Author Topic: USAF RFP for new EELV Launch Service Agreements (2017-10-05)  (Read 7397 times)

Online gongora

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Quote
The amendment would terminate the authority to
develop a domestic rocket propulsion system and to develop the
necessary interfaces of a domestic rocket propulsion system once
the Secretary of the Air Force certifies to the congressional
defense committees that a successful full-scale test of a
domestic rocket engine has occurred.

This seems to be only about the engine, the RFP is for a launch system so should still stand. Also since Merlin is domestic, wouldn't that terminate the authority right now?

The legislation doesn't provide funding for the program described in the RFP.  It explicitly says that spending money on the program described in the RFP is not allowed in FY18.  The engine they're talking about is the RD-180 replacement.  Merlin is not the RD-180 replacement.

Online AncientU

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Quote
The amendment would terminate the authority to
develop a domestic rocket propulsion system and to develop the
necessary interfaces of a domestic rocket propulsion system once
the Secretary of the Air Force certifies to the congressional
defense committees that a successful full-scale test of a
domestic rocket engine has occurred.

This seems to be only about the engine, the RFP is for a launch system so should still stand. Also since Merlin is domestic, wouldn't that terminate the authority right now?

The legislation doesn't provide funding for the program described in the RFP.  It explicitly says that spending money on the program described in the RFP is not allowed in FY18.  The engine they're talking about is the RD-180 replacement.  Merlin is not the RD-180 replacement.

This entire discussion -- attempting to parse Congressional language -- could easily be solved if Congress just said, "Send* this bag of money to Aerojet and ULA."  End of discussion; problem solved.

*But that would be illegal...
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Offline FinalFrontier

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If I read this correctly, no more money for BE4 development?

Doesn't seem like that would be a problem however, because BE4 is pretty far along anyway. As far as it applies to the Vulcan LV I supposed BO and ULA would have to work out who pays for development costs. But I don't think it would kill the engine.

What does this do to the AJ proposal for vulcan though? Does it make it more or less likely?
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Online gongora

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If I read this correctly, no more money for BE4 development?

Doesn't seem like that would be a problem however, because BE4 is pretty far along anyway. As far as it applies to the Vulcan LV I supposed BO and ULA would have to work out who pays for development costs. But I don't think it would kill the engine.

What does this do to the AJ proposal for vulcan though? Does it make it more or less likely?

So the way I'm reading this, Congress is authorizing money for U.S. industry to develop a replacement for RD-180.  Multiple efforts can be funded until one is finished, but once one of them passes a full scale (and I assume that means full power/full duration of a flight-like engine/motor) test the Air Force will not be able to obligate additional funding to the other competitors.  It will probably be a little while before someone (most likely Blue Origin) does the full scale test, and a while after that before the Secretary of the Air Force certifies to Congress that the test has been completed, so this isn't really instant death for the AJR and O/ATK first stage propulsion programs.

The bill authorizes spending on the interface of the engine to a first stage (and does not say it has to be an existing first stage), so that would cover a lot of plumbing and thrust structure work at the back end of a rocket.  It doesn't allow Air Force spending for the rest of the rocket (tanks, upper stage, avionics, etc.) except...

It still allows the Air Force to spend money to
Quote
"(C) develop capabilities necessary to enable existing or planned commercially available spacelaunch vehicles or infrastructure that are primarily for national security space missions to meet the assured access to space requirements pursuant to section 2273 of title 10, United States Code."
(stuff like long coast, vertical integration, launch pads at both CC and Vandenberg, large fairings, etc.)

Offline gosnold

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It still allows the Air Force to spend money to
Quote
"(C) develop capabilities necessary to enable existing or planned commercially available spacelaunch vehicles or infrastructure that are primarily for national security space missions to meet the assured access to space requirements pursuant to section 2273 of title 10, United States Code."
(stuff like long coast, vertical integration, launch pads at both CC and Vandenberg, large fairings, etc.)

That seems to preclude funding any rocket except ULA's, because they are not primarily for NSS. Vandenberg pads and vertical integration facilities would still be in scope though.

Offline Mike Jones

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Proposals are due on Monday. The outcome is pretty uncertain at this stage on the funding side and for the selection of Primes by USAF: SpaceX vs ULA (which main engine supplier ?) vs Orbital ATK (which upper stage supplier ?) vs Blue Origin.

Online gongora

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Both houses of Congress have now passed the 2018 NDAA (which sets policy but they still need to pass a separate bill to actually fund it).  The NDAA has language that pretty much prohibits awarding contracts for this RFP.

Offline Mike Jones

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When is this last bill supposed to be passed ? Why is this RFP not cancelled or postponed in such context where no funding would be appropriated for launch vehicle development ?
« Last Edit: 11/16/2017 08:10 PM by Mike Jones »

Offline bodhiandphysics

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When is this last bill supposed to be passed ? Why is this RFP not cancelled or postponed in such context where no funding would be appropriated for launch vehicle development ?

Just a guesss... it's not that the NDAA doesn't appropriate funds for the RFP. Rather, it bans the use of discretionary funds appropriated as part of a specific program, the EELV program, except for certain specified ways. Moreover, it only does so for fiscal year 2018.  What happens in 2019 and onward is a whole new discussion.   The air force can issue any RFP that it wants... it then has to find money to pay for them, but those contracts can be structured so as not to run afoul of the law.  For instance, only work on first stages may be funded with EELV money during 2018 (and given that the decision will happen probably in the middle of year, that might not even be an issue).  Also, the air force has other money for development besides EELV money, which isn't effected by the law.

Finally, while congress writes the law, it's the executive branch that interprets it, and 2615, particularly the third section, is extremely vague.  Congress has little power to enforce their interpretation, besides withholding future appropriations.  They could conceivably sue, but unless the air force interprets the law in a way that's patently absurd, such a suit would be quite difficult to win.  As written, section 1 could be plausibly interpreted to allow essentially any work on a first stage, for instance for Vulcan and NGL.  Section 3 can be interpreted to allow any work on the modification of an upper stage that enables a vehicle to satisfy EELV requirements.  That's not  necessarily Mike Lee's interpretation, but the only interpretation that matters is the AFs and maybe a judge's. 

It might be harder for the AF to fund the BFR under section 3 (though they presumably could help fund the first stage under section 1), because the BFR is not "primarily for national security payloads," but this clause seems really meaningless to me.  What does primarily mean? Do companies have to certify that they will not seek commercial business?  That would be ridiculous. Gwen Shotwell has already suggested an argument that BFR *is* primarily for the military. The only organization that might purchase 25 tons to GTO in the current market, is the US govt.  While Spacex themselves might have other plans, they can quite easily argue that for the first few years at the BFR is going to be primarily a military launch vehicle.  While this might be a bit disingenuous, the actual purpose of the BFR, the colonization of mars, is so patently absurd that this might fly :)!
« Last Edit: 11/17/2017 12:43 AM by gongora »

Offline Mike Jones

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Any news on the various bids received by US Air Force ?

Online FutureSpaceTourist

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Good article by Eric Berger on the NDAA funding language and thus the flexibility it does, and does not, give the USAF:

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/11/a-new-law-gives-air-force-some-wiggle-room-in-picking-its-new-rockets/

Two crucial quotes:

Quote
Further, the bill defines “rocket propulsion system” as a main booster, first-stage rocket engine, or motor. The term does not include a launch vehicle, an upper stage, a strap-on motor, or related infrastructure.

Quote
Another provision in the bill relates to the engines under development for Vulcan. This language states that the Air Force may terminate funding for other rocket propulsion systems when “the Secretary of the Air Force certifies to the congressional defense committees that a successful full-scale test of a domestic rocket engine has occurred.”

So first stage funding is fine, but not second or other stages, and AR-1 funding can be dropped once BE-4 achieves a 'full-scale test'.


Offline envy887

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Good article by Eric Berger on the NDAA funding language and thus the flexibility it does, and does not, give the USAF:

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/11/a-new-law-gives-air-force-some-wiggle-room-in-picking-its-new-rockets/

Two crucial quotes:

Quote
Further, the bill defines “rocket propulsion system” as a main booster, first-stage rocket engine, or motor. The term does not include a launch vehicle, an upper stage, a strap-on motor, or related infrastructure.

Quote
Another provision in the bill relates to the engines under development for Vulcan. This language states that the Air Force may terminate funding for other rocket propulsion systems when “the Secretary of the Air Force certifies to the congressional defense committees that a successful full-scale test of a domestic rocket engine has occurred.”

So first stage funding is fine, but not second or other stages, and AR-1 funding can be dropped once BE-4 achieves a 'full-scale test'.

Mr Berger added a comma there. The actual text reads:

Quote
(e) Rocket Propulsion System Defined.—In this section, the term “rocket propulsion system” means, with respect to the development authorized by subsection (a)(1), a main booster, first-stage rocket engine (including such an engine using kerosene or methane-based or other propellant) or motor. The term does not include a launch vehicle, an upper stage, a strap-on motor, or related infrastructure.

So a “rocket propulsion system” is "a main booster, first-stage rocket engine (...) or motor". This reads to me like "main booster" is only modifying the clause "rocket engine or motor". That is, only such engines or motors that are applicable to main boosters are allowed to be funded, while the main boosters themselves are not.

Offline Kabloona

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Mr Berger added a comma there.

Good catch.

I think you're saying the original intent was to specify "a main booster (i.e. first-stage) rocket engine or motor."

Another case of the panda who "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."
« Last Edit: 11/22/2017 12:31 AM by Kabloona »

Offline Rik ISS-fan

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So is the first: "a main booster" the development intent;
  They search for a replacement of the Atlas and Delta booster (core) stages.
and the later the explanation than both Liquid and solid's are allowed?

Offline envy887

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Mr Berger added a comma there.

Good catch.

I think you're saying the original intent was to specify "a main booster (i.e. first-stage) rocket engine or motor."

Another case of the panda who "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."

Yes. This is supported by the definition specifically excluding launch vehicle development, which main booster development would fall under.

Offline rockets4life97

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So, is funding for raptor in the same boat as AR-1? In other words, the RFP won't fund engine development after a full-scale engine test (like B-4's)?

Offline Rik ISS-fan

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I think the Raptor engine development contract will remain in place. I think the Raptor development contract involves the use of government owned test facilities, most likely Stand E2 at Stennis. SpaceX has to develop and test the larger preburners and turbo-pumps for the full scale Raptor. At Stennis there are very good facilities for this.
The cost to use these facilities is very little compared to the full engine development cost.
« Last Edit: 11/22/2017 08:45 PM by Rik ISS-fan »

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