MH-17 Shoot Down Alters Air Force’s Space Equation

MH-17 Shoot Down Alters Air Force’s Space Equation

Russia builds the rocket engines that deliver U.S. military satellites into space under the current contract awarded by the U.S. Air Force.

The outgoing commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command said Tuesday the shoot down by pro-Russian separatists of the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet that killed 298 people will not result in the end of this agreement. He told reporters at a Pentagon roundtable that sales of the Russian rocket engines would continue.

Gen. William Shelton, head of Space Command, said this even though Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin  threatened in May to cut off sales of the RD-180 engines following the announcement of sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S


The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, owns the contract to launch Pentagon space satellites. ULA buys its rocket engines from NPO Energomash, a Russian company that sells ULA the RD-180 for about $10 million each.

The engines are used in ULA’s Atlast V launch vehicle. ULA has about 15 of the rocket engines in stock with more on order.

ULA’s dependence on these Russian rocket engines could put the joint venture’s dominance over Pentagon space launch contracts in jeopardy.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, has sued the Air Force for the right to compete for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract that provides for medium– and heavy-lift launches for military and spy satellites. Right now, ULA is the only company allowed to compete for the contract for 36 launches worth about $9 billion.

However, SpaceX appears to be gaining leverage in their fight for the right to compete for it. Following the lawsuit, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced last week that the service would seek $100 million to hold a rocket launch competition earlier than planned.

SpaceX rockets do not depend on Russian engines and don’t experience the same industrial vulnerabilities should the conflict in Ukraine worsen. ULA announced in June that it will begin work to develop it’s own rocket engines.

However, SpaceX says it’s already developed an engine in the Falcon 9 rocket that could execute 65 percent of the Pentagon’s space launch missions, according to a report by the International Business Times.

Next spring, SpaceX has plans to launch its heavier rocket which could take on the remaining military needs. In response, ULA officials say they already have a proven rocket and questioned the reliability of SpaceX’s delivery capabilities.

For his part,  Shelton commended ULA for starting work to develop its own rocket. But it seems that his comments signal a need for a non-Russian solution offering SpaceX a possible advantage in the forthcoming competition.

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ULA bigwigs are wetting themselves over the prospect of having to compete with SpaceX on just the LEO launches the Falcon 9 can do. And next year SpaceX will launch the first Falcon Heavy while ULA won’t have a prototype for a new rocket until 2016 at best.

So my money is on SpaceX whipping ULA’s butt.

Thanks for the timely, interesting, and illuminating article Mr. Hoffman.

I think it is good to see SpaceX and ULA go head to head on this launch competition. It exposes the American public to just how bad defense contracting has gotten and to how much better the system could work if the will was there within the executive branch of government to fix the procurement system. On the one hand we have the ULA that gets paid up front from the public tax coffers (with a built in, 100% reliable profit) to do anything to make their product “better” or even just suitable for the next mission, and on the other hand we have SpaceX that is working under the terms of a commercial contract that only pays them the big money if they are successful. ULA gets paid for process. SpaceX gets paid for results.

“It exposes the American public to just how bad defense contracting has gotten and to how much better the system could work if the will was there within the executive branch of government to fix the procurement system…“
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The executive branch can help — but its the HoR’s that control the spending and allocate funding — and given the amount of funding that goes directly to elected representatives for their campaigns: this is a pipe dream.

The best alternative, is to extirpate the entire system, and replace it with one similar to that used by the British. They have a threat analysis board comprised of civilian and military experts that analyze the threats, and determine the force structure and weapons required to defeat those threats.

This removes the appalling redundancies, the unobtanium-plated gizmos that haven’t been invented yet, and eliminates the constant changes made to designs all the way through construction/manufacturing. The only thing congress gets to do is approve the budget — and that is all they get to do.

The US taxpayer gets the lousiest deal for defense dollar spent of any nation on the planet, and the system described above gets the MoD a vastly better deal for the money spent.

Funny, that’s not what it says here: http://​www​.acquisition​.gov/​f​a​r​/​a​u​t​h​o​r​i​t​y​f​r​a​m​e​.​htm

Should anyone want to fix it, the first step is figuring out who is in charge so you know who to talk to and in which elections this is a relevant issue.

The opinion of a lot of British military guys I’ve talked to is that the last thing anybody should want to do is replicate how the MoD does business. Though they probably get some things right on occasion.

The thing about “unobtainium-plated gizmos” is that they only become reality with investment from somebody or another, look at ballistic missile defense systems and active protection systems for armored fighting vehicles. Some risks are necessary to make any progress.

But this, the whole ULA thing and continued use of Russian rocket engines is just stupidity. We should want to encourage companies like this if they can deliver what they promise. If they can it means we get it cheaper and without the reliance on Russia. So let them compete.

Really? We use their engines and hitch rides to space. Thank you President Obama.

“The proposal would officially end aspirations to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 — President George W. Bush’s “vision for space exploration” developed in the aftermath of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.”

The only moon we want to see is Obama “moon walk” out of the White House and go someone.

Excellent comments. We don’t need to be like someone else. We need to be ourselves, for a change.

Oh wow man. What an incredibly short attention span you have.

Here’s the deal: Once upon a time in a very far away land there was an Evil Empire called the USSR. They were wrong about a great many things, however they did know a thing or two about making extremely powerful and reliable rocket engines. At the same time America had not developed anything in that category since the 1960s and was in need.

Eventually the Soviets flawed empire split into many different pieces and we Americans were worried that the ex-Soviet rocket engineers might be looking for work in all the wrong places so we decided to give them a job working for us instead of the NorKs.

The President who came up with this idea was none other that George Herbert Walker Bush.

Many years later we still give them money for rocket engines because we never bothered to pay the massive costs required to relearn how to do it ourselves.

Bush’s “vision” for space was crap much as Obama’s has been. As long as NASA pay’s their contractors more to fail, they will fail. It’s simple capitalism. You want NASA to lead in space exploration again? Then the first thing they need to do is fill the position Von Braun left with someone qualified to design a space program. The rest will work its way out from there.

Job for Elon Von Musk??

Yes, that’s exactly the kind of person you want someone who has actually designed a rocket before. Musk may be a little too busy for that position right now, but, hell, if they’ve got to start some bright engineers out designing model rockets, and the best of them move on to sounding rockets etc. This idea NASA has that designing rockets or a space program is so easy that any collection of idiots can do it without any accountability or experience is ludicrous. You wouldn’t hire a dentist with no more qualifications than NASA uses for the people who design their rockets.

What ever moon walk ‚let it walk on earth. We cant even secure a site of a downed plane. Start the a moon walk around our own planet,and not to war.

You mean SpaceX won’t BE a competitor to the Atlas V 521, 531, 541, 551 and/or Delta IV Heavy unitl three launches of the Falcon 9 Heavy and the Air Force certifies the Falcon 9 Heavy. This would be after 2017. So the use of the Falcon 9 Heavy for national security SVs would not occur until at least 2018.

On the other hand, the Falcon 9 v1.1 can readily launch those SVs that use the Atlas V 401, Delta IV-M4,2 for GEO transfer orbit (e.g. SBIRS, GPS-III, DMSP-20, other DOD SVs, a number of NASA SVs_quite a number)

There was a time when we made acquisitions first considering our national security, and only secondly considering the cost. When we chose that conducting 2 wars decidedly not in our national security interests was more important than cost considerations, we evidently left our responsibility to our descendants at the door of these two wars. ULA is comprised exactly of those war profiteering companies that benefited most from our ill-conceived wars.

As responsible adult Americans, we need to put the onus of the efforts to build our legacy upon a return to responsibility to those that follow us, and rebuild our critical abilities to defend and protect ourselves when all others descend into war.

It should have always been required law to ensure that our TAX dollars are spent on ensuring that US owned and operated companies exist to provide our country with critical capabilities we need to provide for our national defense. Please, reach out to your Congressman, and DEMAND that we maintain an entirely US industrial base (of at least 2 competitors) for every critical capability required to defend our nation. Space Launch IS the high ground, and is perhaps our most critical ability.

Not only should the government be paying more now to ensure that SpaceX can deliver the rockets we need, but they should be paying even more to ensure that a second and/or third US owned and operated company can deliver the capabilities we need so that we can HAVE A COMPETITION!!!!

Wake up call to anyone not paying attention: Foreign Companies do not pay taxes in America and hire almost exclusively non-Americans, and none of the money we pay out to foreign companies or nations returns to our tax coffers, and those foreign companies are not under US law to complete their contracts ( In fact, they may work for unstable regimes hell-bent to bring the return of the Soviet Union). Exactly the opposite happens when we spend Tax money on American Companies that build products in America.

The economics are pretty simple. For every dollar that is paid to US companies to deliver capability in the US, around 40% of that dollar comes back to the US in taxes between all the payers of taxes performing the work including company and employees. This is not true of foreign companies. Every Dollar that is spent over seas actually costs at least $1.40, since there is no recycling of these dollars.

How can we sit here and not scream that AGAIN the Executive Branch has stifled competition while putting our national security at risk and hurt our country in the name of expediency and revolving door job swapping.

This is not a Democrat or Republican issue.

This is an American Issue.

Get Mad, Get Loud, Get Moving, Reach out to your Representatives NOW

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