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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Success does not come cheap
1/2/2013 12:29:36 AM
The success of ULA and SpaceX is in part due to the expertise of the Engineers at the Contractors, and their innovation. Also part due to NASA and Air Force Engineers to specify the requirements, with oversight of the Projects. The paradigm has been that if it works don't fix it, but if there is an improvement requested by the customer, it will cost big time. The profit is relatively small but assured either with Fixed Price or Cost Plus. The new paradigm is more reliance on cost saving thru competition. This will only work with new innovations and determining the cause and resolution of costly requirements. SpaceX does not have the bloated infrastructure of ULA, NASA, or DOD. SpaceX success has not come easily either with Falcon 1 development. All deserve a shot at the future Space Shots. They will each have to continue to innovate while maintaining safety and reliability to survive.
"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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