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Mar 09 2015

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It’s on like Donkey Kong!!

ULA ready to compete against Elon Musk’s space startup, CEO says. Too bad they’re about 10 years behind the curve.

When you don’t have the skills, you talk big instead:

He (Tony Bruno,ULA CEO) also said that ULA is far more reliable in launching on schedule than SpaceX. When asked if he thought it was risky to rely on SpaceX he said, “I do.”

“We have a perfect mission success record and our schedule certainty is also substantial,” he said. “Launching on time is huge.”

SpaceX took exception to Bruno’s comments. “The Air Force and the taxpayers deserve more from ULA and its latest CEO, whose remarks are purposely misleading, but not unexpected,” SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in a statement. “In anticipation of having to face real competition for the first time, ULA is distorting the facts in an effort to hide its own shortcomings. This is merely the latest example that ULA is realizing that its long-held monopoly is coming to an end.”

But that’s all smoke hiding the real meat of the article. Congress has imposed a 2019 ban on the Russian-made RD-180 engine. ULA is developing its own engine replacement and has teamed with Blue Origin, but the BE-4 isn’t going to be operational until 2019 at the very earliest, which means 2022 or 2023 before it’s certified for national security launches. For those that are math disinclined, that’s a 3 or 4 year gap of ULA capabilities in their primary market.

Don’t worry, though. ULA is well-connected in Congress:

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has concerns about that timeline, telling Congress last week that 2019 “was pretty aggressive, and I’m not sure we can make it.”

Bruno said that he thought there was support in Congress for softening the deadline, saying many “now really understand this complex issue. … We have very good support everywhere in Congress.”

Well, thank goodness for that. ULA can’t compete in the market, but as long as it can compete in Congress then that’s all that matters. Of course, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 should get certified for national security launches later this year, and later this year the Falcon Heavy will be flying, which would make it certified for national security launches by…well looky there, 2019!

ULA will never come close to SpaceX launch costs, and with 2 to 3 years of inexpensive SpaceX launch contracts while waiting for ULA’s new rocket to become certified, the US Govt may find they don’t need ULA at all. Congress may want to keep ULA around in the name of “competition” (not that they were that concerned with competition when ULA had a monopoly on DoD launches), but at best ULA will only get the occasionally bone thrown to it — I can’t imagine the tax payer not squawking if there is a cheaper, better alternative (SpaceX) but the govt insists on spending more money on the dinosaur in the room.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tony Bruno is riding a dinosaur and that bright flash in the sky isn’t a meteor, it’s a Falcon booster re-entering the atmosphere for its safe landing.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/03/09/its-on-like-donkey-kong/

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