Story Headline updated Dec 14.
Officials with oversight of critical U.S. national security space operations bombarded two key defense contractors this week with searing criticism for poor judgement and technical incompetence. Those companies are:
United Launch Alliance (ULA) — Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) cited what he called “especially dubious” and “inappropriate tactics” by ULA’s management in its decision not to compete a Russian RD-180 powered Atlas-V against a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket for the launch of the first GPS-III satellite in 2018. This has ceded the launch to SpaceX without a formal competition as desired by the U.S. Air Force and Congress.
In a Dec. 8 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Sen. McCain requested that the Defense Dept. investigate what he called “troubling and specious claims” by ULA. The letter is provided in full at the bottom of this story.
Raytheon — The San Diego-based company is in charge of developing the “OCX” ground system for the new GPS-III constellation, but a Dec. 4 project review reaffirmed that critical system is in deep trouble.
“The OCX program is a disaster, just a disaster, and it’s embarrassing to have to stand in front of people and try to defend it, so I won’t,” said USAF Gen. John Hyten, who commands Air Force Space Command.
The Pentagon review was held with Frank Kendall, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition.
“When you start down a path and you basically can’t deliver and you keep pushing the system out to the right, and you keep pouring money at it, and the contractor does not deliver, you’re in a tough spot,” said Hyten.
Matt Gilligan, Raytheon’s vice president for navigation and environmental solutions, said the company was focused on continued development of the system. “We are fully committed to delivering, without compromise, the modernized GPS ground controls envisioned and required by the Air Force,” Gilligan said in a statement to Reuters.
Sen. McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said earlier the $2 billion OCX program could incur an additional $1.6 billion in costs with delays approaching four years (AmericaSpace Oct. 29, 2015).
The Air Force and Raytheon hope significant changes to the program could reduce the delay to two years. New Raytheon Block 0 software has been designed to test and command the spacecraft in orbit before gaining full war fighting capability via OCX software modifications.
There are key near term events for elements of the launch and GPS satellite programs.
- SpaceX: A Falcon-9 carrying 11 Orbcomm satellites is poised to return to flight as early as Dec. 19, following six months of down time from an accident caused by a structural failure in the vehicle’s second stage this summer (AmericaSpace Dec. 10).
- GPS Program: The Air Force has just completed 0n-orbit testing of the GPS 2F-11 satellite launched by an Atlas-V on Oct. 31. This was the penultimate mission for the F-2 version of GPS satellites. It was placed in about an 11,000 nautical mile orbit, inclined 55 degrees in “Slot 2” of the GPS E Plane to replace a satellite launched in 2003.
- ULA Atlas V: The next Atlas-V military space launch is planned for as early as Feb. 3 carrying the GPS 2F-12 satellite, the final 2F version before launches begin of GPS III satellites.
Sen. McCain’s request to Carter for a formal Defense Dept. investigation of ULA focuses on two main points: First, that the company says that it does not have adequate accounting methods to complete a compliant bid under the Air Force’s competitive bidding process; and second, that ULA asserts the company’s remaining supply of RD-180 engines has already been committed to other non-national security missions.
You can read McCain’s letter to Carter HERE.
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