May 05 2015

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Senate committee not happy with RD-180 replacement progress

SASC Unhappy With Slow Air Force Progress on RD-180 Replacement. 2019 is less than 4 years away, and we seem to be no closer to having its replacement. Here are a couple of key points from the article:

Hyten explained that the launch industry has changed significantly in the past few years thanks to NASA’s decision to use public private partnerships (PPPs) like the one it has with SpaceX to develop new launch capabilities. He argued that the Air Force needs time to learn how to interact effectively with industry in this new environment.


DOD and the Air Force apparently have now embraced competition as well. James went so far as to say that U.S. national security “will be far better off the day that we certify SpaceX” and reiterated that will be done by June. Last year, DOD promised it would be done by December 2014, but that did not happen. James and others have since made new assurances that it will be accomplished by June.

That’s great news…both for SpaceX, and in a larger sense, the tax payer.

Hyten and James also continued to press their case that they do not want to replace one monopoly with another, with SpaceX replacing ULA in that role. The argument goes that because ULA recently decided to end production of the smaller version of Delta IV, it now has only Atlas V and the very expensive, larger Delta IV Heavy to offer. Although the Atlas V can compete with SpaceX, if it cannot be used after 2019, SpaceX would win every competition because the Delta IV costs $400 million per launch. Hyten and James said they may be able to have a new American engine by 2019, but it will be 2022 before that engine is integrated into a new rocket and certified. For those intervening years, SpaceX would be a monopoly for national security launches. Thus they want Congress to allow use of the RD-180 until 2022.

Well, I got news for them: ULA won’t be able to compete with SpaceX on launch price, so they’ll have the same issue but from the viewpoint that nobody will want to pay (a lot of) extra dollars for the same service.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/05/05/senate-committee-not-happy-with-rd-180-replacement-progress/

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