Author Topic: ULA Vulcan Launch Vehicle - Business Case/Competition/Alternatives Discussion  (Read 67827 times)

Offline gongora

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Please use this thread for discussion of Vulcan's economics, competitive environment, etc.

Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

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Thanks for this thread.

Now the points to kick off the discussion again.

That Vulcan is a competitive LV but for GEO/BEO markets only. It's costs for LEO and the fact that super reliability is not the number one item constellation operators are looking for but cost per sat to launch being the number one business case driver for such ventures.

This then gets back to how many launches in a year would Vulcan have?

There is one feature for Vulcan demanded by Boeing. That is that Vulcan will be manrated and certified by NASA from the start. That is so that CRS and CC flights currently manifested on Atlas V would swap to Vulcan and actually save the providers some in launch cost of up to $20M/launch. These represent up to 5 launches per year but would more likely be around 3 launches per year.

Add an occasional NASA planetary probe an average of about <1.

Add 2 or 3 NSS payloads of mainly GEO sats with the occasional high value LEO Vandenberg launch.

Even though it will have lower prices for GEO sats than Atlas V it still will likely not be low enough to compete successfully for commercial GEOSATS against F9/FH, NG and Ariane.

This then results in an estimate of from 5 to 10 launches per year. That is until 2024, retirement of ISS, privatization of ISS, or follow-on public/private station.

From Vulcan's first launch probably in 2020 to 2024, the number of launches total over that time could be from 20 to 40 launches. After 2024 the number of launches from CRS and CC could drop to just 1 or 2 reducing the yearly launch rate to 3 - 7.

Once launch rate goes below 5 the fixed costs start to become the major drivers of costs not the incremental costs. In a highly competitive market increasing prices is not something that is survivable from a business case if you are already marginally competitive. So for ULA and Vulcan to survive they need to break into a new market for which they are competitive. Here ACES may save both the Vulcan and ULA. Distributive launch/depot technology simplistic ISRU prop manufacture from water could make ULA a player in cis-Lunar operations. Their competitor here would be BO and their HydroLox proposed 3rd stage and Lunar lander. But prices between the two would be similar for these operations. The wildcard is SpaceX BFR/BFS Lunar operations. But even here with Lunar ISRU HydroLox prop production the other two may still be competitive in local cis-Lunar operations leaving bulk transport to and from Earth to BFR/BFS.


« Last Edit: 12/08/2017 05:09 PM by oldAtlas_Eguy »

Offline AncientU

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...
There is one feature for Vulcan demanded by Boeing. That is that Vulcan will be manrated and certified by NASA from the start. That is so that CRS and CC flights currently manifested on Atlas V would swap to Vulcan and actually save the providers some in launch cost of up to $20M/launch. These represent up to 5 launches per year but would more likely be around 3 launches per year.
...
Annually:
One crewed CS-100 (after Atlas V retires in mid 2020s)
One Dream Chaser cargo (possibly also after Atlas retires)
(Orbital planning all CRS-2 on Antares; SpaceX planning all CRS-2 and crew on Falcon.)

Where do these potential 5 flights (or 3 flights) originate?
« Last Edit: 12/10/2017 05:51 PM by AncientU »
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Offline AncientU

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A key article concerning the pressure to change procurement approach for large NSS sats:
Quote
Battle brewing in the Pentagon over military space investments
Quote
...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.

Quote
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.

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

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

Quote
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?”

http://spacenews.com/battle-brewing-in-the-pentagon-over-military-space-investments/
« Last Edit: 12/10/2017 06:04 PM by AncientU »
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Offline TrevorMonty

...
There is one feature for Vulcan demanded by Boeing. That is that Vulcan will be manrated and certified by NASA from the start. That is so that CRS and CC flights currently manifested on Atlas V would swap to Vulcan and actually save the providers some in launch cost of up to $20M/launch. These represent up to 5 launches per year but would more likely be around 3 launches per year.
...
Annually:
One crewed CS-100 (after Atlas V retires in mid 2020s)
One Dream Chaser cargo (possibly also after Atlas retires)
(Orbital planning all CRS-2 on Antares; SpaceX planning all CRS-2 and crew on Falcon.)

Where do these potential 5 flights (or 3 flights) originate?
There is still unknown orbital space tourism market which Boeing would try to service with Starliner. SNC still want crew version of Dream Chaser, which would also go after tourist market and crew missions for countries. While cargo Dream Chaser can switch LVs easily,  a crew version would be paired to single LV, most likely Vulcan.


Offline AncientU

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...
There is one feature for Vulcan demanded by Boeing. That is that Vulcan will be manrated and certified by NASA from the start. That is so that CRS and CC flights currently manifested on Atlas V would swap to Vulcan and actually save the providers some in launch cost of up to $20M/launch. These represent up to 5 launches per year but would more likely be around 3 launches per year.
...
Annually:
One crewed CS-100 (after Atlas V retires in mid 2020s)
One Dream Chaser cargo (possibly also after Atlas retires)
(Orbital planning all CRS-2 on Antares; SpaceX planning all CRS-2 and crew on Falcon.)

Where do these potential 5 flights (or 3 flights) originate?
There is still unknown orbital space tourism market which Boeing would try to service with Starliner. SNC still want crew version of Dream Chaser, which would also go after tourist market and crew missions for countries. While cargo Dream Chaser can switch LVs easily,  a crew version would be paired to single LV, most likely Vulcan.

OK.  These couple NASA flights per year (post-Atlas V) are it so far.

Hadn't heard about any other sold flights. 
Only Vulcan-related flight discussed so far is the lunar outpost offer to NASA ($2B) with Bigelow AFAIK.
« Last Edit: 12/10/2017 07:54 PM by AncientU »
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Online GWH

While cargo Dream Chaser can switch LVs easily,  a crew version would be paired to single LV, most likely Vulcan.

Not that easily I don't think.
I believe length for cargo dream chaser is a constraint on LV selection. At least for Falcon but not New Glenn or BFR.

Online GWH

Thanks for the focused thread.

I made up a spreadsheet a while back to compare various launchers and pricing for the GTO market, attached is the current version. 

Some notes on the spreadsheet:
- The breakdown is based around ULA's 'dial-a-rocket' approach, so it looks at cost per kilogram for various sized payloads. This will be more cost efficient vs a one size fits all rocket, so its worth noting where ULA can be cheaper than other launchers for in between sizes.  Max payload for any launcher is highlighted as yellow.
- Current ULA pricing for Atlas 5 is shown. Because Vulcan is much more capable the pricing on the baseline variant is dramatically lower per kg of max payload.
- SpaceX prices are shown with some guesses as to what Falcon Heavy MIGHT cost for payloads above what is priced on their website, and guesses at what it would look like for reuse discounts. For the sake of keeping the conversation on topic please don't read too much into these!!
- Vulcan ACES payload estimates where taken from a bar graph ULA released - not super precise but its the best we have.
- I believe the baseline price for Vulcan was to be $99M? We know from Rocketbuilder.com that each SRB is about $6M. Also we know that fairings will only be from the top of the upper stage and up, not encapsulated with Atlas V 5m so the shorter fairing shouldn't add a huge cost like with AV5.
- The baseline Vulcan Centaur 5 will probably be close in capacity, although maybe not cost to these estimates.  This is a huge unknown so initial variants of Vulcan aren't shown in this pricing.
- Edit: It had been stated by Tory Bruno that the goal for ACES is to build the stage at the same cost as the current Centaur.
« Last Edit: 12/10/2017 09:46 PM by GWH »

Online GWH

The big takeaway from the spreadsheet above is twofold:
- the declining costs per kg approaching full capacity, and declining costs/kg by adding SRBs. 
- There is a huge gap between Atlas V 401 and Vulcan Aces 50x performance, leaving a lot of wasted capacity when one considers how many AV401's have flown, 50% historically.

This is where ACES comes in, if that extra capacity can be used to put up propellant in orbit reserved for more demanding missions, then the total cost per mission becomes much more attractive.  In the case of ACES, it opens up possibilities of missions that can't be accomplished by other vehicles, or very expensive ones like SLS*.  See the Bigelow BA330 to LLO mission as an example of unique capabilities. There isn't really a simple cost comparison for a mission like this, other than SLS I suppose, so the value of a mission like that is significantly greater than the cost of the multiple launches alone.

*BFR of course can, however but again it would be best to not delve too far into that.
« Last Edit: 12/10/2017 09:47 PM by GWH »

Offline AncientU

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Thanks for the focused thread.

I made up a spreadsheet a while back to compare various launchers and pricing for the GTO market, attached is the current version. 

Some notes on the spreadsheet:
- The breakdown is based around ULA's 'dial-a-rocket' approach, so it looks at cost per kilogram for various sized payloads. This will be more cost efficient vs a one size fits all rocket, so its worth noting where ULA can be cheaper than other launchers for in between sizes.  Max payload for any launcher is highlighted as yellow.
- Current ULA pricing for Atlas 5 is shown. Because Vulcan is much more capable the pricing on the baseline variant is dramatically lower per kg of max payload.
- SpaceX prices are shown with some guesses as to what Falcon Heavy MIGHT cost for payloads above what is priced on their website, and guesses at what it would look like for reuse discounts. For the sake of keeping the conversation on topic please don't read too much into these!!
- Vulcan ACES payload estimates where taken from a bar graph ULA released - not super precise but its the best we have.
- I believe the baseline price for Vulcan was to be $99M? We know from Rocketbuilder.com that each SRB is about $6M. Also we know that fairings will only be from the top of the upper stage and up, not encapsulated with Atlas V 5m so the shorter fairing shouldn't add a huge cost like with AV5.
- The baseline Vulcan Centaur 5 will probably be close in capacity, although maybe not cost to these estimates.  This is a huge unknown so initial variants of Vulcan aren't shown in this pricing.

The $99M figure was Vulcan booster with basic Atlas V everywhere else.  It certainly didn't include Centaur V, which was just recently announced, or ACES, which was supposed to be introduced in 2025 or 2026.
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Online GWH

The $99M figure was Vulcan booster with basic Atlas V everywhere else.  It certainly didn't include Centaur V, which was just recently announced, or ACES, which was supposed to be introduced in 2025 or 2026.

Right, I forgot to add in Tory Bruno at some point stated that the goal for ACES was to get the costing the same as the current Centaur flying.  That's why its still listed at $99M. Centaur V who knows though...

Offline AncientU

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The $99M figure was Vulcan booster with basic Atlas V everywhere else.  It certainly didn't include Centaur V, which was just recently announced, or ACES, which was supposed to be introduced in 2025 or 2026.

Right, I forgot to add in Tory Bruno at some point stated that the goal for ACES was to get the costing the same as the current Centaur flying.  That's why its still listed at $99M. Centaur V who knows though...

Cost of current Centaur flying is double(?) the cost that went into the $99M.  $99M reflected a fully cost reduced Centaur only, not either of the upgrades.  I believe the basic Vulcan core with BE-4s was supposed to match the equivalent of 1-2 solids in performance, so 511 or 521 capability for $99M.
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Offline envy887

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Why wouldn't NASA crew flights switch to Vulcan as soon as it's available and certified for HSF? I see little point in waiting for Atlas V to be retired, and if Vulcan is that much cheaper ULA will probably try to switch asap.

Offline envy887

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Did ULA confirm that they will stop flying Centaur III?

Online brickmack

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Quite the opposite, Bruno said Centaur III will be used for all remaining Atlas flights.

Offline AncientU

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Why wouldn't NASA crew flights switch to Vulcan as soon as it's available and certified for HSF? I see little point in waiting for Atlas V to be retired, and if Vulcan is that much cheaper ULA will probably try to switch asap.

Why are they buying sufficient RD-180s to last well past the 2022 deadline/embargo?  Jim says transition will extend until mid-2020s.  Seems that they'll use the remaining inventory for civil flights if NSS become off-limits in 2022.
« Last Edit: 12/11/2017 12:26 AM by AncientU »
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Offline Coastal Ron

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Why wouldn't NASA crew flights switch to Vulcan as soon as it's available and certified for HSF? I see little point in waiting for Atlas V to be retired, and if Vulcan is that much cheaper ULA will probably try to switch asap.

ULA will want to get Vulcan human rated as soon as possible so that they can retire Atlas V as quick as possible. So I don't really see it as customer driven, but ULA business plan driven.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline envy887

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Quite the opposite, Bruno said Centaur III will be used for all remaining Atlas flights.

Sorry, should have phrased that better. Is it confirmed that Centaur III will not fly on Vulcan?

Offline envy887

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Why wouldn't NASA crew flights switch to Vulcan as soon as it's available and certified for HSF? I see little point in waiting for Atlas V to be retired, and if Vulcan is that much cheaper ULA will probably try to switch asap.

Why are they buying sufficient RD-180s to last well past the 2022 deadline/embargo?  Jim says transition will extend until mid-2020s.  Seems that they'll use the remaining inventory for civil flights if NSS become off-limits in 2022.

They need RD-180 to satisfy all customers that demand flight heritage: NASA HSF, high priority NSS, nuclear materials launch, etc.

I think the latter two will take longer than NASA HSF, to both to certify for/actually get Vulcan flying those missions.

Offline TrevorMonty

They can't rely on Vulcan being avaliable by certain date, especially flying reliably. If Vulcan is like any other space development project, it's schedule will shift to right by 6-24months.

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