Author Topic: ULA Vulcan Launch Vehicle - Business Case/Competition/Alternatives Discussion  (Read 76889 times)

Offline Jim

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A key article concerning the pressure to change procurement approach for large NSS sats:
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Battle brewing in the Pentagon over military space investments
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...Hyten wants to see drastic changes in satellite procurements. He has been pushing the Air Force to stop buying complex, expensive spacecraft that he believes are “fragile” and “undefendable,” and instead start deploying more resilient networks of smaller, cheaper satellites that can be more easily replaced if they came under attack.

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The Air Force last month issued a “request for information” for a “SBIRS follow-on” system, calling it a “unusual and compelling” need and setting a 2029 target date for its deployment.

Hyten called it “ridiculous” that this could take 12 years.

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The focus should be on investing in a “very good sensor” for strategic missile warning that can be attached to any satellite.

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Hyten said he is prepared to draw a line in the sand if business as usual continues in the SBIRS follow-on program.

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Meanwhile, the Pentagon has spent years trying to figure out how to buy wideband communications, he noted. “It’s just a commodity. Why don’t we buy it as a commodity?”


no, wideband, missile warning are not large NSS sats

Online LouScheffer

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This is completely against ULA's DNA, but if they wanted to become more vertically integrated in the interest of cuttting costs, building their own RL-10 alternative might make a lot of sense.

 - They have decades of experience in how the existing RL-10 works, its advantages, and its drawbacks.
 - It's a simple rocket cycle without high temperature or oxygen rich conditions for the turbine.
 - No need for a pre-burner, which is a tricky bit in most engines.
 - It's a big part of their costs, particularly if they put multiple of them on a second stage.
 - They can keep buying RL-10s until theirs works, so it's not critical to company survival.
 - There is IP (Mitsubishi?) for RL-10 like engines they might be able to purchase.
 - The design is quite old and any patents needed should be long expired.

I'm not expecting ULA to do this, but on the other hand I'm a little surprised that no-one has tried to directly replace the RL-10 in the low-thrust, high-performance, simple-cycle, high cost market. 

Offline TrevorMonty





I'm not expecting ULA to do this, but on the other hand I'm a little surprised that no-one has tried to directly replace the RL-10 in the low-thrust, high-performance, simple-cycle, high cost market.

XCOR did with help of ULA, unfortunately they've fallen by wayside.


Offline envy887

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Don't think ULA plus AJR is competitive.  Neither has adjusted to the realities of today's and tomorrow's market

No, people are just over hyping the "realities of today's and tomorrow's market".  Most don't know what they are talking about and just repost the same unsupported biased opinions.

That's exactly what RIM said back in 2007. Sometimes those with the deepest knowledge are the last to see change coming... but only time will tell.

Offline Space Ghost 1962

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When is it "wishful thinking" vs "a market pivot"?

With the RIM vs IOS/Android it was a consumer phenomena.

Jim's in the real world about mission SC builds and current on orbit growth. My concern is ROI for those new on orbit payloads to sustain a launch frequency uptick.

Keep in mind that speed to launch is more important at the moment than volume of launches/performance.

So, it's nice things are changing, but the market has to move to keep that change going ...

Offline john smith 19

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When is it "wishful thinking" vs "a market pivot"?

With the RIM vs IOS/Android it was a consumer phenomena.

Jim's in the real world about mission SC builds and current on orbit growth. My concern is ROI for those new on orbit payloads to sustain a launch frequency uptick.

Keep in mind that speed to launch is more important at the moment than volume of launches/performance.

So, it's nice things are changing, but the market has to move to keep that change going ...
Indeed.

There is potential for massive change in the market, but this has been the case before. Things happened and the (hoped for) changes did not happen.

Hopefully this time things will be different.

BTW. Love what you've done with the avatar.  Very seasonal.  :)
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Offline AncientU

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Don't think ULA plus AJR is competitive.  Neither has adjusted to the realities of today's and tomorrow's market

No, people are just over hyping the "realities of today's and tomorrow's market".  Most don't know what they are talking about and just repost the same unsupported biased opinions.


That's exactly what RIM said back in 2007. Sometimes those with the deepest knowledge are the last to see change coming... but only time will tell.

Here's a background article for those of us who weren't familiar with the analogy:
http://www.macnn.com/articles/10/12/27/rim.thought.apple.was.lying.on.iphone.in.2007/
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Offline Lars-J

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Don't think ULA plus AJR is competitive.  Neither has adjusted to the realities of today's and tomorrow's market

No, people are just over hyping the "realities of today's and tomorrow's market".  Most don't know what they are talking about and just repost the same unsupported biased opinions.


That's exactly what RIM said back in 2007. Sometimes those with the deepest knowledge are the last to see change coming... but only time will tell.

Here's a background article for those of us who weren't familiar with the analogy:
http://www.macnn.com/articles/10/12/27/rim.thought.apple.was.lying.on.iphone.in.2007/

Right... The Apple/RIM comparison is not just a story about customers choosing one brand over the other, despite RIM's best efforts. No... RIM were in retrospect completely blind and unable to think outside their own little box. This is where the ULA comparison comes in - We all hope that ULA is not RIM.

Offline meekGee

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Moving it to this thread where it belongs:

When is it "wishful thinking" vs "a market pivot"?

With the RIM vs IOS/Android it was a consumer phenomena.

Jim's in the real world about mission SC builds and current on orbit growth. My concern is ROI for those new on orbit payloads to sustain a launch frequency uptick.

Keep in mind that speed to launch is more important at the moment than volume of launches/performance.

So, it's nice things are changing, but the market has to move to keep that change going ...
Sorry, but the "market change" didn't just happen.  Steve Jobs recognized the opportunity posed by convergence of technologies, took the initiative, and changed the market. SpaceX did the same.

The future belongs to those that take charge of their market instead of whining about it.

ULA and its parents had the ability to do that, and a market position to do it from.  Instead, they're still in denial about what's going on, and taking half-measures while still clinging to tools like block buys, which only perpetuate their situation.
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Offline AncientU

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The fact that they are still waiting for either a company that has never built an orbital engine or another whose product has been promised forever and will likely be uncompetitive due to price if ever finished shows their true colors.

ULA and parents had the perfect opportunity to head off upstarts like SpaceX before they achieved any market share.  Instead, they invested in cheap Russian and Ukrainian rockets which went exactly no where, while sitting on the Nation's consolidated rocket engineering expertise.

At present, Europe, Russia, and likely China (along with Blue Origin) are investing in reusable rocket technology, even knowing that it will probably render their new, expendable rockets obsolete.  Boeing*/LockMart/Ula... nada.

* Boeing's effort with DARPA for a small sat launcher may be the exception.
« Last Edit: 12/30/2017 03:12 PM by AncientU »
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Offline hplan

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The fact that they are still waiting for either a company that has never built an orbital engine or another whose product has been promised forever and will likely be uncompetitive due to price if ever finished shows their true colors.

ULA and parents had the perfect opportunity to head off upstarts like SpaceX before they achieved any market share.  Instead, they invested in cheap Russian and Ukrainian rockets which went exactly no where, while sitting on the Nation's consolidated rocket engineering expertise.

At present, Europe, Russia, and likely China (along with Blue Origin) are investing in reusable rocket technology, even knowing that it will probably render their new, expendable rockets obsolete.  Boeing*/LockMart/Ula... nada.

* Boeing's effort with DARPA for a small sat launcher may be the exception.

Europe, Russia, and Ukraine are countries, not publicly traded companies. By that analogy, it should be the US government investing in reusable rocket technology. However, simply encouraging privately-held commercial space companies seems to be doing the job at the moment.

It's hard for a publicly traded company to make speculative investment that would take many years to pay back.

Offline meekGee

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The fact that they are still waiting for either a company that has never built an orbital engine or another whose product has been promised forever and will likely be uncompetitive due to price if ever finished shows their true colors.

ULA and parents had the perfect opportunity to head off upstarts like SpaceX before they achieved any market share.  Instead, they invested in cheap Russian and Ukrainian rockets which went exactly no where, while sitting on the Nation's consolidated rocket engineering expertise.

At present, Europe, Russia, and likely China (along with Blue Origin) are investing in reusable rocket technology, even knowing that it will probably render their new, expendable rockets obsolete.  Boeing*/LockMart/Ula... nada.

* Boeing's effort with DARPA for a small sat launcher may be the exception.

Europe, Russia, and Ukraine are countries, not publicly traded companies. By that analogy, it should be the US government investing in reusable rocket technology. However, simply encouraging privately-held commercial space companies seems to be doing the job at the moment.

It's hard for a publicly traded company to make speculative investment that would take many years to pay back.

A private company is responsible for its future.  ULA's parents are plenty capable of such investment.  How much exactly did SpaceX require?  Nothing that Boeing and Lockheed can't jointly (or separately) afford.
 
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Offline AncientU

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...
Europe, Russia, and Ukraine are countries, not publicly traded companies. By that analogy, it should be the US government investing in reusable rocket technology. However, simply encouraging privately-held commercial space companies seems to be doing the job at the moment.
...

Countries that are subsidizing their launch vehicle programs have a vested interest in staying competitive (minimizing subsidies) and also not falling behind the state-of-the-art.  I do think the US should be investing in reusable rocket technology (other than a $150M DARPA program), but buying launches on reused rockets is probably the most rapid indirect method of doing that. 

If USAF allows previously-flown vehicles to be quickly certified/used in current launch solicitations, it would go a long way in encouraging/forcing ULA/Vulcan down this path.  On the other hand, if they manage competition (allocate/give away) half of future launches to expendable vehicles at a much higher price than possible with reusable/reused vehicles, it will throttle innovation and competition.
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Offline AncientU

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ULA and parents had the perfect opportunity to head off upstarts like SpaceX before they achieved any market share.  Instead, they invested in cheap Russian and Ukrainian rockets which went exactly no where, while sitting on the Nation's consolidated rocket engineering expertise.
"Ukrainian rockets"?  RD-180 is manufactured by Energomash of Russia.  I can't think of anything Ukrainian on an Atlas or Delta.

 - Ed Kyle

Didn't Boeing invest in Sea Launch/Zenit vehicles that were made in the Ukraine?
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Offline john smith 19

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A private company is responsible for its future. 
Only if it's in control of its funding.  SX is. REL is somewhat. ULA is funded at the whim of it's parents.
Quote from: meekGee
ULA's parents are plenty capable of such investment.  How much exactly did SpaceX require?  Nothing that Boeing and Lockheed can't jointly (or separately) afford.
You're forgetting the first rule of being a USG Contractor.

"Why should I invest my money when I can invest yours?*"


*Apologies if you're not a US taxpayer.
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Offline meekGee

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A private company is responsible for its future. 
Only if it's in control of its funding.  SX is. REL is somewhat. ULA is funded at the whim of it's parents.
Quote from: meekGee
ULA's parents are plenty capable of such investment.  How much exactly did SpaceX require?  Nothing that Boeing and Lockheed can't jointly (or separately) afford.
You're forgetting the first rule of being a USG Contractor.

"Why should I invest my money when I can invest yours?*"


*Apologies if you're not a US taxpayer.

That rule is their undoing when the landscape changes. 

I'm just saying the excuses of "we're a publicly traded company" and "it's not us it's the parents" and "the market does't exist" - they're all just that.
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Offline AncientU

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ULA and parents had the perfect opportunity to head off upstarts like SpaceX before they achieved any market share.  Instead, they invested in cheap Russian and Ukrainian rockets which went exactly no where, while sitting on the Nation's consolidated rocket engineering expertise.
"Ukrainian rockets"?  RD-180 is manufactured by Energomash of Russia.  I can't think of anything Ukrainian on an Atlas or Delta.

 - Ed Kyle

Didn't Boeing invest in Sea Launch/Zenit vehicles that were made in the Ukraine?
Boeing, yes, but not ULA.  Boeing's Sea Launch involvement pre-dated ULA and Delta 4. 

You have to transport yourself back in time, to the 1990s when commercial launch prices collapsed thanks to the flood of cheap ex-Soviet and even Chinese rockets. It was impossible for Boeing and Lockheed Martin to compete with these prices, so both companies joined international consortiums (ILS and Sea Launch) to participate in the business. 

Lockheed backed out of ILS in 2006.  Boeing stayed with Sea Launch until it went bankrupt, causing the company to lose a lot of cash.   


There were no commercial cargo or crew contracts (STS was still flying).  The money was in satellites and DoD launches, and Boeing even messed that up with the EELV scandal.  There should have only been one EELV, but DoD changed the plan at the last minute to fund two, messing up the investment models, and doubling the per-launch costs, for both.  DoD also slashed its satellite plans late in the game, increasing costs further.  Much blame lies with the U.S. Government when it comes to the high costs of these machines and to the lack of investment in U.S. liquid propulsion during that era.  Boeing lost another billion or so on EELV, and Lockheed Martin seemed ready to pull the plug on Atlas.  ULA was formed in 2006 to pick up the pieces, something that it has done with excellence in terms of its mission performance.

 - Ed Kyle

Yup.  Boeing and LockMart, later ULA, were sitting on all (most) of the rocket engineering expertise in the USA during those years, and also had the huge technological edge of the US in their column.  Why couldn't they compete?  When the investments went south by 2006-2010, and SpaceX was emerging, did they learn how or prove how it could be done better? 

Only conclusion is that they did not have the DNA to compete.  Still don't.
Too much easy cash like ELC and Block Buy give aways... USG paying launch prices that are unsustainable.

Now, they are in the same position -- of their own making --  that they were around when ULA was formed.  Delta is dissolving, Atlas is having the plug pulled/morphing into a different version of the last generation launch vehicle that will have to depend on USG launch allocation to fly enough to stay in business.  They haven't won any commercially competed launches; engineering army is being laid off.  Tory Bruno is fighting a valiant fight, but even if he drags Vulcan into service, it won't be enough.
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Offline john smith 19

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That rule is their undoing when the landscape changes. 
That depends on how much the landscape changes.
Quote from: meekGee
I'm just saying the excuses of "we're a publicly traded company" and "it's not us it's the parents" and "the market does't exist" - they're all just that.
Firstly ULA is not a publicly traded company and ULA is basically treated by it's parents the way a state owned industry is by it's countries Treasury IE, take as much money out and use it elsewhere and give them as little back as possible.  As Boeing / LM stockholder that is  exactly what you want. Their money in your wallet.

Bruno has a very tricky balancing act to maintain. It's quite clear that neither of ULA's parents like the launch vehicle business but they know if they shut it down and walk away they will be known as the USG contractors who, when given every benefit by the USG
(Anti trust on the merger? Don't even think about it. Billion dollar "Assured access" payments to keep doing  your job? We understand, times are tough. 36 core block buy with no competition? It's yours.)  still just could not be bothered.

He has to keep funding flowing to Vulcan/ACES Centaur 5 as they work toward phasing out all 3 legacy lines and moving to 1 single vehicle.

In other circumstances I'd say the best thing that could happen to ULA would be for them to have a MBO but  I don't think that's possible with a company this size (I'll bet SG1962 can say a thing or two about such a notion, but unfortunately I don't think they will add up to "Yes, it can be done," although I'd love to be proved wrong).
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Offline meekGee

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That rule is their undoing when the landscape changes. 
That depends on how much the landscape changes.
Quote from: meekGee
I'm just saying the excuses of "we're a publicly traded company" and "it's not us it's the parents" and "the market does't exist" - they're all just that.
Firstly ULA is not a publicly traded company and ULA is basically treated by it's parents the way a state owned industry is by it's countries Treasury IE, take as much money out and use it elsewhere and give them as little back as possible.  As Boeing / LM stockholder that is  exactly what you want. Their money in your wallet.

Bruno has a very tricky balancing act to maintain. It's quite clear that neither of ULA's parents like the launch vehicle business but they know if they shut it down and walk away they will be known as the USG contractors who, when given every benefit by the USG
(Anti trust on the merger? Don't even think about it. Billion dollar "Assured access" payments to keep doing  your job? We understand, times are tough. 36 core block buy with no competition? It's yours.)  still just could not be bothered.

He has to keep funding flowing to Vulcan/ACES Centaur 5 as they work toward phasing out all 3 legacy lines and moving to 1 single vehicle.

In other circumstances I'd say the best thing that could happen to ULA would be for them to have a MBO but  I don't think that's possible with a company this size (I'll bet SG1962 can say a thing or two about such a notion, but unfortunately I don't think they will add up to "Yes, it can be done," although I'd love to be proved wrong).

Imagine for a second that ULA didn't happen and the parents were still running their own respective launch businesses.

You don't actually have to imagine... Just dial back 15 years.  Document theft, legal battles, toxic lobbying...

So right now, if ULA did not exist, they'd be like two rats on a sinking boat, bleeding each other as the waterline rises....

In fact ULA is the kind of risk-sharing joint-venture that is ideal for combatting energetic newcomers like SpaceX.

That's why I'm saying you can't blame the "ULA situation".  It's actually a perfect setup in order for the parents to do something about their predicament, and yet they don't.

ULA is of and for the parents.  It is staffed by the parents' employees, and led by the parents' executives, Bruno included - so for all purposes of discussion, they are one and the same.
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Offline TrevorMonty

Both Boeing and LM did invest heavily in new LVs, to service government and a predicted jump in commercial demand. That large commercial demand never really happened,  resulting in both companies being burnt and formation of ULA.

Don't be surprised if they are reluctant to repeat same mistake. The demand for Vulcan class payloads has not really changed. Yes there are the large LEO web constellations,  but two main contenders (OneWeb and SpaceX) already have LV providers sorted.

Rideshare of smallsats and cubesats can add few $M extra profit to Vulcan launch  but not enough to justify LV development.

Both LM and Boeing are investing in smaller LVs, Boeing with XS1 and LM with a stake in Rocket Lab and probably others.


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