Author Topic: Funding for a domestic liquid engine in the National Defense authorization bill  (Read 156550 times)

Offline Brovane

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How many ways does it need to be said that SpaceX does not want to be in the part business. They won't go seeking money from the Air Force for an engine as long as it has the current strings attached allowing that engine to be used by competitors and the design owned by the Air Force. That is not how they operate. The same goes for Blue Origin. The only company that would jump on that sort of deal is Aerojet because they need the funding badly and the possibility to have an engine they might be able to sell. The chances of having a customer for that engine are slim to none however unless the BE-4 fails or suffers setbacks. They are in a nasty spot of potentially losing future sales of both the RS-68 and sales of the RL-10 other than the few needed by NASA.

Thank you for stating a reason why SpaceX would take the USAF money to develop the Raptor Engine.  They get the USAF to pay to develop the Raptor engine which currently has no ROI for SpaceX.  The changes that anyone will use that engine besides SpaceX is slim to none. 


SpaceX and Blue Origin do not need the money, their companies are not riding on it as they have plenty of sources of revenue.

Unfounded speculation. 
"Look at that! If anybody ever said, "you'll be sitting in a spacecraft naked with a 134-pound backpack on your knees charging it", I'd have said "Aw, get serious". - John Young - Apollo-16

Offline woods170

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That's silly. ULA would rather buy engines from the Russians than from Musk et al.

Exactly, and for the same reason SpaceX would not just bid on any proposal to replace Russian engines with their own, it's quite plausible they'd be behind the suggestion in the first place.


ULA will IMO not turn to SpaceX for engines. They have already turned to Bezos et al. and Aerojet in stead.

USAF will IMO not force ULA to have SpaceX become their primary engine provider. That would create a situation akin to the current RD-180 mess. Also, ULA's next-gen rocket is no longer a USAF vehicle, so USAF would have no say in engine-choice. ULA is going the Falcon 9 scenario on this one: they do the rocket and USAF is at liberty to certify it afterwards.

USAF has already offered SpaceX a deal to fund A engine development program. Oh, and while we are at it: USAF also offered the rest of the rocket-engine industry such a deal. So far, no takers and only a half-baked "we may be interested"-response from Aerojet.

The minute you accept a USAF deal to fund your engine you have lost that engine. It's no longer yours to DDT&E as-you-see-fit. You will have USAF all over you from day 1 telling you how to do the engine, how to use it and whom not to sell it to. Neither Musk, nor Bezos (and these days even Bruno) are looking for such a situation.

The strangle-hold of the USAF/NRO community on EELV (and the resulting ULA monopoly with commercial non-competitiveness) has tought the entire industry never to do rockets (and it's engine) on USAF/NRO terms ever again. It is for this reason that industry is highly reluctant to take the Congressionally appropriated money for development of US domestic rocket engine.
« Last Edit: 05/11/2015 12:06 pm by woods170 »

Offline notsorandom

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Are there any ways for this funding to get used that do not require a company to change its basic approach? As long as we are speculating the only scenario I can imagine is Aerojet using the money to finish the AR-1 and then Orbital/ATK uses it in Antares. That still doesn't end up with an EELV replacement unless the Antares see soem major upgrades and changes. Which is unlike Orbital/ATK. So it looks like this whole thing might just be dead in the water unless something happens with the Blue/ULA deal and soon.

Online TrevorMonty

Are there any ways for this funding to get used that do not require a company to change its basic approach? As long as we are speculating the only scenario I can imagine is Aerojet using the money to finish the AR-1 and then Orbital/ATK uses it in Antares. That still doesn't end up with an EELV replacement unless the Antares see soem major upgrades and changes. Which is unlike Orbital/ATK. So it looks like this whole thing might just be dead in the water unless something happens with the Blue/ULA deal and soon.
OrbitalATK representive at recent space symposium said they would be interested in AR1 for Antares.

Offline WindnWar

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It would make sense for Orbital to be interested in the AR-1 provided they don't have to fund its development as that would open up Antares to the possibility of EELV launches if certified. As long as it has a Russian engine that limits the market for Antares, but they don't have a choice until there is an American engine option. On the other hand they don't have funds to pay for AR-1's development. The only question there is whether the Ukrainian tanks will be an issue but that is a complicated issue based on how things continue in Ukraine.  They are the only likely near term customer for AR-1 unless Blue has a setback and even that is tied to Orbital winning future resupply contracts.

I should rephrase that as Orbital likely could fund AR-1 development but the costs to do so likely aren't justified unless there are future engine supply issues and the shareholders likely would not be happy with it.
« Last Edit: 05/11/2015 03:05 pm by WindnWar »

Offline notsorandom

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Orbital/ATK has stated that they have a domestic source back up plan should the Ukrainian built tanks become unavailable. Should the AR-1 become a reality there is a path for Antares to become entirely domestic. It would be a very good engine for that booster. However Antares can only do a small section of EELV missions. This is due both to its launch site, lift capacity, and upper stage configuration. So this funding for a domestic engine wouldn't accomplish the goal of assured access to space unless some pretty major changes and upgrades were make to Antares. Going from a Delta II class rocket to Atlas V class would mean its practically a new rocket. I doubt that makes business sense for Orbital/ATK. In this context I think that the AR-1 only makes sense to the government if ULA buys into it as a drop in replacement for the RD-180. I doubt Blue will be dropping the ball on this one.

Offline Brovane

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The minute you accept a USAF deal to fund your engine you have lost that engine. It's no longer yours to DDT&E as-you-see-fit. You will have USAF all over you from day 1 telling you how to do the engine, how to use it and whom not to sell it to. Neither Musk, nor Bezos (and these days even Bruno) are looking for such a situation.


So are you saying if the USAF pays for the development of a Raptor engine they would then tell SpaceX that they couldn't use the same engine on the "BFR"? 

Any US rocket engine (regardless of where the funding comes from) the US govt can dictate that it cannot be exported.  So of course they can tell you whom not to sell it to.  So how would that affect a companies decision to accept US Govt funding? 
"Look at that! If anybody ever said, "you'll be sitting in a spacecraft naked with a 134-pound backpack on your knees charging it", I'd have said "Aw, get serious". - John Young - Apollo-16

Offline Rummy

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How many ways does it need to be said that SpaceX does not want to be in the part business. They won't go seeking money from the Air Force for an engine as long as it has the current strings attached allowing that engine to be used by competitors and the design owned by the Air Force. That is not how they operate. The same goes for Blue Origin. The only company that would jump on that sort of deal is Aerojet because they need the funding badly and the possibility to have an engine they might be able to sell. The chances of having a customer for that engine are slim to none however unless the BE-4 fails or suffers setbacks. They are in a nasty spot of potentially losing future sales of both the RS-68 and sales of the RL-10 other than the few needed by NASA.

SpaceX and Blue Origin do not need the money, their companies are not riding on it as they have plenty of sources of revenue.

1.  Blue Origins is definitely in the engine business.

2. The design would not necessarily be owned by the Government. The current plan is to use Other Transaction Authority (OTA), which is a highly flexible arraignment.

3.  Someone up thread mentioned that OTA was out of vogue. They should check out the draft RFP the Air Force put out on FedBizOpps.

4.  Seems like there are quite a few companies that would be interested in Government funding for rocket propulsion.

Offline RedLineTrain

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Re Blue and SpaceX taking RD-180 replacement government money, I thought it was already determined that they weren't interested.  I was somewhat surprised.

From SpaceNews in April...

Quote
A formal request for proposals for the second phase is expected by the end of May, Hyten said, and the service hopes to have proposals back from industry by the end of June.

Interestingly, Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin has told the Air Force it has no interest in taking government money for its BE-4 development effort, Hyten said. SpaceX, the Hawthorne, California, company challenging ULA for a share of the national security launch market, has expressed a similar sentiment, he said.

Offline woods170

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The minute you accept a USAF deal to fund your engine you have lost that engine. It's no longer yours to DDT&E as-you-see-fit. You will have USAF all over you from day 1 telling you how to do the engine, how to use it and whom not to sell it to. Neither Musk, nor Bezos (and these days even Bruno) are looking for such a situation.


So are you saying if the USAF pays for the development of a Raptor engine they would then tell SpaceX that they couldn't use the same engine on the "BFR"? 

Yes, that is exactly the scenario that could play out. USAF is reasoning along this line: USAF paid for development of the engine, so USAF determines what launchers can use that engine. Remember when USAF and ULA actively prevented Orbital from purchasing RD-180 for Antares? And that was not even a USAF engine, yet USAF considered it theirs because it powers their prime EELV. So they, and their prime contractor, didn't allow others to use that engine, regardless of the fact that the engine is provided by a fourth party.
Another example: RS-68(A). When Delta IV goes away, that engine has no future left, unless USAF decides to stick it under some other rocket.

Any US rocket engine (regardless of where the funding comes from) the US govt can dictate that it cannot be exported.  So of course they can tell you whom not to sell it to.  So how would that affect a companies decision to accept US Govt funding? 
I wasn't talking about foreign use of the engine, but domestic.
« Last Edit: 05/12/2015 09:53 am by woods170 »

Offline WindnWar

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The other fact is when the government pays for development, particularly for projects they don't want to fall into others hands, when the contract is done they often request the production line be dismantled. I don't know if that is part of any of these proposals but if it is, it would certainly reduce the number of companies that would want to respond to the request.

Interestingly with many parts being 3D printed, short of destroying the programming for the printer it might be impossible to dismantle a production line for many of the parts. This also makes it a far more ripe target to hack. Curious what the security ramifications are, but that's a question for a different thread.

Offline Brovane

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Yes, that is exactly the scenario that could play out. USAF is reasoning along this line: USAF paid for development of the engine, so USAF determines what launchers can use that engine. Remember when USAF and ULA actively prevented Orbital from purchasing RD-180 for Antares? And that was not even a USAF engine, yet USAF considered it theirs because it powers their prime EELV. So they, and their prime contractor, didn't allow others to use that engine, regardless of the fact that the engine is provided by a fourth party.
Another example: RS-68(A). When Delta IV goes away, that engine has no future left, unless USAF decides to stick it under some other rocket.

That flies in the face of the entire purpose of this program.  The purpose of the program is to provide a Domestic Liquid fueled engine.  Saying the USAF would Prevent SpaceX from using the rocket engine on it's own launch vehicle is just wild speculation on your part and has no basis in reality.  There is no reason that the USAF would even do this and we don't even know if the contract language would allow the USAF to block SpaceX from using it's own engine. 

The RD-180 isn't a good example because ULA had a exclusive distribution contract signed with NPO Energomash.  The contract prevented Orbital from using the engine, not ULA or the USAF.  The RD-180 was never intended to be a universal rocket engine for domestic use so your comparison isn't valid.
"Look at that! If anybody ever said, "you'll be sitting in a spacecraft naked with a 134-pound backpack on your knees charging it", I'd have said "Aw, get serious". - John Young - Apollo-16

Offline Brovane

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The other fact is when the government pays for development, particularly for projects they don't want to fall into others hands, when the contract is done they often request the production line be dismantled. I don't know if that is part of any of these proposals but if it is, it would certainly reduce the number of companies that would want to respond to the request.

Interestingly with many parts being 3D printed, short of destroying the programming for the printer it might be impossible to dismantle a production line for many of the parts. This also makes it a far more ripe target to hack. Curious what the security ramifications are, but that's a question for a different thread.

The Govt doesn't order a production line to be dismantled when a contract is done if the contractor has orders outside the US govt.  The Govt isn't ordering anymore C-17, F-15 and F-16 planes but all the production lines are still open and air-frames are being sold to foreign governments.  If the only customer is the US govt then yes when the government orders are done then the production line will be shutdown.  If the US govt doesn't want to pay to store the tooling, then usually it will be cut-up for scrap.  They wouldn't order a domestic rocket engine production line to be shutdown to prevent it from falling into other's hands.  The Domestic producer of any rocket hardware is already covered by ITAR, which covers any concerns of the technology falling into foreign lands. 
"Look at that! If anybody ever said, "you'll be sitting in a spacecraft naked with a 134-pound backpack on your knees charging it", I'd have said "Aw, get serious". - John Young - Apollo-16

Offline Rummy

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The USAF only owns the engine if it buys the rights. The USAF did not do that with the original EELV other transaction agreements.

Offline joek

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2. The design would not necessarily be owned by the Government. The current plan is to use Other Transaction Authority (OTA), which is a highly flexible arraignment.

3.  Someone up thread mentioned that OTA was out of vogue. They should check out the draft RFP the Air Force put out on FedBizOpps.

Not sure how you came to that conclusion; the draft RFP states only:
Quote
The offeror shall propose a Firm Fixed Price (FFP) or Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) in the white paper package in accordance with FAR Part 16, Contract Types.
That covers only the initial work or "whitepapers" ($31M total awards) and it is not under OTA.  What happens after that is undefined.

If there is a plan to use OTA please illuminate.

Offline woods170

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Yes, that is exactly the scenario that could play out. USAF is reasoning along this line: USAF paid for development of the engine, so USAF determines what launchers can use that engine. Remember when USAF and ULA actively prevented Orbital from purchasing RD-180 for Antares? And that was not even a USAF engine, yet USAF considered it theirs because it powers their prime EELV. So they, and their prime contractor, didn't allow others to use that engine, regardless of the fact that the engine is provided by a fourth party.
Another example: RS-68(A). When Delta IV goes away, that engine has no future left, unless USAF decides to stick it under some other rocket.

That flies in the face of the entire purpose of this program.  The purpose of the program is to provide a Domestic Liquid fueled engine. 
No. The purpose of the program is to provide a domestic liquid fueled engine for NSL purposes.

But, the entire back-and-forth about this scenario, with regards to a SpaceX engine being financed by USAF or not, is moot. SpaceX (and Blue Origin as well) have already indicated that they are not interested in taking government money for development of their respective next-gen engines. No less than general Hyten himself, commander of USAF space command, told this to reporters last month. The scenario I sketched out in my earlier posts is among the reasons why SpaceX is not interested.

Having visions of SpaceX and/or Blue taking government money for their new engines is wishfull thinking at this point in time.
« Last Edit: 05/13/2015 10:06 am by woods170 »

Offline woods170

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The USAF only owns the engine if it buys the rights. The USAF did not do that with the original EELV other transaction agreements.
RS-68(A) is a dedicated USAF engine. No one else is allowed to use it.

Offline Brovane

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The USAF only owns the engine if it buys the rights. The USAF did not do that with the original EELV other transaction agreements.
RS-68(A) is a dedicated USAF engine. No one else is allowed to use it.

Do you have a reference for this? 
"Look at that! If anybody ever said, "you'll be sitting in a spacecraft naked with a 134-pound backpack on your knees charging it", I'd have said "Aw, get serious". - John Young - Apollo-16

Online AnalogMan

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2. The design would not necessarily be owned by the Government. The current plan is to use Other Transaction Authority (OTA), which is a highly flexible arraignment.

3.  Someone up thread mentioned that OTA was out of vogue. They should check out the draft RFP the Air Force put out on FedBizOpps.

Not sure how you came to that conclusion; the draft RFP states only:
Quote
The offeror shall propose a Firm Fixed Price (FFP) or Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) in the white paper package in accordance with FAR Part 16, Contract Types.
That covers only the initial work or "whitepapers" ($31M total awards) and it is not under OTA.  What happens after that is undefined.

If there is a plan to use OTA please illuminate.

I think you are both referring to different FedBiz pre-solicitations (there were two issued the same day):

EELV Phase 2 Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) Prototype
https://www.fbo.gov/spg/USAF/AFSC/SMCSMSC/FA8811-15-9-0001/listing.html

Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation Project
https://www.fbo.gov/spg/USAF/AFSC/SMCSMSC/15-050/listing.html

First is under "Other Transaction (OT) Authority" and the second is under "FAR Part 16"

Edit: corrected first link
« Last Edit: 05/13/2015 04:35 pm by AnalogMan »

Offline woods170

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The USAF only owns the engine if it buys the rights. The USAF did not do that with the original EELV other transaction agreements.
RS-68(A) is a dedicated USAF engine. No one else is allowed to use it.

Do you have a reference for this? 
Jim
« Last Edit: 05/13/2015 11:58 am by woods170 »

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