Author Topic: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc  (Read 48748 times)

Offline Jim

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FST Edit: have split off Vulcan competitiveness discussion into this separate thread.

Vulcan development and engineering is covered in the original Vulcan thread:
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=44390.0




I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
« Last Edit: 04/18/2023 07:16 am by FutureSpaceTourist »

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #1 on: 04/15/2023 06:09 pm »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
More importantly, it's the only rocket ULA will have, since both Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy are retiring. Vulcan Centaur will be able to handle all of the required NSSL mission profiles, so it replaces both retired launchers for ULA's most important customer.

Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #2 on: 04/15/2023 07:20 pm »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
Are there any mission profiles that Vulcan is better for than Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy? 
Maybe we should call this thread the Padliner thread.

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #3 on: 04/15/2023 07:37 pm »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
Are there any mission profiles that Vulcan is better for than Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy?
Define "better". ULA has often asserted that the Centaur stage permits insertion of the payload into its exact orbit with extreme precision, implying higher precision than you can get with F9 or FH without expending payload fuel or adding a kick stage. Vulcan Centaur family and F9/FH have different payload mass step functions, so the exact payload mass you use for your comparison will affect the relative costs. I do not know if there is any payload mass that makes Vulcan Centaur cheaper than F9/FH.

Online meekGee

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #4 on: 04/15/2023 08:14 pm »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
Yes but once SS becomes a thing, F9 will become this second "expensive" rocket - more expensive than SS but cheaper than Vulcan.

And if SpaceX has to split F9 ops to a different entity ("pull an ULA") to qualify as a second provider, then why not?
« Last Edit: 04/15/2023 09:48 pm by meekGee »
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Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #5 on: 04/15/2023 08:20 pm »
The plan is to add more technology from ACES program to this new Centuar US as time goes on. Life extension being one of them where stage can survive weeks if not months BLEO, something F9 RP1/LOX US is never likely to achieve.

Offline Jim

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #6 on: 04/15/2023 10:27 pm »

And if SpaceX has to split F9 ops to a different entity ("pull an ULA") to qualify as a second provider, then why not?

Because it is  not.   It would have to be split off of SpaceX into separate company. Every would have to duplicated.

Offline Lee Jay

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #7 on: 04/15/2023 11:52 pm »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
Yes but once SS becomes a thing, F9 will become this second "expensive" rocket - more expensive than SS but cheaper than Vulcan.

And if SpaceX has to split F9 ops to a different entity ("pull an ULA") to qualify as a second provider, then why not?


I seriously doubt SS will ever be cheaper to launch than F9.  Per kg, perhaps, if you're launching 150T of water or prop or some such thing, or 200 Starlink V2's, but for launching 4-12T individual satellites, probably never.  It's simply too large, even if the upper stage is reusable.

With ULA having sold 70 Vulcan's as of last June, there seems to be room in the market for F9 and others.  Remember, half of F9 2022 launches were for a customer called "SpaceX".

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #8 on: 04/16/2023 02:22 am »
I seriously doubt SS will ever be cheaper to launch than F9.
Why do you doubt this? SpaceX has gone to extreme lengths to reduce the marginal cost of a Starship mission. No expended US, no seaborne retrieval, minimal refurbishment, high reuse count. You are basically saying that Musk and Shotwell are wrong.

This is relevant to Vulcan Centaur (i.e. this thread) only if we are discussing Vulcan's commercial viability here.

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #9 on: 04/16/2023 02:34 am »
With ULA having sold 70 Vulcan's as of last June, there seems to be room in the market for F9 and others.  Remember, half of F9 2022 launches were for a customer called "SpaceX".
Vulcan Centaur's 70 launches are spread over five or more years, and well more than half of them (38) are Kuipers. You say half the 61 F9 launches were for Starlink. That's another way of saying they performed 30 launches in one year for outside customers, which I think is far more than any other LV in 2022.

Compare this to any projection you care to make of Vulcan centaur's yearly launch rate for any of the next five years.

I think Vulcan Centaur will be successful if ULA can continue to maintain its reputation of excellent service to its NSSL customers. I am concerned that this will be difficult unless they can ramp up the launch cadence at an unprecedented rate.

Offline Vahe231991

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #10 on: 04/16/2023 02:56 am »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
More importantly, it's the only rocket ULA will have, since both Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy are retiring. Vulcan Centaur will be able to handle all of the required NSSL mission profiles, so it replaces both retired launchers for ULA's most important customer.
Several launches of the Atlas V remain on the launch manifest regardless of the Delta IV Heavy retiring in 2024, so ULA will have two rockets by the time the Delta IV Heavy makes its last flight because the Atlas V will conduct launches of the Starliner and Kuiper satellites in the 2023-2029 window.

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #11 on: 04/16/2023 03:18 am »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
More importantly, it's the only rocket ULA will have, since both Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy are retiring. Vulcan Centaur will be able to handle all of the required NSSL mission profiles, so it replaces both retired launchers for ULA's most important customer.
Several launches of the Atlas V remain on the launch manifest regardless of the Delta IV Heavy retiring in 2024, so ULA will have two rockets by the time the Delta IV Heavy makes its last flight because the Atlas V will conduct launches of the Starliner and Kuiper satellites in the 2023-2029 window.
Vulcan is the only LV that ULA can continue to market to new customers. The remaining two Delta IV Heavies have already been sold for NROL launches. The remaining 19 Atlas Vs have also already been sold: seven for Starliner, nine for Kuiper, and three other already-sold launches this year. See:
     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Atlas_launches_(2020%E2%80%932029)#Future_launches
So yes, they will launch Atlas V until 2029, but no, they cannot sell any more of them.

Online meekGee

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #12 on: 04/16/2023 03:05 pm »

I was just trying to better understand the advantages of Vulcan.

It is cheaper than Atlas and not SpaceX.

just like there are more expensive cars and phones that have a business case.
Yes but once SS becomes a thing, F9 will become this second "expensive" rocket - more expensive than SS but cheaper than Vulcan.

And if SpaceX has to split F9 ops to a different entity ("pull an ULA") to qualify as a second provider, then why not?


I seriously doubt SS will ever be cheaper to launch than F9.  Per kg, perhaps, if you're launching 150T of water or prop or some such thing, or 200 Starlink V2's, but for launching 4-12T individual satellites, probably never.  It's simply too large, even if the upper stage is reusable.

With ULA having sold 70 Vulcan's as of last June, there seems to be room in the market for F9 and others.  Remember, half of F9 2022 launches were for a customer called "SpaceX".
Don't forget that out of these 70, most are Kuiper and DoD.  "Market" has very little to do with it.

ULA transitioned from betting on SpaceX failing allowing them to stay #1 to betting on BO failing allowing them to stay #2.

And as long as NG remains a rumor, this new strategy has a better chance of working (near term).

But:
If SpaceX decides to keep F9 flying (perhaps under a separate corporate structure) they can claim the #2 spot and kick Vulcan down further, and,

At some point SS (1-2 years?) SS will fly and achieve cadence, and

At some point (2-3 years?) NG will do the same.

As for cost, in 2-3 years, absolutely SS will be cheaper per launch, size and all.  Fully reusable?  Of course it will.  They'll have to crack the heat shield issue, but because of the stainless body and their ability to fly often and still develop, that will get done.

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Offline edkyle99

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #13 on: 04/16/2023 03:46 pm »
Are there any mission profiles that Vulcan is better for than Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy? 
Vulcan outperforms all versions of Falcon 9 Recoverable and Falcon Heavy Recoverable*.  The Falcons can only bust Vulcan's chops by expending stages, which deflates the reuse argument.

* Falcon Heavy has only flown once when all three cores landed, though one was lost at sea.  It carried a 6.47 tonne payload to GTO.  Vulcan 522 can lift 7.4 tonnes supposedly, Vulcan 562 13.3 tonnes, etc..

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 04/16/2023 04:01 pm by edkyle99 »

Offline mandrewa

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #14 on: 04/16/2023 04:02 pm »
Are there any mission profiles that Vulcan is better for than Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy? 
Vulcan outperforms all versions of Falcon 9 Recoverable.  It likely outperforms Falcon Heavy Recoverable as well*.  The Falcons can only bust Vulcan's chops by expending stages, which deflates the reuse argument.

* Falcon Heavy has only flown once when all three cores landed, though one was lost at sea.  It carried a 6.47 tonne payload to GTO.  Vulcan 522 can lift 7.4 tonnes supposedly, Vulcan 562 13.3 tonnes, etc..

 - Ed Kyle

57.0 mt Falcon Heavy, core booster expended: $ 97 million
24.6 mt Vulcan Centaur VC4: ?
27.2 mt Vulcan Centaur VC6: ?

The first number is the maximum metric tons to LEO.  The second is the nominal price for such a mission.

For some missions, price will be what determines which rocket is most advantageous.  But I haven't seen any numbers on what will be charged for the Vulcan Centaur launches.

For some missions, the maximum mass to orbit will determine the winner.  So far, unless we are talking about future upgrades to the Vulcan Centaur, I think the Falcon Heavy wins.

Now for other destinations than LEO the Vulcan Centaur VC6 may possibly beat the Falcon Heavy.  For instance:

6.5 mt to GEO Vulcan Centaur VC6: ?

is pretty close to what a Falcon Heavy, core booster expended, can lift to GEO.

Offline joek

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #15 on: 04/16/2023 04:20 pm »
Vulcan outperforms all versions of Falcon 9 Recoverable and Falcon Heavy Recoverable*.  The Falcons can only bust Vulcan's chops by expending stages, which deflates the reuse argument.
...

Performance is one dimension. How about cost? Maybe "deflates reuse argument", but does not obviate it. Given lack of competition, don't think anyone really knows what Falcons floor price is. So what if Vulcan can do it for $$ and Falcon can do it for $? Vulcan loses. If, for the majority of Falcon's market (don't forget Starlink and Transporter), reusable is cheaper, Vulcan loses. Loses, as in terms of market, which is what is going to define the difference between success and failure (or second-third place); not simply performance.

Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #16 on: 04/16/2023 04:37 pm »
Are there any mission profiles that Vulcan is better for than Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy? 
Vulcan outperforms all versions of Falcon 9 Recoverable.  It likely outperforms Falcon Heavy Recoverable as well*.  The Falcons can only bust Vulcan's chops by expending stages, which deflates the reuse argument.

* Falcon Heavy has only flown once when all three cores landed, though one was lost at sea.  It carried a 6.47 tonne payload to GTO.  Vulcan 522 can lift 7.4 tonnes supposedly, Vulcan 562 13.3 tonnes, etc..

 - Ed Kyle

57.0 mt Falcon Heavy, core booster expended: $ 97 million
24.6 mt Vulcan Centaur VC4: ?
27.2 mt Vulcan Centaur VC6: ?

The first number is the maximum metric tons to LEO.  The second is the nominal price for such a mission.

For some missions, price will be what determines which rocket is most advantageous.  But I haven't seen any numbers on what will be charged for the Vulcan Centaur launches.

For some missions, the maximum mass to orbit will determine the winner.  So far, unless we are talking about future upgrades to the Vulcan Centaur, I think the Falcon Heavy wins.

Now for other destinations than LEO the Vulcan Centaur VC6 may possibly beat the Falcon Heavy.  For instance:

6.5 mt to GEO Vulcan Centaur VC6: ?

is pretty close to what a Falcon Heavy, core booster expended, can lift to GEO.
It didn't take long for someone to pay for a fully expended FH.
Maybe we should call this thread the Padliner thread.

Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #17 on: 04/16/2023 04:43 pm »
Vulcan outperforms all versions of Falcon 9 Recoverable and Falcon Heavy Recoverable*.  The Falcons can only bust Vulcan's chops by expending stages, which deflates the reuse argument.
...

Performance is one dimension. How about cost? Maybe "deflates reuse argument", but does not obviate it. Given lack of competition, don't think anyone really knows what Falcons floor price is. So what if Vulcan can do it for $$ and Falcon can do it for $? Vulcan loses. If, for the majority of Falcon's market (don't forget Starlink and Transporter), reusable is cheaper, Vulcan loses. Loses, as in terms of market, which is what is going to define the difference between success and failure (or second-third place); not simply performance.
That's the elephant in the corner of the room.  How low could SpaceX go?  The EV car manufacturers are now learning that Tesla can lower its prices and blow up their product plans. Tesla lured them into thinking they could compete at a certain price level and then lowered the boom. Can SpaceX do that? I think they can for Falcon 9 and wait for SS if it's twice as expensive as Musk says; it still changes everything.
Maybe we should call this thread the Padliner thread.

Offline DanClemmensen

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #18 on: 04/16/2023 04:50 pm »
Are there any mission profiles that Vulcan is better for than Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy? 
Vulcan outperforms all versions of Falcon 9 Recoverable and Falcon Heavy Recoverable*.  The Falcons can only bust Vulcan's chops by expending stages, which deflates the reuse argument.

* Falcon Heavy has only flown once when all three cores landed, though one was lost at sea.  It carried a 6.47 tonne payload to GTO.  Vulcan 522 can lift 7.4 tonnes supposedly, Vulcan 562 13.3 tonnes, etc..

 - Ed Kyle
That means Vulcan competes against F9 expended, but ULA would need to compete on cost for these payloads. Do we have a feeling for the cost of a Vulcan Centaur versus the cost of a F9 expended?

We have seen in the case of Intelsat that the F9 recoverable competes against the F9 expended because the customer chooses the cheaper launch and goes to a lower orbit, and then spends time and payload propellant to reach the desired orbit.

I attempted to find the payload masses for the five Vulcan configs and for five SpaceX "configs". This is all from Wikipedia, so use with caution. Payloads in tonnes. 

          GEO   GTO   LEO    
VC0    0     3.5   10.8
VC2    2.6   8.4   19.0
VC4    4.9  11.7   24.6
VC6    6.5  14.5   27.2
Vupgrd    7.0  15.3   27.2

F9rtls     --    3.5    --
F9asds  --    5.5   17.4
F9E       --    8.3   22.8
FH         --    8.0   30.0
FHE       --   26.7   63.8

Offline Lee Jay

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Re: Competitiveness of Vulcan vs F9 / FH / SS / NG etc
« Reply #19 on: 04/16/2023 04:52 pm »
As for cost, in 2-3 years, absolutely SS will be cheaper per launch, size and all.

For that to happen, it will have to launch a few thousand times in the next 2-3 years or you'll have to do some creative accounting.  Possibly both.

 

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