile technology

United Launch Alliance – Atlas V, Delta IV

Delta IV lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Credit: Ben Cooper, United Launch Alliance)
Delta IV lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Credit: Ben Cooper, United Launch Alliance)

Dan Collins

  • Invokes national security needs: not just the price of an individual launch we’re debating but the safety of the the free world
  • Rather vague on specifics on what exactly his company has in mind to meet competition
  • Promised ULA would adapt to meet competition for SpaceX and others
  • ULA improvements in schedule reliability are also assets to customers
  • ULA reduce time between launches, be able to put a satellite on a rocket if a payload drops off
  • Delta IV and Atlas V were successful from the beginning with a three-year development cycle.
  • Revisions to ITAR have opened more doors on the satellite side while on the launcher side…not so much
  • ULA is dependent on Russian RD-180 engines for its Atlas V launch vehicle
  • ULA has a stockpile of Atlas V engines
  • There are options in place to deal with cutoff of Russian supplies of engines
  • DOD is conducting a review of the situation to see what happens if Russian engines are cut off
  • Delta IV remains a backup for Atlas V for U.S. national security launches

Obital Sciences Corporation — Antares, Minotaur, Taurus & Pegasus

Orbital-1 Mission Antares Launch
Frank Culbertson

  • First commercial Cygnus mission (CRS-1) to ISS went flawlessly. No problems at all from launch to re-entry.
  • The 48 hours prior to the 1st CRS launch in January were some of the toughest in his life as he worked many issues
  • Will have enhanced cargo module for 4th mission — 600 to 700 kg of additional cargo
  • ISS is most important thing we’re doing right now. Need skills and expertise to go beyond GEO
  • I met Elon Musk back in 2004, and he said he was going to Mars. I said, the sooner you go, the better.
  • Need to send people to follow the robots beyond Earth orbit.
  • A lot of interdependency and also space is seen as critical to civilization
  • Commenting on Ukraine situation, space tends to be not a bargaining chip.
  • Need more efficiency and autonomy on ranges. Systems are old on the ranges
  • Orbital working on Stratolaunch, which will allow us to air launch and disassociate ourselves from test ranges (which recently caused delays for SpaceX and ULA)
  • One issue is oversight, the more we can handle that ourselves the better we can operate
  • Culbertson urges disaggregation of satellites – fewer big satellites, more smaller ones – reduces risk to defense satellites, and a reduces the risks associated with low launch rates
  • Orbital specializes in small and mid-sized satellites, so it would be good for business

SpaceX – Falcon 9

Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

Gywnne Shotwell

  • Production rate at SpaceX has picked up substantially
  • Seeing a Falcon 9 engine turned out every three days, launch vehicle every month
  • 9 more launches this year (for 10), and 15 to 17 launches next year
  • Will do some jumps with upgraded Falcon 9 test vehicle in Texas and then move to New Mexico
  • Will roll out Falcon Heavy to launch pad late this year, and launch it early next year
  • Hope to land a first stage of Falcon 9 on land this year
  • First stage was intact before it hit the water last September
  • SES said we couldn’t get more precise on placement of satellite. We may be new kids on block but we’re not trailing
  • Shotwell calls NASA the “kickstarter” for commercial crew development
  • Once commercial crew provider(s) are established, number of flights should grow dramatically
  • Crew market could become the single largest market
  • Shotwell points out the vagarities in relying on Russian engines
  • “Certainly we don’t want to be at the mercy of geopolitical issues”
  • We have always maintained control over our critical technologies such as engines, which SpaceX builds
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has always been clear that Mars is a fixer-upper planet

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