Air Force Seeks $100 Million for Rocket Rivalry

Air Force Seeks $100 Million for Rocket Rivalry

FARNBOROUGH, England — The U.S. Air Force’s top civilian said she wants $100 million in funding this year to hold a rocket launch competition earlier than planned.

The move may benefit start-up rocket-maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, which recently sued the service in an attempt to break into a military market dominated by a Lockheed Martin Corp.-Boeing Co. joint venture.

The venture, known as the United Launch Alliance LLC, is the government’s sole provider of medium– and heavy-lift launches of military and spy satellites under a program called the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. The Air Force funding transfer is part of a larger request the Pentagon submitted this week to Congress for permission to shift $4.3 billion in the fiscal 2014 defense budget.


“It is meant to be the resources that, if it’s approved, would allow us to do a competitive launch earlier on,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said during a briefing with reporters at the Farnborough International Air Show outside London.

The money would add to the launch manifest another mission, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program-20, raising the number of liftoffs to six, according to a copy of the budget reprogramming request. The service began the competition on Wednesday with a request for proposals from interested companies, according to a separate release, and plans to award a contract during the next fiscal year.

“This request provides an additional opportunity for EELV new entrants to compete for an EELV mission in FY 2015,” the reprogramming document states.

SpaceX is expected to receive formal certification from the Air Force to launch national-security payloads by the end of the year or early next year, James said at the show. The company last week announced that the service had qualified the third and final Falcon 9 launch necessary for certification.

“They reached an important milestone in the process for certification, but it’s not certification,” she said.

The additional program funding wouldn’t impact the Air Force’s existing contract with the United Launch Alliance to supply through 2017 at least 36 booster cores – the main component of a rocket including the engine, according to the document.

While the Pentagon praised the so-called block buy for helping to lock in prices and curb rising launch costs, SpaceX criticized the agreement, saying it blocked the company from competing for missions to launch GPS satellites and other medium-size spacecraft.

The Hawthorne, California-based firm in April sued the Air Force in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., to challenge the contract. The government earlier this month filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.

“This exclusive deal unnecessarily costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and defers meaningful free competition for years to come,” Musk said in a statement at the time. “We are simply asking that SpaceX and any other qualified domestic launch providers be allowed to compete in the EELV program for any and all missions that they could launch.”

Some lawmakers concerned over the EELV’s estimated price tag of $70 billion through 2030 made similar arguments. Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, went so far as to describe the multi-year order as “cronyism.”

“This smacks of the cronyism that we saw in the first tanker contract that ended up in a major scandal,” he said during a congressional hearing in April.

McCain was referring to the Air Force’s initial deal with Chicago-based Boeing for a fleet of new refueling aircraft. The agreement was canceled in 2004 amid a scandal involving Boeing’s chief financial officer, Michael Sears, who offered a job to the Air Force’s top procurement official, Darleen Druyun, during negotiations. Both were sentenced to serve jail time.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, has defended block buy and described it as the result of “very successful” negotiations with the contractor.

“That contract is at a much better price than we had anticipated in our previous budgeting,” he said during the same hearing. “We saved on the order of $3 billion.”

At a time of rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the latter’s invasion and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, SpaceX’s lawsuit drew attention to the fact that the U.S. military launch program uses the Russian-made RD-180 engine on the Atlas V rocket.

At one point, the judge in the case issued an injunction preventing the government from buying the first-stage engine made by Moscow-based NPO Energomash. The order was lifted after federal agencies certified the payments didn’t violate sanctions against Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space sector who was among the Russian officials sanctioned by the White House.

In response, Rogozin threatened to stop supplying the U.S. with the RD-180 engine, though Pentagon and company officials said orders were still being filled.

United Launch Alliance blamed SpaceX for having “created unnecessary distractions, threatened U.S. military satellite operations, and undermined our future relationship with the International Space Station.”

The Pentagon’s reprogramming request would also shift $27 million to develop an American-made alternative to the RD-180 engine. “These efforts will be used to advance cost-effective options with industry to eliminate reliance on foreign manufactured engine,” the document states.

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Hey we need 100 million to fob off SpaceX so we can keep our corrupt deal worth billions with the usual criminals.
Corruption as usual.

They’ll give the $100 million to ULA to do a study to see if a US built engine is feasible and if there are any other options for rockets to launch the Air Force satellites. We already know how that study will turn out. The important thing is that ULA will make $10 million in free money off of it.

More waste! We hear more and more about personnel costs, then this drivel comes to light.

I want 100 million for our veterens .FUCK your rocket competition!

Both the veterans and the rocket competition will get ******.

Sounds like a great deal, similar to solar panels.…

I’m not sure about what exactly the AF is communicating here. By simply saying that $430M is being reprogrammed to allow another launch opportunity that could be put up for competition (by SpaceX), are they indicating that they expect to pay that amount for the launch or does it also include the $100M for engine development and other things? If its all for the one launch, that would be above even ULA prices with the readiness fee included. If aimed at SpaceX I would almost say it sounds like a bribe to get SpaceX off there backs so they can keep ULA status quo intact.

It is about time that the ULA and the USAF realised that their exclusive deals are coming to an end. SpaceX will make sure that the “real” costs + reasonable profit ONLY will be passed on to the American Taxpayer (remember them, they’re the ones who are actually paying the freight).

“McCain was referring to the Air Force’s initial deal with Chicago-based Boeing for a fleet of new refueling aircraft. The agreement was canceled in 2004 amid a scandal involving Boeing’s chief financial officer, Michael Sears, who offered a job to the Air Force’s top procurement official, Darleen Druyun, during negotiations. Both were sentenced to serve jail time.”

Wow, say it ain’t so!!!

Why is a Brit worried about cost to US taxpayers?

“She wants!”

Good! ULA is able to massively overcharge because they currently have a monopoly and are too far in bed with the DoD bureaucracy. They need outside competition to bring launch costs down.

Air Force wants to kill the A-10 to they can free up some budget to fund their higher priority efforts such as this.

Yeah, they want to eliminate several squadrons of flying airplanes so they can fund a study on the feasibility of replacing an outsourced rocket engine. Brilliant. All that’s really important is that the defense contractors get their 10% off the top. The bigger the pie, the bigger their 10%.

Wow, there really is no dumb like air force dumb

$100 million to ‘fob’ off any competitor these days, is getting off pretty cheap…

Consider the way every one of our politicians (read defense industry surgar daddies / mommas), defense contractors, Generals, and Admirals finds it so easy to say in appropriation committee meetings:

“…and our best cost projections indicate that the program will only cost a $$$trillion over the first six weeks of initial production…”

And will whomever knows the correct answer please tell this former 51H, 98J, 98C who in the _ is the Ivy League Summa Cum Laude graduate imbecile that signed off on sourcing our rocket engines from a Russian vendor???!!!

I’m guessing he or she has the office right next to the Cum Laude Ivy League graduate imbecile that had our entire space shuttle program shut down and in museums in less five months from the final STS touchdown.

No the killing of the A-10 is because its the A-10 and the Air Force has been trying to do that sense before it entered service.

Most importantly that money can be sent to the massive black hole that is the under performing, $35,000 dollars per flight hour, fire catching not ready for combat F-35.

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