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Elon Musk  (Source:
Lockheed said SpaceX is inexperienced and is cutting corners by cutting costs

SpaceX is the underdog that proved a private company can rise to the occasion and send a rocket into space, but can it step up and transform the Air Force as well?

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have had a strong hold on the Air Force's launch missions for the last six years. But last month, the Defense Department instructed the Air Force to find a new contractor to break the launch monopoly in an attempt to cut costs. In early December, it was announced that SpaceX was selected for trial missions.

SpaceX scored a $900 million contract with the Air Force for two launch missions in 2014 and 2015. The trial missions will test to see if SpaceX can successfully carry military and spy satellites.

As expected, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which are partnered in a venture called the United Launch Alliance (ULA), are not too happy about it. They took a few jabs at SpaceX's inexperience in both space launches and in the military.

"I'm hugely pleased with 66 [successful missions] in a row from ULA, and I don't know the record of SpaceX yet," said Robert Stevens, chairman and chief executive at Lockheed Martin. "Two in a row?"

Lockheed Martin also took a stab at the Department of Defense's search for cheaper alternatives to ULA, saying that cutting corners will have poor results.

“Cost doesn’t matter at all if you don’t put the ball into orbit,’’ said Stevens. “You can thrift on cost. You can take cost out of a rocket. But I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes.’’

SpaceX Elon Musk fired back, saying that "All of SpaceX's Falcon 9 missions have reached orbit and completed all primary mission objectives." As far as costs go, Musk said that SpaceX's equipment is cheaper because it contains better technology.

“The fundamental reason SpaceX’s rockets are lower cost and more powerful is that our technology is significantly more advanced than that of the Lockheed-Boeing rockets, which were designed last century," said Musk.

The ULA’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets cost about $464 million per launch, more than double a previous estimate of $230 million.

SpaceX stepped in with its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket as a means to send supplies (and eventually astronauts) to the International Space Station (ISS) after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011. This left American astronauts with no way to the ISS except aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, but these seats became very costly.

SpaceX launched its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS for the first time back in May for a test supply run. After that successful trip, SpaceX and NASA signed a $1.6 billion contract that allows SpaceX to complete 12 supply trips to the ISS and back.

On October 7, SpaceX made its first official supply run as part of that contract. It arrived October 10, making the trip a success.

Dragon is due to make its second run in January 2013. SpaceX is also looking to send the first manned Dragon capsule to the ISS somewhere between 2015 and 2017.

SpaceX is also making huge strides in the use of reusable rockets with its new Grasshopper Project. The Grasshopper Project is a Falcon first stage with a landing gear that's capable of taking off and landing vertically.

Source: The Washington Post

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RE: costs
By trclark81 on 12/27/2012 10:47:54 AM , Rating: 2
The Dragon capsule has also been designed from the start as a man-rated capsule. Musk has stated repeatedly since 2002 that his intent was to develop a manned vehicle for Beyond Earth Orbit function and SpaceX has designed all of their rockets and capsules with precisely that in mind. The ISS cargo resupplies are and have always been a budgetary means to a crewed end. Without manned Dragon down the road, there would have been no cargo Dragon. Period.

RE: costs
By Gurthang on 12/27/2012 11:32:19 AM , Rating: 2
I would instead argue that the cargo dragon is a simplier product designed to test necessary systems that will be eventually used in the manned module in LEO and later farther and farther out as the launch vehicles get better and more powerfull. But that it at this point is not an Orion capsule or even a Soyouz so costs of them and the rockets used to launch them (planned or otherwise) are not comparible.

I have no doubt SpaceX plans to keep going further and have designs in the works to do so but until they are actually building functional (not engineering mock-ups) and doing real testing with their man rated designs the costs and ability to get there is still a big ?.

As to the necessity of a manned dragon for there to be a cargo version... BS.. SpaceX for all of its founder's Sci/Fi spaceflight dreams is first and formost a profit driven company. What had to come before any dragon capsule made it past the powerpoint stage was a way to make money. If there was not already some real or precieved need from NASA there is no way SpaceX would have gone this far with the Dragon system. Musk has money to burn but rockets burn money very very fast.

In the end I am excited for them and wish them nothing but luck.

RE: costs
By trclark81 on 12/27/2012 11:39:28 AM , Rating: 2
I would suggest the same is true of the mockup-only Orion.

RE: costs
By trclark81 on 12/27/2012 11:50:02 AM , Rating: 2
As true as your comment is regarding demand driving supply, I don't think the cargo Dragon would have been built without the plan for a manned capsule, regardless of the demand for cargo-only. Despite the profit motive, SpaceX, and all of it's rockets, owe their existance to Musk's vision regardless of the path or motive taken to get there. Cargo-only was definitely a necessary means to an end, but even the powerpoints wouldn't have been made without the path to manned.

In short, you are absolutely right, but your argument doesn't actually refute mine, merely augments it in a way I already addressed.

RE: costs
By Gurthang on 12/28/2012 8:11:38 AM , Rating: 2
Actually my point was that while Musk's goals hava always been to fufil his childhood spaceflight dreams and I believe he has stated that numerous times. But those expensive dreams ride on the back of the sucess of the launch and cargo missions. Musk if all he wanted was to pretend once to be an astronaut he could of just bought a ticket to the ISS from the Russians and been done with it. The real test will come once dragon and falcon have met all of their goals can they be profitable enough to expand into far riskier and smaller markets. Will he find the money needed to continue to expand the designs beyond earth orbit, that Bigelow space hotel, or moon base?

Where I have my doubts is with projects like "grasshopper". Maybe I'm wrong but it seems far more efficient to me at least to use computer controled parachutes to get that first stage back or at least use them to slow and control decent enough to reduce the fuel needed for the landing. Every pound is precious on a rocket.

RE: costs
By Guspaz on 12/27/2012 12:14:10 PM , Rating: 2
Dragon was designed from the ground-up as a manned spacecraft, to the point that its heat shield is designed to survive re-entry velocities from lunar or martian return trajectories. The cargo flights are definitely "pay the bills" missions, but they're also effective unmanned tests of a manned spacecraft; they give SpaceX a ton of data and test a lot of systems that will be used on the manned variant. In the mean time, they've done extensive testing on a 30 man-day life support system, and are expected to test an abort system (based on upgraded RCS thrusters rather than a separate system) before the end of 2013.

One important difference between Dragon and Orion is that Dragon has actually been to orbit and back three times, while Orion isn't even going to go to orbit until 2014. Dragon is expected to have its first manned mission by mid 2015, while Orion isn't planning any crewed missions before 2019. The point is that Orion doesn't actually exist yet, while Dragon has multiple unmanned tests under its belt. It's also currently the only spacecraft capable of returning significant amounts of cargo from orbit safely, since Soyuz doesn't have any real cargo capacity beyond the passengers.

They're not really intended for the same sort of thing anyhow. Dragon is designed for deep-space flight, but in practice it's going to be used primarily for getting to and from LEO, such as servicing the ISS (it's expected to cost about a third as much per seat as a Soyuz). Orion is meant strictly for deep-space missions, and would be insane overkill for delivering crew to LEO. Barring any success from CCiCap (where NASA is funding Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Boeing to develop manned capabilities), NASA intends to continue using Soyuz to deliver crew to the ISS, regardless of Orion's status.

RE: costs
By Gurthang on 12/28/2012 9:45:40 AM , Rating: 2
I agree Dragon is cool and has lots of great ideas and potential, it'll be interesting to see how the various systems do as they are tested and refined. I am always a little worried for these and other up and comming companies that space flight is rather unforgiving and that it took NASA a lot of painfull experiece to learn how to do it, I'd hate to see this new rush of optimism and growth in the industry crushed by some small mistake/oversight. But for now it is nice to see what can be done when a company/group has a clear goal, vision, and the money to execute it. It is even more refressing to see a solid business plan.

As to Orion, we'll see I don't get the hate for it by so many here. But whatever I just hope we get to use it for something inspiring I'd love to take my son to see the launch.

Now if someone could make a next gen spacesuit that uses mechanical/elastic force to maintain pressure rather than the fancy air bags we make now... but anyway I digress.

RE: costs
By trclark81 on 12/28/2012 12:35:52 PM , Rating: 2
I think the Orion situation is not so much a hate thing as a reaction to some of the critical comments about Dragon and other commercial companies. Quite often the criticisms leveled against the private ventures are equally or even more so applicable to Orion (running behind, more expensive, hasn't flown yet, etc).

It doesn't make it a bad spacecraft. Heck, in my opinion it was the one and only thing that should have survived the expiration of Constellation. I was thrilled when everything else was circular filed and Orion was kept.

The SLS issue is the same, though slightly lesser magnitude, as Ares. It's bigger than it needs to be for its intended mission (see Augustine, et al), it costs more than it should, and it will take forever and a day to build. That's not Orion's fault. If Orion had a functional launcher it could fly in relatively short order.

That said, I want SLS to succeed because I do see a benefit to an wholly-owned NASA rocket with eyes firmly toward BEO. But I think it could have been done in a better fashion than the 'everything for everyone' approach it was built under that caused so many problems with STS. In short I fully believe SLS is the rocket congress wants, not necessarily the one NASA wants for the job.

But, back to the point, Orion hasn't flown yet and won't before manned Dragon. And it is being built by Lockheed which has built exactly as many manned space vehicles as SpaceX (read 0). It is more expensive and it is over initial time estimates. And so naturally when someone starts on a litany of all the risks and problems with Falcon/Dragon, the first reaction of those who support it is to point out the exact same flaws in SLS/Orion. But I think they should both be built. I just think the debate needs to fairly note the benefits and flaws of both systems instead of pointing out one system's flaws in a vacuum.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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