Author Topic: Lawmakers: Air Force launch procurement strategy undermines SpaceX  (Read 3711 times)

Online docmordrid

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WASHINGTON ó Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Forceís space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.
>
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements.
>
SpaceX was widely considered a front-runner for an award but came away empty-handed. The Air Force did not disclose why SpaceX did not receive LSA funds.
>
DM

Online woods170

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Space News...

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WASHINGTON ó Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Forceís space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.
>
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements.
>
SpaceX was widely considered a front-runner for an award but came away empty-handed. The Air Force did not disclose why SpaceX did not receive LSA funds.
>

Hadn't it been an OTA (Other Transaction Authority) SpaceX probably would have protested the LSA awards first and than sued the AirForce (they have done that before) over the LSA funds. But now they can't. So they went for plan B: lobby the senators and have them raise the issue.

Will be fun to watch how this one turns out.
« Last Edit: 02/08/2019 10:23 am by woods170 »

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Hadn't it been an OTA SpaceX probably would have sued the AirForce (they have done that before) over the LSA funds. But now they can't. So they went for plan B: lobby the senators and have them raise the issue.

Will be fun to watch how this one turns out.

Yes, I would be very interested in the reasoning behind the AirForce decision. There was lots of speculation at the time. It would be good to know what was actually proposed by SpaceX and why it was not awarded any money. Maybe there are very valid reasons all around, I would be interested in knowing these.

Also, the article seems to read that SpaceX indirectly threatened not to compete for EELV Phase 2, therefore denying the AirForce access to SpaceX rockets (or at least newly developed rockets) for launching national security payloads.

Offline Star One

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Force’s space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.
>
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements.
>
SpaceX was widely considered a front-runner for an award but came away empty-handed. The Air Force did not disclose why SpaceX did not receive LSA funds.
>

Hadn't it been an OTA SpaceX probably would have sued the AirForce (they have done that before) over the LSA funds. But now they can't. So they went for plan B: lobby the senators and have them raise the issue.

Will be fun to watch how this one turns out.

As a general point it’s funny to see how some people think that Space X don’t play ‘The Game’ on the hill like everyone else, and don’t think they have political lobby muscle.
« Last Edit: 02/08/2019 09:16 am by Star One »

Offline niwax

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Now this is very interesting. Speculation on here was that SpaceX didn't want government interference in its short term projects so either didn't bid or bid something further out there. But either they actually did want to get it or senators started acting on their own volition for the first time ever.
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Online woods170

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Space News...

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WASHINGTON ó Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Forceís space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.
>
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements.
>
SpaceX was widely considered a front-runner for an award but came away empty-handed. The Air Force did not disclose why SpaceX did not receive LSA funds.
>

Hadn't it been an OTA SpaceX probably would have sued the AirForce (they have done that before) over the LSA funds. But now they can't. So they went for plan B: lobby the senators and have them raise the issue.

Will be fun to watch how this one turns out.

As a general point itís funny to see how some people think that Space X donít play ĎThe Gameí on the hill like everyone else, and donít think they have political lobby muscle.

It's been known for a long time that SpaceX plays the game on The Hill as much as everyone else. Yes, they have lobby muscle. What SpaceX is not afraid of however is ruffle some feathers the hard way (that is: publically) if and when Elon feels he's being treated unfairly. Such as the famous lawsuit against USAF concering the infamous Block Buy.
Everyone back then considered undertaking legal action against a potential customer being financial suicide. But contrary to expectations it worked; a legal settlement was agreed on and SpaceX was given a proper chance to compete missions beyond the Block Buy.
And then SpaceX sued USAF again when USAF stalled the EELV certification for SpaceX. And again: it worked. The Airforce secretary slapped USAF on the hands and SpaceX got certified soon thereafter.
This time Elon is employing two senators to make life difficult for USAF.

Unlike most of the usual suspects in the US aerospace industry SpaceX is not afraid of kicking its US-government-agency-customer's butt to remind that agency that business is supposed to be done on a level playing field.

Offline Star One

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Space News...

Quote
WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Force’s space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.
>
At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements.
>
SpaceX was widely considered a front-runner for an award but came away empty-handed. The Air Force did not disclose why SpaceX did not receive LSA funds.
>

Hadn't it been an OTA SpaceX probably would have sued the AirForce (they have done that before) over the LSA funds. But now they can't. So they went for plan B: lobby the senators and have them raise the issue.

Will be fun to watch how this one turns out.

As a general point it’s funny to see how some people think that Space X don’t play ‘The Game’ on the hill like everyone else, and don’t think they have political lobby muscle.

It's been known for a long time that SpaceX plays the game on The Hill as much as everyone else. Yes, they have lobby muscle. What SpaceX is not afraid of however is ruffle some feathers the hard way (that is: publically) if and when Elon feels he's being treated unfairly. Such as the famous lawsuit against USAF concering the infamous Block Buy.
Everyone back then considered undertaking legal action against a potential customer being financial suicide. But contrary to expectations it worked; a legal settlement was agreed on and SpaceX was given a proper chance to compete missions beyond the Block Buy.
And then SpaceX sued USAF again when USAF stalled the EELV certification for SpaceX. And again: it worked. The Airforce secretary slapped USAF on the hands and SpaceX got certified soon thereafter.
This time Elon is employing two senators to make life difficult for USAF.

Unlike most of the usual suspects in the US aerospace industry SpaceX is not afraid of kicking its US-government-agency-customer's butt to remind that agency that business is supposed to be done on a level playing field.

Yet I’ve seen that self same legal action described elsewhere as the sign of a immature company and a naive move for the longer term. As to that latter point I’ve seen this decision of exclusion pointed out as a result of the legal action.
« Last Edit: 02/08/2019 11:27 am by Star One »

Offline Lar

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As a general point itís funny to see how some people think that Space X donít play ĎThe Gameí on the hill like everyone else, and donít think they have political lobby muscle.

It's been known for a long time that SpaceX plays the game on The Hill as much as everyone else. Yes, they have lobby muscle. What SpaceX is not afraid of however is ruffle some feathers the hard way (that is: publically) if and when Elon feels he's being treated unfairly.
I don't think SpaceX play the game "like everybody else". The MIC play the game to make sure they get lots of gravy and an unfair competition. SpaceX play the game to level the playing field. That's a VERY important distinction.


Unlike most of the usual suspects in the US aerospace industry SpaceX is not afraid of kicking its US-government-agency-customer's butt to remind that agency that business is supposed to be done on a level playing field.

Yet Iíve seen that self same legal action described elsewhere as the sign of a immature company and a naive move for the longer term. As to that latter point Iíve seen this decision of exclusion pointed out as a result of the legal action.

 yes, I'd say that this decision might possibly (not certainly but possibly) be the result of MIC fans within the USAF deciding to "get back" at SpaceX.... But so what. If SpaceX keeps calling the USAF on this kind of thing and winning, and the net result is a fairer playing field, then SpaceX wins in the long run. And so do US taxpayers.

(mod) we got a report that this thread should not be in space policy. In view of the last 2-3 posts, I think it's clear that space policy is exactly where it belongs. This is primarily a political topic. And space policy is where we talk politics (tightly bounded), not anywhere else.
« Last Edit: 02/08/2019 12:16 pm by Lar »
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Offline gongora

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It's not clear to me how the LSA funding affects the LSP competition.  They can still give the LSP winners money for stuff like building out vertical integration facilities.  SpaceX doesn't really need more development money for Falcon unless they still need to do some tweaking on the FH second stage or something like that, and even then they could still get money for those improvements to support national security missions.  The real risk I could see is if someone feels a need to justify the money spent in the LSA phase by picking from that pool.  If the letter to the Air Force doesn't have any effect other than to remind everyone to keep it fair in the next round then I guess it will have served a purpose.

Offline rcoppola

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Considering the USAF will only be selecting two providers for the NSSLP (National Security Space Launch Program) heading into the 2020s, they'll stick with SpaceX and ULA. ULA is just too politically connected and they can't survive without these contracts. And Spacex is already certified with a good commercial mix allowing continued efficient pricing.

They can't select BO and ULA because they'll be using the same engine. (Dissimilar Redundancy) BO will be just fine for the initial years of this program, building orbital launch experience, keeping pricing pressure on ULA and SX and ready to compete for the next phase in the mid 2020s. Omega will be de-scoped but continued at a slower pace for internal use.

Those not selected gets cut off and anyone who doesn't bid has to pay the USAF back. If it's ULA and SpaceX, as I believe it will be, then the USAF just needs to find a way to credit SX the same amount they gave to ULA for Vulcan. After all, SpaceX did develop FH on their own dime. 

*As a side note, I believe the ELC payments to ULA are done this year correct?
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Offline dror

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I don't understand the logic of the downselect.
I would appreciate if someone can explain how is it better than to allow all certified providers to bid for every launch.
I guess that Blue is backed by Bezos, and SpaceX has a wide customer base but won't it be a death blow to Vulcan and to NGLS if they won't be selected? And picking them just to keep them alive seems wrong so the downselect seems like a bad way to do it.
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Offline gongora

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*As a side note, I believe the ELC payments to ULA are done this year correct?

The ELC payments from the Air Force are supposed to stop.  I'd be shocked if the ELC payments from NRO stopped, maybe they'll just be renamed (and they usually don't show up in public budget documents).  ULA will be maintaining a couple pads for the next ~5 years just for NRO launches.

Offline gongora

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I don't understand the logic of the downselect.
I would appreciate if someone can explain how is it better than to allow all certified providers to bid for every launch.
I guess that Blue is backed by Bezos, and SpaceX has a wide customer base but won't it be a death blow to Vulcan and to NGLS if they won't be selected? And picking them just to keep them alive seems wrong so the downselect seems like a bad way to do it.

Two things:
1.  They can give a guaranteed number of launches to the winners, which helps close the business case for even having those launchers.  This matters for most companies.  There really isn't any point to ULA or NG finishing their rockets if they're not selected.  Believe it or not the government may not want to put all of their eggs in the baskets of a company that hasn't attempted an orbital flight yet and a company that has publicly announced they want to get rid of their currently certified vehicles as soon as possible.  ULA also has experience flying a wider range of missions than SpaceX has done so far.
2.  Once you select a couple of companies then you can focus on getting them set up for all of the national security mission requirements.  There will be additional money for the two companies selected to support stuff like vertical integration, dealing with government security requirements, etc.  It doesn't make sense to give that money to every launch company in existence, and it doesn't make much sense for the companies to build out those capabilities when they don't know if they'll ever get the contracts to make use of them.
« Last Edit: 02/08/2019 02:35 pm by gongora »

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This article appears to be implying that Space X may have plenty of classified missions on its books. That Zuma might have just been the first of many.

https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-mystery-falcon-9-missions-record-breaking-launch-target-2019/

Offline Ronsmytheiii

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yes, I'd say that this decision might possibly (not certainly but possibly) be the result of MIC fans within the USAF deciding to "get back" at SpaceX.... But so what. If SpaceX keeps calling the USAF on this kind of thing and winning, and the net result is a fairer playing field, then SpaceX wins in the long run. And so do US taxpayers.

So why didnt SpaceX protest the decision? IF the launch services was awarded improperly then they had a case to get it overturned (which is pretty common, look at SNC when they lost Commercial crew, immediate protest)

Answer: There was not a basis to do so. SpaceX is playing politics just like everyone else.

« Last Edit: 02/08/2019 04:56 pm by Ronsmytheiii »

Offline Lar

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yes, I'd say that this decision might possibly (not certainly but possibly) be the result of MIC fans within the USAF deciding to "get back" at SpaceX.... But so what. If SpaceX keeps calling the USAF on this kind of thing and winning, and the net result is a fairer playing field, then SpaceX wins in the long run. And so do US taxpayers.

So why didnt SpaceX protest the decision? IF the launch services was awarded improperly then they had a case to get it overturned (which is pretty common, look at SNC when they lost Commercial crew, immediate protest)

Answer: There was not a basis to do so.
Or SpaceX had other reasons for not protesting that you haven't deduced correctly....
- Maybe they knew they could win but didn't want to actually have USAF exerting control over SS/SH development
- Maybe they knew they could win but didn't want the optics of yet again bloodying USAF's nose over this.
- Maybe they ARE protesting but because it's an OTA, you aren't seeing it since it doesn't follow normal channels.

Quote
SpaceX is playing politics just like everyone else.
No they aren't, IMHO. They are playing for a different outcome. Not just a seat at the gravy train buffet, but a fairer process. OldSpacers fundamentally don't get Elon.
« Last Edit: 02/11/2019 07:46 pm by Lar »
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Offline RedLineTrain

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yes, I'd say that this decision might possibly (not certainly but possibly) be the result of MIC fans within the USAF deciding to "get back" at SpaceX.... But so what. If SpaceX keeps calling the USAF on this kind of thing and winning, and the net result is a fairer playing field, then SpaceX wins in the long run. And so do US taxpayers.

So why didnt SpaceX protest the decision?

As far as I understand, this is an Other Transaction Authority decision and cannot be protested in the same way as usual contracts.

Offline rayleighscatter

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OldSpacers fundamentally don't get Elon.
NewSpacers don't either.

Offline Rabidpanda

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No they aren't, IMHO. They are playing for a different outcome. Not just a seat at the gravy train buffet, but a fairer process. OldSpacers fundamentally don't get Elon.

The only reason they want a fairer process is so that they can get a seat at the same gravy train. Do you really think that SpaceX/Elon care if the Air Force gets a good deal? Or if their positions were switched SpaceX would be advocating for their competitors in the name of fairness? Come on, when it comes to this stuff SpaceX is playing the same game as everyone else: win as many lucrative government contracts as possible. Now, they may have very different plans for all that money than Boeing/LM (funding BFR vs increasing shareholder value) but that’s a different story altogether.
« Last Edit: 02/12/2019 02:50 am by Rabidpanda »


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