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Elon Musk  (Source: wired.com)
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 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.


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