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Breaking News: Proposal Seeks End To Atlas V

The following authorization language, which sources say was written, if not wholly then very nearly so, by SpaceX and promoted by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill for the last several days. In addition to this proposal, SpaceX lobbyists and Senators Feinstein and Durbin have been meeting senators to push the proposal’s merit while avoiding any mention that United Launch Alliance has assured Congress that it has a +2 year supply of RD-180s.

Adoption of the proposal’s language would not only likely mean the end of the Atlas V rocket but would also practically guarantee SpaceX a monopoly in the commercial crew launch market.

Senate Proposal To End Atlas V

Click on image to open PDF.

Update 2:

Here is a response by a GOP Senate aide,

    “This is a transparent attempt to try to distort competition.  SpaceX portrays itself as only wanting free and fair competition, but instead is using its political benefactors to try to force its main competition, the Atlas rocket – a proven, successful, and reliable launch vehicle – out of business.  More troubling is that some appear willing to risk national security and cost the government millions of dollars associated with breaking the ULA contract in order to help SpaceX avoid competing with Atlas.”

Update:

Breaking Defense has excellent coverage about the goings-on of the push by Senator Feinstein to curtail use of the Atlas V for DoD launches in their article, SpaceX Turns Up Heat On ULA; Sen. Feinstein Writes SecDef.

Another good article is Pentagon Mulls Building All-American Rocket Engines, Dropping Russian RD-180s.

65 comments to Breaking News: Proposal Seeks End To Atlas V

  • bright lights

    Wasn’t Lockheed told a long time ago that they had to get a domestic supplier of the RD-180’s and they just never did it?

    • Not that I’ve heard. But if you’ve a source, we’ll be glad to post it.

      • Karol

        Didn’t Elon make a trip to Russia himself with the intent of purchasing rocket components from the Russians, but didn’t care for the “unregulated rough-and-tumble Wild West” type of free market commerce in the former Soviet Union, preferring the warm embrace of a friendly, generous American Administration?

    • Paul Harvey

      LM was told to comply with the terms and conditions of the EELV RFP from day one by the USAF and refused. Only through industrial espionage were they able to obtain more than a paltry portion of the scope.

      • There is an excellent article in the March 24, 2014 edition of AvWeek, “Power Play?” on the Atlas V engine and some of the regs that governed LM’s use of a foreign engine for a rocket so important for nat’l security.

  • Karol

    With Bolden telling Congress he would propose ending funding for SLS and Orion should there be problems with access to the ISS, the announcement by the Administration ending cooperation with Russia in matters of space exploration other than the ISS, and now this bit of duplicitous subterfuge by SpaceX and their minions, it appears that the Musksiaah has decided that this is the time for him to make his move to monopolize the market that we were told would lower prices by increasing competition. It should be fascinating and humorous to see how the Musksiaah’s disciples justify this little “free market” fantasy. When Americans can once again gain access to space on vehicles heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer, I guess we’re supposed to trust Elon that he will charge us a reasonable price despite these machinations. The Administration hopes to prod and taunt Russia into retaliating to his latest “no cooperation” announcement by denying access on their vehicles to the ISS, then blames Congress for not pouring more money into Comm space, possibly leaving us without ISS access. If he hadn’t cancelled the Constellation program in the first place we would have unlimited access to the ISS aboard our own Ares 1 (and not hoping that the Musksiaah will give us a fair price). If these conspiratorial actions are exposed, perhaps Senators like Stonewall Shelby will be able to hold off Feinstein and Durbin until the November elections when we may very well see a change, and perhaps greater intelligence and integrity.

    • That the Falcon is an “American” made rocket is nonsense. From the website of the French company Constellium,

      http://www.constellium.com/markets/aerospace/space/space-success-stories

      US company SpaceX was founded in 2002 to provide reliable, low-cost space transportation. Its partnership with Constellium started during the development of its lightweight launcher, Falcon 1, for which we provided our low-density, high-strength AIRWARE® technology (AIRWARE® 2198, AIRWARE® 2196 and AIRWARE® 2195).

      SpaceX has since developed a heavy-payload launcher called Falcon 9, which uses AIRWARE® technology extensively for structural components. Its first flight took place in 2010.
      Almost the entire first and second stages of the launcher are made from our materials, with longitudinal seams on both the launcher and Dragon space vehicle joined by Friction Stir Welding. The same welding process is used to weld domes made from our AIRWARE® 2195 and 2219 alloys to the barrel sections. The domes are manufactured by spin forming.

      The use of our latest alloys, which offer 5% lower density than previous alloys, 5% higher stiffness and 17% higher strength, is calculated to have increased the Falcon 9 launcher payload by nearly 1,000 kg.

      • Joe

        Interesting article and this information about French involvement in the Falcon 9 is informative as well.

        Thanks.

      • ken anthony

        So it’s a french rocket? Thanks for clearing that up.

      • Marc

        AIRWARE 2195 is just the name of an alloy produced by this French foundry. It’s a raw material, shipped in sheets. The same alloy is also produced by Alcoa. So, SpaceX got a better deal on an aluminum lithium sheet stock. It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that because a raw material supplier is French, the end product is also French. Silly, in fact.

        It’s also pretty easy to find that this rocket is designed and produced in Hawthorne, CA, as opposed to the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket which is largely an exercise in integration of parts they did not design or build. Engines from Russia, first stage is Ukrainian, and the orbital module (Cygnus)is designed and build by Thales Alenia in Italy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antares_(rocket) and references for the Cygnus found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cygnus_spacecraft

        As to ULA and the Atlas V… It’s true that the Atlas V uses a Russian designed and built engine – because it’s a better (Thrust & efficiency) engine than anything we currently build. Frankly, better than anything anyone else builds besides the Russians. The problem with ULA isn’t the rockets, payloads or reliability. Pretty good systems. The problem is the non-competitive nature of the launch contracts offered under the EELV requirements. The current (relaxed -LoL) policy just approved this year, is to confer 36 non-competitive launch contracts on ULA and allow 14 to be competed for between ULA and all comers. SpaceX isn’t guaranteed to get those 14, we’re just allowed to bid on them. 14 out of 50. No one is bidding on the other 36. They were simply assigned to ULA. If ULA were to lose the use of the Atlas V (in two years when they run out of Russian engines) it wouldn’t be the cause of them losing EELV contracts. The Delta IV family of vehicles is more than capable of supporting those missions.

        So, again, disingenuous and silly to assign some nefarious scheme to SpaceX for trying very hard to have launch contracts put out for bid, rather than simply single-sourcing them.

        Launch schedules: There is a lot that goes into this, including NASA requested delays. The latest delay, for example, due to a fire in/on one of the Air Force radars that track the launch and are relied upon for safety of flight, was forced by the Air Force. This not only delayed the SpaceX launch, but a ULA launch as well.

        Not sure where you guys/gals are located, but SpaceX offers tours to the public on a very regular basis. It’s pretty easy to walk the main aisle and see the components of the spacecraft being turned from raw material into finished product. In LA. For a lower price than the Chinese do in China.

        The strong pro-ULA chant in many of the Joe and Jim posts: Would you be OK with ULA competing fairly with other launch providers in the US for all EELV contracts? Or, do you think it’s appropriate to single source without any competitive environment. It would be completely appropriate for the contracts to be bid for openly and have the Air Force reject the SpaceX bid for failure to offer the required services due to payload capacities, vehicle reliability or timely adherence to launch schedule requirements. It’s another thing, altogether, to simply exclude everyone else but ULA. If you think that ULA shouldn’t have to compete, then it’s pretty telling what your overall position is on this topic.

        • Joe

          “The strong pro-ULA chant in many of the Joe and Jim posts:”

          I will let Jim speak for himself, but none of my comments can be accurately described as “pro-ULA”. Rather they are skeptical of SpaceX.

          “Would you be OK with ULA competing fairly with other launch providers in the US for all EELV contracts?”

          This topic has nothing to do with promoting fair competition. Just the opposite. It has to do with SpaceX trying to ground its closest competitor in order to avoid fair competition.

          • Marc

            I see. Well, I whole heartedly approve of skepticism in any company, it’s motivations and it’s means. With that, I have no beef. Especially, if you fairly apply the same standard to ULA. In particular, I speak of the launch contracts and the extreme efforts on the part of ULA to exclude competition.

            In terms of the topic having “nothing to do with promoting fair competition,” we disagree. The existing condition last year was that all EELV launch contracts would be given, without competition, to ULA. As I noted above, it would be perfectly fair to find the Air Force declining a SpaceX bid based on inability to provide the contract specifications. However, when the contract specifications read, “Must be ULA to get contract,” then it’s not a fair arrangement.

            Secondly, ” … In addition, ULA holds a separate EELV Launch Capability contract valued at nearly $1 billion that covers the company’s fixed costs, that is, expenses not associated with a specific mission that are incurred simply by maintaining production lines and launch readiness…” As noted, this does not include producing anything on those lines, launching any payloads, or providing any other services. Merely, keep the lines open. In an environment where US launch capability is compromised by fickle budgets, programs and goals out of Washington, it sort of makes sense to maintain the ability of US companies to “keep the [assembly] lines open.” In a competitive environment, that no longer makes as much sense.

            http://www.cbsnews.com/news/spacex-says-it-could-launch-military-rockets-for-less-than-ula/

            When the proposed piece of legislation (the apparent meat of your argument against SpaceX) is viewed outside the context of the actions taken by ULA to exclude SpaceX from even submitting a bid, it’s easy to look at it and scream “foul.” But, when taken in context, it’s easy to see that it’s simply playing hardball when that’s the game ULA requires.

            Another thing occurs to me from one of your other posts. You focus pretty closely on the 20 metric ton “requirement” of the CRS contract that SpaceX has with NASA. It’s important to understand that the contract with NASA is an IDIQ contract

            http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2008/dec/HQ_C08-069_ISS_Resupply.html

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDIQ

            and SpaceX is not called to comply with the min/max mass values, but rather the manifest that NASA designs. The key feature is the number of launches required. Please also note that SpaceX provides more launches for less dollars than Orbital Sciences (the other CRS contract winner) while also providing reentry services that are unavailable by ANY other US launch provider at this point in time. There’s an interesting article that does a decent job of summing up the SpaceX – ULA horn-locking in congress, without biasing one or the other.

            http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/03/spacex-and-ula-eelv-contracts/

            In summary, we agree that skepticism is a valid attitude to have toward SpaceX, though I feel it should be equally applied to all companies. We seem to disagree on the competition point. You feel that this has nothing to do with competition while I feel that it has everything to do with competition.

            Perhaps this is simply an ideological difference. I am a strong believer in a free market. Perhaps you aren’t, though it’s difficult to determine from your posts. Thank-you for the engaging discussion. Your points are well taken and require consideration.

            -Marc

            • Joe

              Three points:

              (1) To understand why there is a separate covering of ULA’s fixed cost, you need to look at the origins of the EELV program.

              The DoD wanted a redundant launch system to guarantee a second booster capable of launching their payloads in case of a military emergency in the midst of a stand down of one of the boosters.

              It was originally hoped that the civilian market would support that dual capability, but that size civilian market has yet to materialize. Thus the subsidy (for want of a better term) of ULA’s fixed cost.

              This is probably one of the motivations for Musk’s attempt to ground the Atlas V. If there is not a civilian launch market big enough to support Delta IV/Atlas V there is certainly not one big enough to support three boosters trying to do the same job.

              (2) If NASA (the customer) actually signed a contract (not a piece of legislation) that specifies performance, then adds a provision for SpaceX (the contractor) to not “comply with the min/max mass values”. Then the customer should have the word sucker branded on their fore head.

              A contract (in name only) like that, where the actual performance is to be decided by some later process is like saying “do good work” for a fixed price and makes no practical sense (Note that the way you describe it NASA is not bound by any max value either).

              SpaceX could be compelled to meet any “manifest that NASA designs” and that is clearly a huge disadvantage to any contractor. I have done payload integration and given a small team I could easily design a manifest SpaceX could not meet. Therefore the manifest for each flight becomes a negotiation, if Dragon(in reality) can only deliver 1,200 lb. to the ISS that becomes the default maximum up mass and the contract is meaningless.

              (3) Your assertion that you believe in a free market and maybe I do not assumes that it is a binary choice. I believe in a free market, but realize that it cannot be applied uniformly to every case.

              For distribution of goods and services in an established market it is by far the superior system. For small (but hopefully) growing markets where capital investment is necessarily high, ROI periods long and technical risk high (and military/civilian space certainly qualifies) then pure capitalism is not a match, that is the reason you get qualified customer/contractor systems.

              Believe it or not, I was originally a supporter of “commercial space” as I thought that CRS contract could be an incremental step towards a more free market approach, but to date it is not working out well. I began to be more concerned when the current administration supposedly tried to make “commercial crew” an untested replacement for a more conventional crew capability. If the SpaceX CRS contract is really as you describe (I do not doubt your word, but I am not a lawyer, and the process you describe is an unfunny joke – though sadly perhaps a real one), I am now even more concerned about the way this being approached.

              • Marc

                Regarding your three points:

                1) I understand the motivation for the subsidy, and generally agree with its existence. I think that the validity of doing so should diminish with the advent of more, and more consistent, mission availability in the New Space community. I’ll say again, I am comfortable with that being based on capability to deliver the payload specified in the contract. If SpaceX or Orbital Sciences can’t launch it, then they shouldn’t get the contract on the hopes that they would someday be able to.

                2) The CRS contract does exist, as the NASA link I provided shows. It is an IDIQ (indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity) contract, which is very common for government suppliers. What SpaceX provides in the contract is 12 delivery missions up to the maximum capacity of the Dragon capsule and trunk combination.

                *For example: The current load out of Dragon and Dragon Trunk for the CRS-3 mission is 4,670 lbs of cargo. 3,347 lbs pressurized and 1,323 unpressurized in the Dragon Trunk. *

                http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/SpaceX3cargo_Apr7_508.pdf

                NASA designs each manifest based on three items. Max possible volume and max possible mass that can be delivered. And, total number of deliveries remaining. The contract does specify 12 deliveries. Since NASA is not defining the precise payload ahead of time, they are free to use the delivery to carry it’s capacity (Mass and or volume) in any workable combination they choose. Likewise, SpaceX is only obligated to make 12 deliveries. So, both parties are protected. The contract provides NASA the flexibility to design each manifest based on their current needs on Station. I think the 1200 lbs value you gave on your item 2 must have been an example because mass limit capacity of Dragon is much higher than that. However, the pressurized capacity is volume limited. So, if NASA chooses to send a high volume/low mass payload, then it naturally eats up space in the capsule. The two freezers in the capsule take up quite a bit of space. If they were water tanks instead, mass would increase while volume would decrease.

                3) I apologize for any offense regarding the free market comment. In order for a purely competitive market approach, SpaceX will need to fix one really important failure. Meeting launch schedule. Of the Falcon-9 ver 1.1 platform, many of the delays have been outside of SpaceX control. However, plenty have been due to SpaceX shortcomings. Though I understand the single source history, I want to see that the government remains open to competition by explicit willingness to consider alternative bids. As such, the chips will fall where they may. I suspect we won’t agree on that point.

                The wild card in the mix is CST-100. I assume that Boeing will have a cargo configuration for this capsule. That capsule would compete directly with Dragon for delivery and reentry and for delivery only with the Thales Alenia module that Orbital launches. The CRS contract is designed to allow additional new competing entities to participate.

                • Joe

                  A couple of final points in this chain.

                  (1) “I understand the motivation for the subsidy, and generally agree with its existence. I think that the validity of doing so should diminish with the advent of more, and more consistent, mission availability in the New Space community.”

                  The trouble with that approach (at least in my opinion) is that the problem is a shortage of Demand, not a shortage of Supply. If there is not a big enough launch market to support two launchers without subsidies, there is certainly not enough for three. As I said I think that is a primary reason Musk is trying to ground the Atlas V, using his political connections to try and eliminate the competition. If he can make SpaceX the only competitor then Supply and Demand would be approximately in line (not mention Musk winning every contract by default).

                  The only way to really make a purely free market approach work would be to greatly increase demand. As much as I would like to see this happen, there is nothing in any of the current policy proposals (government or private) that is likely to make that happen any time in the foreseeable future.

                  (2) “The CRS contract does exist, as the NASA link I provided shows. It is an IDIQ (indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity) contract, which is very common for government suppliers. What SpaceX provides in the contract is 12 delivery missions up to the maximum capacity of the Dragon capsule and trunk combination.”

                  Like I said I am not a lawyer (I am an engineer), but the only contract on which I have ever worked that functioned the way you seem to be describing was Cargo Integration for the Shuttle. The irony is that “new space” advocates used to roundly criticize that approach in the most extreme terms, but now that SpaceX has a surprisingly similar contract it is suddenly OK.

                  (3) ”For example: The current load out of Dragon and Dragon Trunk for the CRS-3 mission is 4,670 lbs of cargo. 3,347 lbs pressurized and 1,323 unpressurized in the Dragon Trunk.”

                  I have been told repeatedly (in his very comments section) that the up mass on CRS-1 and CRS-2 was so low was because that is all NASA wanted. Now (presumably because of the introduction of the Falcon 9 v1.1 and the redesigned Dragon) that the hypothetical up mass is increased, suddenly NASA decided it wants more. I would be interesting to know if CRS-1 and CRS-2 were allowed to fly as “operational” in order to pass more money to SpaceX (after the end of the COTS cash flow) to allow SpaceX to continue to work on the Falcon 9 v1.1 and the redesigned Dragon.

                  (4)“I apologize for any offense regarding the free market comment. In order for a purely competitive market approach, SpaceX will need to fix one really important failure. Meeting launch schedule.”

                  No insult taken. As to the meeting of schedule, that problem has already been alleviated (for SpaceX, if not the ISS – the ISS logistics people are wondering how they are going to make this work out) by extending the date by which the twelve flights must be flown.

                  http://www.spacenews.com/article/civil-space/40059nasa-says-it-will-extend-private-iss-cargo-delivery-contracts-through-2017

                  So the one metric by which both contractors CRS performance could be evaluated is “flexible”.

                  This article is getting further and further back in the site and I believe we are both beginning to repeat ourselves, so this will be my last post in this exchange.

                  An interesting conversation and without all the usual name calling. Thanks.

  • Dale Amon

    So… you think we should continue to purchase ISS flights and use russian engines to launch critical defense assets in a time when Mother Russia is returning to its normal role, ie Empire?

    • Karol

      So . . . how do you think Obama plans to get our troops and equipment out of Afghanistan without a route through Mother Russia? Oh, and then there’s our dire need for Russian support in the Syrian situation. Do you think ESA is going to tell the Russians that they no longer need their launch services after the US bailed out of the ExoMars mission? This is all smoke an mirrors from the Administration, manufacturing a crisis to bolster their ongoing effort to do yet another Constellation cancellation and slowly de-fund NASA into irrelevance.

      • lucas

        Europe is not going to make waves, you are correct. We are very annoyed about America bailing on ExoMars- and we are glad that Russia stepped up.

    • Dale,

      This isn’t about protecting us from the evil empire. This is money, pure and simple.

      Elon is backing ULA into a corner, which truthfully it is letting itself get backed into, so that the Atlas V, ULA’s lowest-cost launcher, is no longer a viable launch option, leaving only Boeing’s more expensive (and capable in payload terms) Delta IV. With that, ULA launch costs will rise and only increase the “attractiveness” of SpaceX for DoD missions, all the while building a commercial crew launch monopoly for SpaceX.

      Do you think it good policy to end Atlas V and create a commercial crew launch monopoly to ISS flights rather than use Russian engines, of which ULA has an over 2 year store, to launch critical defense assets?

  • Mike Copea

    Low blow, SpaceX. The Atlas V has been the US’s primary and most reliable launch vehicle for near a decade, and yet again, a hissy fit over Russian politics threatens to end it for the benefit of SpaceX.

  • ken anthony

    Let me get this straight… it’s a low blow for an American company to attempt to get more of American market share?

    Is it really about ending Atlas flights or adding Falcon flights?

    • Last I checked, ULA is also an American company.

      • Me

        ULA has been raping American taxpayers of their money, and not even providing Americans jobs with that money. They are shitty teenagers who think they are owed everything for a fraction of the work. ULA can act correctly, or die. That is the American way.

        • Joe2

          “ULA has been raping American taxpayers of their money, and not even providing Americans jobs with that money.”

          Really? ULA has no employees here in the good ole’ USA? Or maybe they do and they just work for free. Is that what you meant?

          “ULA can act correctly, or die. That is the American way.”

          Can you provide any examples where they have broken the law and/or not met their contractual obligations? Cause I assume that is what you mean by “act correctly”. Right?

  • Paul Atreides

    Name your “sources”. Otherwise, this is partisan nonsense. You’re coming off as a political opportunist.

    • Paul,

      Now, who ever reveals their sources? Not. Gonna. Happen.

      And after what Elon did to Fragola, you have to expect that I would have heard from someone by now were our story erroneous. I won’t.

  • Paul Atreides

    By the way, this says NOTHING about ending the Atlas. The focus is on domestic sourcing of rocket engines. We have companies that are more than capable of producing a substitute for the RD-180.

    • Paul,

      Here’s the scenario in more simple terms.

      Congress passes a law stipulating that RD-180 rocket engines cannot be used any longer.

      The Atlas V depends upon RD-180’s, of which it has a +2 year supply, to operate.

      So, you tell me how the Atlas V continues to fly?

      It doesn’t.

      Thus, by ending the importation of the RD-180 engine, the Atlas V is killed-off.

      • Sean

        This is not a demand to stop using the RD-180, this is a demand to stop buying engines from Russia. ULA has the license and the plans to build the RD-180 domestically, and Mr. Glass said as much in front of a congressional panel.

    • Matt McClanahan

      ULA CEO Mike Gass’s exact words to Congress just a month ago: “We’ve done that over several years, we invested hundreds of millions of dollars to prove that we have the capability to demonstrate our ability to build that exact engine.”

      Great. Let’s see it.

  • Jim

    A very good move, but I doubt it would pass into law, ULA has much larger lobbying efforts. And “the end of the Atlas V rocket, but also would practically guarantee SpaceX a monopoly in the commercial crew launch market.” is non-sense, since ULA can arrange to build RD-180 in the US, which they should have done a long time ago. They also have Delta IV which can be man-rated, plus the 2 years existing supply of RD-180s, should be sufficient to ensure competition.

    • Unless Russia gives ULA the plans and tooling for the RD-180, something nobody ever expects, ULA is saying it would take 5 yrs and $1 billon to develop the capacity to manufacture the 180 here.

  • B. Pohnan

    While Durbin and Feinstein have rarely failed to disappoint me, I fault ULA on this one. Anyone with any business sense knew that this day would come. It was only a matter of time before Russia government would do something to seriously upset the western countries and Europe and that we would react like we are now. Those running ULA should have developed an alternate to the RD-180 by now, but they did not. So now the Atlas V is an endangered species because ULA’s management lacked foresight.

  • Tracy the Troll

    I think you all are missing the reality that ULA already indicated they could build the RD-180 in the US…They just needed $1B US to build a facility to do it….So by passing the above Act above that requires ULA to do it….I am pretty sure there will be an amendment to bill giving ULA the $1B ..”Becuase the hardship that Russia has caused ULA could not have been known or foreseen” you get the idea…And ULA is not going to stop launching US Gov Rocket…Ever never ever….Even if SpaceX launch is $1.00….

    • You raise a good point. The above language, if it is adopted, will have to be changed to do so.

      The current proposed language can be summarized as follows,

      c) No DOD launches on Russian engines of any epoch of the last century.

      d) Engines from Russia purchased and delivered to the US by 09/30/2014 can be used.

      e) No money to replace the RD-180.

      From a tactical political level, this is a thorough attempt at neutering the Atlas V.

      But as powerful as Feinstein is, with Nevada-based Sierra Nevada, which is now working closely with Lockheed Martin, looking at loosing its LockMart Atlas V ride, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will become a problem for her. Then there’s Senator Shelby. Lastly, there’s the House.

      I personally think the cat is out of the bag on this effort and none of this language is now likely to be adopted.

      What a waste of political capital. If SpaceX management would just focus on delivering on CRS and CCP, it would over time earn more DOD business.

      • Karol

        EXCELLENT work Jim! It’s great to hear that because “the cat is out of the bag” (no doubt due in large part to your shining the white-hot spotlight of truth and integrity onto this shadowy intrigue) there is little likelihood of any of this nonsense being adopted. Your AmericaSpace article shows what journalism SHOULD be! Perhaps Durbin should focus on retaining his Senate seat which is one of those up for grabs in November instead of he and Feinstein sending a love letter to Elon. I’m a Yankee from Michigan, but I’d send Senator Shelby of Alabama a donation any day – our Orion/SLS is worth every penny.

      • Joe

        A good point on SpaceX concentrating on meeting its CRS requirements.

        The SpaceX CRS contract called for it to deliver 44,000 lbs. of up mass to the ISS in 12 flights by the end of 2015. Their first flight (CRS-1) took place in late 2012 so they are about half way through that flight period.

        On average SpaceX should have flown 6 times, they have flown only twice.

        On average they should have delivered 22,000 lbs. up mass. According to their own fact sheet on CRS-1 they delivered 882 lbs. (Check the bottom of page 10).

        http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/694166main_SpaceXCRS-1PressKit.pdf

        As near as I can tell they produced no facts sheet for CRS-2, but a SpaceX press release (the link for which is now inoperative) listed up mass as 1,200 lbs.

        Accepting SpaceX own numbers that means they have so far delivered 2,082 lbs. to the ISS (about 9.5% of the 22,000 lbs.)

        • ken anthony

          Joe, you left a few points out in your comment.

          NASA decides what the payload is to be.
          NASA decides to pay SpaceX only if they meet the terms of the contract.
          NASA is happy.

          So what’s your point? They have nine more flights left on the contract.

          • Joe

            Hi Ken,

            Actually since they have only flown twice on the CRS contract in a year and a half (the last time over a year ago) they have ten flights left. Trouble is to make the 44,000 lb. total they would have to fly about 4,200 lb. per flight and that is about 3.5 times what they have flown per flight to date. They would also have to fly at a rate of about one every 7 to 8 weeks on the CRS contract alone, another capability they have yet to demonstrate.

            But, don’t worry NASA (with no fanfare, of course) has already solved the launch frequency problem for them by extending the closing date on the contract until the end of 2017.

            http://www.spacenews.com/article/civil-space/40059nasa-says-it-will-extend-private-iss-cargo-delivery-contracts-through-2017

            Note the statement: “It was unclear whether NASA will be ordering additional missions or is just giving the companies additional time to carry out those that are already under contract. NASA’s posting said the modifications would be made “at no cost” to the agency, and that they would be “executed one year at a time.””

            If the modifications are to be made “at no cost” you can be sure there are no additional requirements are being laid on the contractor.

            If you can convince yourself that this shows SpaceX to be adequately fulfilling the terms of the original CRS contract, I admire your faith if not your skepticism.

            • ken anthony

              you can be sure there are no additional requirements are being laid on the contractor.

              Puulease… non sequitur. Just because SpaceX has born the costs without complaint does not mean they don’t exist.

            • ken anthony

              to fly about 4,200 lb. per flight

              Giving them over 9000 lb per flight of extra capacity. But again, NASA decides what they need to fulfill the contract. NASA decides if they get paid. This is a great deal for the taxpayer.

          • Suffice it to say, given the pace of CRS launches, it will be interesting at the very least to see if either SpaceX or OSC meet their original CRS commitments, not the new ones NASA just bestowed upon them. If they don’t, that needs to be examined and dealt with.

            Price is an important aspect, but only one, in measuring the success of COTS and CRS. So is delivering payload of the needed mass at the needed time. If the CRS partners are not meeting their launch goals, the causes of those shortfalls should be dealt with before the same shortcomings affect the much more expensive and critical CCP.

  • SpaceX is an all-American launch company. It does very nearly, if not all, its work in the US and mostly in one factory in California. This has turned out to be considerably cheaper than the using a wide net of subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, sub-sub-subcontractors and so on as is common for older launch vehicles. It also makes SpaceX more-or-less independent of foreign affairs. By contrast, the Atlas V is in big trouble and if things get much worse with Russia, complete toast.

    Things are going badly in Russia and between Russia and the US. It could easily get a lot worse. It’s very good to have a all-American company in our space-access pocket.

    WRT timeliness of launch: SpaceX is often late, sometimes very late, for launch. Of course the Challenger was right on time — and blew up killing all on board. Bravo to SpaceX to have the intelligence to launch when ready and not a minute earlier.

    • Yes, NASA has lost crews over the 40+ year time it has been launching astronauts into space. But it’s not appropriate to represent the safety record of SpaceX, which with only 6 years since its first successful launch is still a relative noob in the launch business launching spacecraft less sophisticated than a Mercury or Gemini spacecraft (no crew capability, no LAS, no ECLSS, no crew operable GNC, etc.), as better relative to that of NASA launching the Space Shuttle.

    • Joe

      We seem to be getting a lot of NASA (the customer) is happy with SpaceX performance, so what is the problem comments here.

      If that were true then why did NASA go to Orbital Sciences and attempt to get them to attempt to accelerate their launch schedule to make up for SpaceX shortfalls:

      http://www.spacenews.com/article/launch-report/37077pressure-mounts-on-orbital-sciences-with-spacex-likely-unavailable-for

      Note the title: Pressure Mounts on Orbital Sciences with SpaceX Likely Unavailable for December Cargo Run

      Also concerning NASA setting the amount of payload carried by the Dragon vehicle, not limitations of the vehicle:

      http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/AW_09_23_2013_p40-617797.xml

      Title: December ISS Mission Delayed By Dragon Upgrades

      Interesting quotes:

      (1) “Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is modifying its Dragon capsule to afford more payload capacity for NASA cargo runs to and from the International Space Station (ISS). But the improvements will push a planned December ISS mission into 2014, in which the company’s crowded launch manifest is pending the delayed debut of the revamped SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.”

      (2) “NASA spokesman Joshua Byerly says no new requirements have been added to the SpaceX CRS contract, suggesting the upgrades are expected to fulfill a long-standing requirement to meet ISS cargo needs. But he says the work is taking longer than initially planned.”

      Trying to change the subject to the Challenger Tragedy may be considered by some to be effective (if somewhat ghoulish) spin, but it has nothing to do with SpaceX designing a vehicle that apparently did not meet its initial requirements, even in theory.

      • I think trusting public statements that NASA is “happy” with the CRS partners is like trusting a parent’s statement that their lil’ baby could never do anything wrong.

        Gene Cernan and Neil Armstrong testified in May 2010 that they heard Bolden say that he’d do a GM-like bailout if that’s what it took to keep the CRS partners financially afloat.

        We need to see what NASA is extending to 2017, an addition to, or an extension of, the CRS contract. In any case, the only CRS partner that could have even a remote chance to fulfill its current CRS contract (20 mt by end of 2015, if memory serves) under the pre-extension terms is (big maybe) OSC. If end of calendar year 2015 was the original CRS deadline, SpaceX would have 10 more missions, meaning it would need to launch once every other month. Given the company’s launch history, that would be very unlikely.

        So whether NASA is publicly happy or not with the CRS program, the conclusion that all is hunky-dory in the program is, given how tardy both CRS partners are, hard to believe. How they became tardy in meeting their initial CRS launches, scheduled I believe for sometime in 2010, given that both received their NASA COTS funding as planned and in the amounts promised, is important. Because if we don’t understand how things got years behind schedule, it is likely the same will happen in CCP and subsequent commercial endeavors.

      • ken anthony

        Joe, that was cold storage. You are suggesting otherwise by not mentioning that. Very misleading. Shame on ya.

        • Joe

          No the increase cargo capacity is over all, including the cold storage. It is apparently (at least according to SpaceX) the cold storage increase that is causing the delay.

          If that were not the case, then why the following:
          (1) “Under the terms of SpaceX’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, the company is supposed to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 lb.) of food, supplies and science materials to the ISS by Dec. 31, 2015. Dragon’s advertised payload capacity is for more than 3,300 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and up to 2,500 kg on the return trip.”
          (2) “Since the December 2008 CRS contract was signed, however, Dragon has conducted just three trips to the ISS, delivering a combined 1,595 kg of pressurized cargo and returning a total of 2,120 kg to Earth.”

          And that 1,595 kg figure gives them credit for the up mass in the test flight. At that average up mass, even if they were able to fly the 10 flights (a flight every 7 to 8 weeks for 18 months – an unlikely flight rate) needed to complete the terms of the original contract, that would be only 6,912 kg, or 35% of the contractually required up mass.

          Therefore I have nothing of which to be ashamed.

          • ken anthony

            Read it again Joe. …in order to increase the reusable cargo vessel’s cold-storage capacity

            “More payload capacity” does not refer to overall payload which is the same as it’s always been, but I can see why you were confused. Actually, better engines do increase capacity but has nothing to do with what’s being discussed here.

            BTW, returning payload is a bonus not included in the contract.

            Dragon has and always had enough capacity to service the contract. It is up to NASA, not SpaceX, to use that capacity.

            • Joe

              You read it again.

              The full quote is: “President Gwynne Shotwell says NASA needs SpaceX to make the Dragon enhancements in order to increase the reusable cargo vessel’s cold-storage capacity for transporting research samples between Earth and the ISS.”

              That is the only reference to cold-storage in the article and it is a quote from SpaceX, not NASA or Av Week. The rest of the references are too generic up mass.

              As to SpaceX having the capacity to handle the contract, they claim a lot of things.

              Their website still says the Dragon up mass is 13,228 lb. /flight, but when they signed the contract it was for 3,700 lbs./flight (only 28% of their claims) and their maximum actual delivery so far is only 1,200 lbs./flight (32% of the contract commitment and 9% of their claims).

              You play by the rule “He who posts last wins”. So proceed to try and spin the facts away any way you like.

              There is nothing to be gained from going over the same ground repeatedly.

  • Les

    The big bad Musk is picking on poor little ULA. What drivelling nonsense. If what Musk is doing transparently amounts to a pimple on a gnat’s ass compared to the things that Boeing and Lockheed have secretly done in the past and probably trying to do to SpaceX now, under the table I’ll be amazed. He’s prafticing what’d be called “business” if it were done by the supporters of this article.
    For under $500M of taxpayer investment SpaceX is very close to having built a space transportation system while ULA says it wants $1B to try and copy a 30 year old foreign engine in about the same time frame.
    The first I’ve ever been embarrassed to call myself a Republican is listening to the comments by some of the leaders of my party regarding SpaceX and Tesla.
    I know little about Musk, but what he’s accomplished deserves admiration, even from his competitors and those who disagree with his views. Those who can’t do so are fooling themselves or are being flatly dishonest. I mention him because he seems to be the emperor of his companies and whatever they do is his call.
    I’ve heard it said that those who groundlessly question the honesty of others learned the distrust by observing themselves. I’ve been around awhile, and have seen much to support that statement.

    • Joe

      Perhaps, instead of:

      (1) Snark (“The big bad Musk is picking on poor little ULA. What drivelling nonsense.”)

      (2) Unsubstantiated suppositions (“If what Musk is doing transparently amounts to a pimple on a gnat’s ass compared to the things that Boeing and Lockheed have secretly done in the past and probably trying to do to SpaceX now, under the table I’ll be amazed.”)

      (3) And amateur pop-Psychoanalyses (“I’ve heard it said that those who groundlessly question the honesty of others learned the distrust by observing themselves. I’ve been around awhile, and have seen much to support that statement.”) of people you have never even met.

      You could provide some actual evidence (other than your supposed amazement) that Boeing and Lockheed have “secretly” done similar things to SpaceX that make these SpaceX activities look like “a pimple on a gnat’s ass”,

      Then there would be something to discuss. As is, there is not.

  • Les

    Wasn’t an attempt to discuss.
    A couple of supported statements,
    “This is a transparent attempt to try to distort competition”
    “practically guarantee SpaceX a monopoly in the commercial crew launch market”

    As to the amateur psychology… you’re right, experience and common sense is the realm of amateurism.

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