Cat Fight: Lockheed Martin Upset Over SpaceX's Air Force Contract
December 26, 2012 4:30 PM
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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
The Grasshopper Project is a Falcon first stage with a landing gear that's capable of taking off and landing vertically.
The Washington Post
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12/27/2012 12:14:10 PM
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.
12/28/2012 9:45:40 AM
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.
12/28/2012 12:35:52 PM
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.
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