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ULA launch and discussion thread


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6 hours ago, The Doodling Astronaut said:

How much do we know about reusability still being planned for Vulcan?

We know precious little and it is intensely annoying. Tory Bruno told me a few weeks ago that reuse is all still in dev and totally planned but we don't have any idea when it will be implemented, if ever.

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1 hour ago, sevenperforce said:

We know precious little and it is intensely annoying. Tory Bruno told me a few weeks ago that reuse is all still in dev and totally planned but we don't have any idea when it will be implemented, if ever.

Maybe once they get actual engines they can use the pathfinders to drop test SMART? ;)

 

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13 hours ago, sevenperforce said:

We know precious little and it is intensely annoying. Tory Bruno told me a few weeks ago that reuse is all still in dev and totally planned but we don't have any idea when it will be implemented, if ever.

They are waiting to be paid by DoD and/or NASA to do the research.  That's how old space (i.e. the Military Industrial Complex) works.

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1 hour ago, wumpus said:

They are waiting to be paid by DoD and/or NASA to do the research.  That's how old space (i.e. the Military Industrial Complex) works.

It's not, but don't let that keep you from a good story.

Private companies do their own R&D. But the amount of it they can afford to do is limited. Most of them can't just draw funds from someone like Bezos or Musk or Branson.

When the government decides they want R&D focused on the government's needs and goals, then they pay for it.

Edited by mikegarrison
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Posted (edited)

Yeah, if ULA is convinced there is a path to saving money, they will do it.

No need for a mandate from above, that's a business decision. Some things (ie: developing s spacecraft for NASA) would require dev money, as there is no business case for doing it otherwise, and the ULA parent companies are publicly held and have a financial responsibility to their owners.

Edited by tater
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On 7/27/2021 at 1:21 PM, mikegarrison said:

They refer to it as "ULS" in the document.

United Launch Services, LLC (ULS) is a subsidiary of United Launch Alliance, LLC. On behalf of ULA, ULS contracts for launch services using the Atlas and Delta launch vehicles.

https://www.ulalaunch.com/about

If you want to fly on a ULA rocket, you deal with ULS as I understand it.

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21 hours ago, mikegarrison said:

It's not, but don't let that keep you from a good story.

Private companies do their own R&D. But the amount of it they can afford to do is limited. Most of them can't just draw funds from someone like Bezos or Musk or Branson.

When the government decides they want R&D focused on the government's needs and goals, then they pay for it.

How many rockets have Boeing or Lockheed Martin built on their own dime?  Lockheed Martin (and Boeing's military side) have a single customer, and if that customer isn't buying then they get to eat the R&D expenses (sure, there is the foreign market, but they rarely buy anything that the US turns down, like the F-20).  A great way to make sure the customer is going to buy the thing is to have them pay the development costs.

This gets written more or less into real policy (formal or otherwise).  And while I have seen self-funded R&D in military  contractors, it was an extremely tiny portion of the company and not allowed to distract from "the real work".  It was almost always easier to get the government to pay for the R&D than the company.

And how much liquidity does Musk have?  Or even had when Spacex sank a billion in landing a rocket?  All his extra PayPal wealth got funneled into Spacex and Telsa, and it looks like his Tesla wealth is highly leveraged (he borrows to buy his options on his Tesla stock).  And remember, Telsa is public (and has a significant bubble, although currently has a P/E ration only 6 times GM thanks to the chip shortage everyone else is suffering) but Musk refuses to go public to maintain an iron grip on Spacex.  This lets him use Spacex revenue for things like landing R&D and developing Starship.  ULA could easily afford to spend more on R&D (even more if they ever cut costs on the launches, which they haven't yet) but even then stockholders would insist that they bought an expensive cash cow and aren't interested in huge expenses on wild flights of fancy.

I think one big "cut cost" was the development of the new RL10 (probably before ULA bought Aerojet Rocketdyne), again funded by Uncle Sam (I can't imagine Aerojet Rocketdyne affording it before the buyout).

 

21 hours ago, tater said:

Yeah, if ULA is convinced there is a path to saving money, they will do it.

No need for a mandate from above, that's a business decision. Some things (ie: developing s spacecraft for NASA) would require dev money, as there is no business case for doing it otherwise, and the ULA parent companies are publicly held and have a financial responsibility to their owners.

IMPORTANT: ULA only wants to save their own money.  If the contract is "cost plus*", then every dime they save Uncle Sam is less revenue for ULA (from what I understand, SLS is pretty close to ending the "cost plus" stage of the project).  If they try to compete in the commercial market, they will have to bring costs down to Spacex and Soyuz, which hardly seems possible/likely.  ULA will bring costs down when they feel their costs are making it difficult to get the NASA/DoD contracts (which must be happening already).

weird note: for "fixed firm price", you still get all the government requirements for time tracking, budgeting, and auditing (maybe that isn't true for NASA, Space X appears to somehow get around a lot of it).  But somehow, if the project is done under budget (going over budget requires a ton of paperwork, and while you might hear about it a lot in the news, I think only the big boys with lots of political cover can get away with it) somehow all the extra money is  spent on "management".

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ULA was forced to dev Vulcan because the government made them to avoid using Russian engines.

Oddly, the same US government forgot that it wanted ULA to use Russian engines so that Russian engines would go to the US, instead of being sold to "bad actors."

It's a national security problem, so we buy engines, then decide it's a national security problem to buy the engines we're buying to avoid a national security problem.

 

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1 hour ago, wumpus said:

How many rockets have Boeing or Lockheed Martin built on their own dime?

How many have SpaceX built "on their own dime"? Zero, they hope. They intend to make a profit. Profitable companies build products for other people to buy.

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3 minutes ago, mikegarrison said:

How many have SpaceX built "on their own dime"? Zero, they hope. They intend to make a profit. Profitable companies build products for other people to buy.

FH?

Starship/Super Heavy?

Later selling launches/vehicles is not at all the same as getting paid to develop something. The Apollo program, for example. The contractors were hired to do work, and they did work. SLS is the same, as was Shuttle.

F9 was partially paid for by NASA, and was specifically to launch cargo Dragon (part of the payment for that, and Dragon was just a NASA thing).

FH will be sold for various customers, and the overall cost of the program will be launch revenues minus SpaceX dev costs. Ditto Starship. It was still speculative, though.

If ULA was paid for Vulcan... maybe they should have been, since they had a perfectly good LV they were told to stop using (Atlas V).

 

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16 minutes ago, tater said:

FH?

Starship/Super Heavy?

Later selling launches/vehicles is not at all the same as getting paid to develop something. The Apollo program, for example. The contractors were hired to do work, and they did work. SLS is the same, as was Shuttle.

F9 was partially paid for by NASA, and was specifically to launch cargo Dragon (part of the payment for that, and Dragon was just a NASA thing).

FH will be sold for various customers, and the overall cost of the program will be launch revenues minus SpaceX dev costs. Ditto Starship. It was still speculative, though.

If ULA was paid for Vulcan... maybe they should have been, since they had a perfectly good LV they were told to stop using (Atlas V).

 

Falcon Heavy may be a commercial failure, but it wasn't intended to be one. They designed it thinking that somebody would buy rides on it.

Starship the same, right?

SpaceX isn't a charity.

Where it gets complicated is that Musk/Bezos/Branson may not ever be expecting to recover the money they invest in their space projects (although the way they all got to be billionaires is that they *did* recover the money/work they invested in their previous ventures). But SpaceX is operating as a for-profit company, which means they *intend* that, on the whole, everything they do will be on some customer's "dime".

I don't know the real numbers, but reliable estimates are that Boeing spent more than $20B to develop the 787. They didn't intend to spend that much, and they did fully intend to make money in the long run off of the 787, and it's possible that they will. But if they don't, that doesn't change what their intentions were.

You guys are confusing the difference between developing a thing that a customer pays you to develop and developing a thing "on spec" that you expect customers to pay you for later. They are really the same thing, except for who takes the majority of the risk.

In the Saturn days, there was little or no commercial market for space. But there was a thriving market for governments who wanted to throw nuclear bombs at each other. So, we got what we got.

Edited by mikegarrison
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Also, as far as that goes, it is perfectly valid from the company's point of view to say that Musk/Bezos/Branson are the "customers" they are building rockets for. These guys are paying the companies in advance to build the rockets they want them to build. How is that different from the government paying companies to build Saturn or Redstone?

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54 minutes ago, mikegarrison said:

How many have SpaceX built "on their own dime"? Zero, they hope. They intend to make a profit. Profitable companies build products for other people to buy.

I doubt they were getting much for Starship until Artemis, and that was a long shot to get money that they were going to spend.  And that's still just the top half of the rocket, not the booster.  Not sure it will be done the booster before they can grab funding for that.

31 minutes ago, mikegarrison said:

SpaceX isn't a charity.

 

But it might be an obsession.  I'm fairly sure it would do well in an IPO, although I'm sure the market would keep comparing it to Tesla, so maybe it wouldn't be ideal.  But that isn't why Musk keeps it private.

Edited by wumpus
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6 hours ago, mikegarrison said:

SpaceX isn't a charity.

I agree (not for Starship), but there is a difference between building something THEN trying to sell it, and having a customer pay for something head of time.

It's like building a house, then selling it vs a client hiring an architect and builder, then building a house. The former has risk for the builder, the latter effectively does not (assume the money is in escrow or something so the contractor can't get stiffed). What if the builder makes a 10,000 sqft house for a huge amount in a marginal town, then the economy tanks?

6 hours ago, mikegarrison said:

You guys are confusing the difference between developing a thing that a customer pays you to develop and developing a thing "on spec" that you expect customers to pay you for later. They are really the same thing, except for who takes the majority of the risk.

Yes, exactly.

The risk matters.

SpaceX taking the risk is different than the taxpayer taking the risk.

In addition to  that, Starship is different because it does not primarily exist as a product. They really are serious about Mars. That is what it is for. Insane LEO capability comes for the ride. Will they sell that? Sure. Is that why they build? Nope.

I said in some other thread the total global launch market is chump change. Like $20B, and not all is available to every launcher (national interests, etc).

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15 hours ago, tater said:

It's like building a house, then selling it vs a client hiring an architect and builder, then building a house. The former has risk for the builder, the latter effectively does not (assume the money is in escrow or something so the contractor can't get stiffed). What if the builder makes a 10,000 sqft house for a huge amount in a marginal town, then the economy tanks?

Yes, exactly.

The risk matters.

I think I remember hearing that the builder who custom built my parents' retirement home got bankrupted while not being able to sell a "spec house" when the 2000ish real estate bubble popped (same situation as described)

Don't be surprised if there is a reason there is old space and bold space, but no bold old space.

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53 minutes ago, wumpus said:

Don't be surprised if there is a reason there is old space and bold space, but no bold old space.

SpaceX looks to be the exception that proves the rule, much as there are a few old, bold pilots. But they are quite rare; as rare as moonwalkers (coughBuzzAldrincough). Gotta be bold to be one of those. 

(Sorry, off on a tangent again)

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1 hour ago, wumpus said:

I think I remember hearing that the builder who custom built my parents' retirement home got bankrupted while not being able to sell a "spec house" when the 2000ish real estate bubble popped (same situation as described)

Don't be surprised if there is a reason there is old space and bold space, but no bold old space.

Yeah, I think that being public must also play a role here as well.

Boeing and LockMart can't really spend a small fortune developing a novel launch vehicle—with a pretty decent chance of failure—so that they can try to secure a slightly larger chunk of the very limited launch market. Boeing looks like it generates $50-$100B per year. LockMart more like $50-$60B per year.

They still won 60% of the USAF launches, they can't really expect better than that, and US gov launches pay better than commercial. I'm not seeing a powerful motivation for them to make a rocket without an obvious use they can market.

I think SpaceX is different here, cause selling launches is really incidental to Musk, if he just wanted to make money, he'd probably do better to throw money at Tesla at this point. It's about the kooky Mars colony. <shrug>

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On 7/29/2021 at 12:52 PM, tater said:

ULA was forced to dev Vulcan because the government made them to avoid using Russian engines.

Oddly, the same US government forgot that it wanted ULA to use Russian engines so that Russian engines would go to the US, instead of being sold to "bad actors."

It's a national security problem, so we buy engines, then decide it's a national security problem to buy the engines we're buying to avoid a national security problem.

 

I've just spent half an hour trying to figure out why the US was buying rockets from Russia for the Atlas - and in one paragraph you explained more than the articles I read. 

Still - its amazingly disappointing that we did not have a parallel development program. 

So given that the US has at least a trifling knowledge of rocket design - why hasn't Lockheed Martin / ULA / etc kept pace... And why is BE-4 the only egg in the basket? 

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4 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

I've just spent half an hour trying to figure out why the US was buying rockets from Russia for the Atlas - and in one paragraph you explained more than the articles I read. 

Still - its amazingly disappointing that we did not have a parallel development program. 

So given that the US has at least a trifling knowledge of rocket design - why hasn't Lockheed Martin / ULA / etc kept pace... And why is BE-4 the only egg in the basket? 

There's actually the AR-1 which was made to work on Vulcan but not selected by ULA, as well as the more obvious Raptor which has a little less thrust than BE-4 using the same fuel combination for more isp

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