Author Topic: ULA Vulcan Launch Vehicle - Business Case/Competition/Alternatives Discussion  (Read 18523 times)

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 edkyle99

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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.
They did try to compete, despite the impossible and rapidly changing international political/economic conditions at the time.  They maximized profits by concentrating on satellites, and by supporting international ventures to launch them cheaply.  That's the best they could do.  The alternative was pulling out of launch altogether.  And what did they get for their efforts?  Big monetary losses on launch, but presumably profits on satellites.

They pulled out of launch due to the losses, forming ULA to support EELV likely only because the government demanded.  Even then the U.S. launch crises did not become apparent to most political leaders.  Elon Musk noticed, and started up a company, at just the right instant as it turned out because it really wasn't until Putin consolidated his power during the late 2000s, combined with the Constellation cancellation and the forced STS retirement, that the need for companies like SpaceX became apparent.  Only then did NASA offer billions for cargo contracts to support the newcomer.  Remember that until that contract, SpaceX only had a failing Falcon 1 to show for its efforts.  Interestingly, NASA's contract came in 2006, the same year that ULA was formed, that Lockheed Martin pulled out of ILS, and only weeks before Sea Launch suffered the ultimately financially devastating NSS-8 launch explosion.  All of that change came quickly.

In the interim, ULA did its thing to keep DoD in space as ordered.  It provides to this day capabilities that no other U.S, launch provider can offer.  Only now, post-Ukraine, etc. when Russia's ultra-low-cost rockets no longer get to play commercially as they once did, does ULA have its chance to try the U.S. propulsion route. 

 - Ed Kyle

   
« Last Edit: 12/30/2017 06:46 PM by edkyle99 »

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.


Offline HIP2BSQRE

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If I were Boeing and you have been burned before...they would be very cautious about being burned again.  However, if you take too long to change...you can become another Kodak or RIM.  SpaceX and BO want to change the market and make it bigger.  What does ULA want?  Remember just a few years ago they had the whole govt market.   By 2025 with BO, SpaceX, and possible Orbital - what percent of the govt market will they have?  And remember the number of military launches may be going down.  I think ULA should try and expand the market.  Please remember Boeing pours how much into a new plane development?   I don't think Boeing funds new plane development the way they investing in Vulcan per quarter.  The US market and the world market maybe very different in 5 years.  You invest now...or you may become a side player.

Online AncientU

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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.
They did try to compete, despite the impossible and rapidly changing international political/economic conditions at the time.  They maximized profits by concentrating on satellites, and by supporting international ventures to launch them cheaply.  That's the best they could do.  The alternative was pulling out of launch altogether.  And what did they get for their efforts?  Big monetary losses on launch, but presumably profits on satellites.

They pulled out of launch due to the losses, forming ULA to support EELV likely only because the government demanded.  Even then the U.S. launch crises did not become apparent to most political leaders.  Elon Musk noticed, and started up a company, at just the right instant as it turned out because it really wasn't until Putin consolidated his power during the late 2000s, combined with the Constellation cancellation and the forced STS retirement, that the need for companies like SpaceX became apparent.  Only then did NASA offer billions for cargo contracts to support the newcomer.  Remember that until that contract, SpaceX only had a failing Falcon 1 to show for its efforts.  Interestingly, NASA's contract came in 2006, the same year that ULA was formed, that Lockheed Martin pulled out of ILS, and only weeks before Sea Launch suffered the ultimately financially devastating NSS-8 launch explosion.  All of that change came quickly.

In the interim, ULA did its thing to keep DoD in space as ordered.  It provides to this day capabilities that no other U.S, launch provider can offer.  Only now, post-Ukraine, etc. when Russia's ultra-low-cost rockets no longer get to play commercially as they once did, does ULA have its chance to try the U.S. propulsion route. 

 - Ed Kyle

   

That's one reading of history...  'as ordered' sounds like an excuse, not an explanation.

ULA, by the sworn testimony of its CEO, had the plans and the ability to go the US propulsion route... did from the beginning of the RD-180 buy.  When SpaceX was fumbling around trying to get a rocket to orbit, they had the full expertise base of the USA, fifty years of rocketry experience, and could have easily built what SpaceX did -- ask all the 'experts' -- SpaceX just used what everyone else understood and had shelved.  All of this could have been done while keeping DoD in space (for which they were paid more than adequately).

So, finally, they're building Vulcan, a vehicle fully capable of competing in the EELV market of 2002.
 
They had a huge head start to modernize and advance rocketry, but totally blew it.  No excuses.
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Offline Jim

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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.

Wrong.  ULA has its own employees.  They are neither Boeing or LM.  It also has its own facilities and IP
« Last Edit: 12/30/2017 08:38 PM by Jim »

Offline Jim

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Both Boeing and LM did invest heavily in new LVs, to service government

That met all USG requirements and did not cherry pick them

Offline Jim

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They had a huge head start to modernize and advance rocketry, but totally blew it.  No excuses.

Unsubstantiated

Offline hplan

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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.
They did try to compete, despite the impossible and rapidly changing international political/economic conditions at the time.  They maximized profits by concentrating on satellites, and by supporting international ventures to launch them cheaply.  That's the best they could do.  The alternative was pulling out of launch altogether.  And what did they get for their efforts?  Big monetary losses on launch, but presumably profits on satellites.

They pulled out of launch due to the losses, forming ULA to support EELV likely only because the government demanded.  Even then the U.S. launch crises did not become apparent to most political leaders.  Elon Musk noticed, and started up a company, at just the right instant as it turned out because it really wasn't until Putin consolidated his power during the late 2000s, combined with the Constellation cancellation and the forced STS retirement, that the need for companies like SpaceX became apparent.  Only then did NASA offer billions for cargo contracts to support the newcomer.  Remember that until that contract, SpaceX only had a failing Falcon 1 to show for its efforts.  Interestingly, NASA's contract came in 2006, the same year that ULA was formed, that Lockheed Martin pulled out of ILS, and only weeks before Sea Launch suffered the ultimately financially devastating NSS-8 launch explosion.  All of that change came quickly.

In the interim, ULA did its thing to keep DoD in space as ordered.  It provides to this day capabilities that no other U.S, launch provider can offer.  Only now, post-Ukraine, etc. when Russia's ultra-low-cost rockets no longer get to play commercially as they once did, does ULA have its chance to try the U.S. propulsion route. 

 - Ed Kyle

   

That's one reading of history...  'as ordered' sounds like an excuse, not an explanation.

ULA, by the sworn testimony of its CEO, had the plans and the ability to go the US propulsion route... did from the beginning of the RD-180 buy.  When SpaceX was fumbling around trying to get a rocket to orbit, they had the full expertise base of the USA, fifty years of rocketry experience, and could have easily built what SpaceX did -- ask all the 'experts' -- SpaceX just used what everyone else understood and had shelved.  All of this could have been done while keeping DoD in space (for which they were paid more than adequately).

So, finally, they're building Vulcan, a vehicle fully capable of competing in the EELV market of 2002.
 
They had a huge head start to modernize and advance rocketry, but totally blew it.  No excuses.

To me, the phrase "as ordered" sounds as though ULA was acting more as an engineering contractor for the government than a company trying to compete in the open launch market.

It's not rocket science, people: ULA was not making money in the commercial launch market, but they were making decent money in building and launching to order for the US government for a good price. That's what they've been doing for the last several years, and they've been doing it extremely well. That's what Vulcans are targeting, not competing for commercial launches.


Offline edkyle99

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ULA, by the sworn testimony of its CEO, had the plans and the ability to go the US propulsion route... did from the beginning of the RD-180 buy. 
Again, it was Lockheed Martin, not ULA, that made the choice - and it really had no choice.  Rocketdyne (then part of Rockwell International) pulled out of the Atlas IIAR competition, leaving only RD-180 and NK-33 as bidders, both staged-combustion hydrocarbon engines offering capabilities that the U.S. has still never developed. 

And lets not forget that five of the six primary EELV propulsion systems used by ULA are made in the USA.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 12/30/2017 09:36 PM by edkyle99 »

Offline john smith 19

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Wrong.  ULA has its own employees.  They are neither Boeing or LM.  It also has its own facilities and IP
Unfortunately it's Board all seem to be supplied by LM and Boeing.

The desperately slow way in which Vulcan/Centaur 5 has proceeded suggests that whenever the the question is "What is our next move" the answer seems to be "Whatever gives the most amount of cash back to our parents." :(

IOW they appear to have little (or any) interest in protecting ULA's long term future.

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? 
Which sounds quite compelling if it was accurate.

Except ULA don't make the engines for those stages, AJR (and their predecessor companies) did.
Quote from: AncientU
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.
That's a conclusion. Quite a few others are possible. No I'm not going to name them. If you are open minded enough you can work them out yourself.
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.
So you're going to Mars to seek a better life. What does that mean to you? Always spot a fanbois by how they react to their idols failures.

Offline WindnWar

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What I am trying to figure out is how they will keep the costs under control when Centaur 5 will need at least 2 rl-10 engines at some current $34ish million for just those engines. From a cost perspective they really need an alternate supplier but with xcor gone there doesn't seem to be any other options, even more so that it doesn't look like be-3u will be available in time.

It's costs like that that make it difficult to compete.

Offline meekGee

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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.

Wrong.  ULA has its own employees.  They are neither Boeing or LM.  It also has its own facilities and IP
Of course they are on the ULA payroll now...  But that's exactly the point.

With a joint venture like this, it should br possible to accept more risk.

But it's clearly not in any of their DNAs, so the offspring doesn't have it either.
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Offline Lars-J

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When SpaceX was fumbling around trying to get a rocket to orbit, they had the full expertise base of the USA, fifty years of rocketry experience, and could have easily built what SpaceX did -- ask all the 'experts' -- SpaceX just used what everyone else understood and had shelved.  All of this could have been done while keeping DoD in space (for which they were paid more than adequately).

Yep, they could have all done what SpaceX did, with regards to domestic engine technology. Because you can't have it both ways - Either
A) SpaceX was doing something truly revolutionary that Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just couldn't match (not according to experts on this forum)  ::) -  Or
B) Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just didn't try hard enough, all too happy with the status quo...

Neither is very flattering for Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR.
« Last Edit: 12/31/2017 07:32 AM by Lars-J »

Offline meekGee

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When SpaceX was fumbling around trying to get a rocket to orbit, they had the full expertise base of the USA, fifty years of rocketry experience, and could have easily built what SpaceX did -- ask all the 'experts' -- SpaceX just used what everyone else understood and had shelved.  All of this could have been done while keeping DoD in space (for which they were paid more than adequately).

Yep, they could have all done what SpaceX did, with regards to domestic engine technology. Because you can't have it both ways - Either
A) SpaceX was doing something truly revolutionary that Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just couldn't match (not according to experts on this forum)  ::) -  Or
B) Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just didn't try hard enough, all too happy with the status quo...

Neither is very flattering for Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR.
Not to mention that SpaceX told them, years in advance, exactly what it intends to do.
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Offline john smith 19

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When SpaceX was fumbling around trying to get a rocket to orbit, they had the full expertise base of the USA, fifty years of rocketry experience, and could have easily built what SpaceX did -- ask all the 'experts' -- SpaceX just used what everyone else understood and had shelved.  All of this could have been done while keeping DoD in space (for which they were paid more than adequately).

Yep, they could have all done what SpaceX did, with regards to domestic engine technology. Because you can't have it both ways - Either
A) SpaceX was doing something truly revolutionary that Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just couldn't match (not according to experts on this forum)  ::) -  Or
B) Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just didn't try hard enough, all too happy with the status quo...

Neither is very flattering for Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR.
No, but a similar criticism could be leveled at many other joint stock companies whose Boards feel their #1 priority is making sure the stock price and the dividends continue to rise.

For such Boards all research is a waste of money (unless someone else pays for it. There always happy to do that).

When they also Govt contractors then you also have the mindset of "If the government wanted this, they'd ask (and pay) us to do it, and they haven't."

The concept of effective competition is quite alien to such organizations. However Shotwells background is the US Automotive industry.

She knows exactly what can happen when organizations think they are in a protected market and stop  making any effective innovation. Any time she drives around in LA she'll be reminded of it.  :(

Let me suggest that while Aerospace is quite bad it's not unique in this regard. The real issue is
joint stock companies Boards perceptions of their core role, and how it makes them very risk averse.

Right now in the US space sector SX and SNC seem to be the most innovative companies, and you will note neither is publicly quoted, yet both have to make a profit in order to do what they do. People have to want  to use them in a way that Blue simply does not share.
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.
So you're going to Mars to seek a better life. What does that mean to you? Always spot a fanbois by how they react to their idols failures.

Online AncientU

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When SpaceX was fumbling around trying to get a rocket to orbit, they had the full expertise base of the USA, fifty years of rocketry experience, and could have easily built what SpaceX did -- ask all the 'experts' -- SpaceX just used what everyone else understood and had shelved.  All of this could have been done while keeping DoD in space (for which they were paid more than adequately).

Yep, they could have all done what SpaceX did, with regards to domestic engine technology. Because you can't have it both ways - Either
A) SpaceX was doing something truly revolutionary that Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just couldn't match (not according to experts on this forum)  ::) -  Or
B) Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR just didn't try hard enough, all too happy with the status quo...

Neither is very flattering for Boeing/Lockmart/ULA/AJR.

The interesting bit is that Boeing/LockMart/AJR are heading down the same cash cow milking route with SLS/Orion and their NSS satellite businesses -- which is great, IMO.  Status Quo Queens all.  All have been too much spent for the returned product, and all need competition to kill them.
« Last Edit: 12/31/2017 12:01 PM by AncientU »
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Offline spacenut

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I read on the Russian section, that Russia is now going to work on a re-usable booster.  Seems ULA is falling further behind, especially if BO gets New Glenn going. 

Offline Rebel44

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I read on the Russian section, that Russia is now going to work on a re-usable booster.  Seems ULA is falling further behind, especially if BO gets New Glenn going.

"Russia is going to work on XYZ" = PowerPoint project until it gets allocated appropriate pile of money (in which case projects fate will also depend on what % of the allocated money will be stolen by officials)...

Online AncientU

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I read on the Russian section, that Russia is now going to work on a re-usable booster.  Seems ULA is falling further behind, especially if BO gets New Glenn going.

Europeans and Chinese, too.  Reusable methlox engine funded and development underway in Europe.
Chinese have all the cash they'll need.  Russia, on other hand is strapped for cash, so could be laggard because of this... but also has world-class rocket development ability.  Will be interesting to see if having five reusable rocket programs starts to turn ULA in this direction.
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