Ron Paul is attacking Spacex and the Defense Department since there is a restriction in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) from using Russian Rockets. United Launch (a combination of Boeing and Lockheed) had a space launch monopoly for over a decade but then became dependent on using the Russian RD-180 rocket. The Russian RD-180 engines is used for the Atlas 5 rocket.
In 1995 Lockheed Martin conducted an open competition for the next generation Atlas rocket’s first stage engine. The RD-180 won on both performance and cost. The idea was that the RD-180 would be co-produced, built in Russia for commercial satellite launches and built in America for U.S. government launches. The Cold War had just ended; the Soviet government was gone. An era of good feeling, combined with the cost-savings plan and the Russians’ need to find new customers now that its old one had ceased to exist, led to what previously would have been unthinkable: The U.S. Department of Defense authorized the purchase of RD-180 first-stage rocket engines, manufactured by Russia’s NPO Energomash. Russian rocket-propulsion technology was proven, reliable, available, and priced to move. The RD-180 made its way first onto Lockheed’s Atlas III and later into the Atlas V. The 50% cost reduction never materialized.
Lockheed Martin and ULA spent more than $120 million on the American part of the RD-180 co-production program. But budget constrictions trumped expansion of the U.S. industrial base. Russian-built RD-180s cost only about $10 million apiece.
ULA also wields power in Washington, and this year it scored its own victory: It persuaded Congress to allow it to use up to 18 more RD-180 engines for military launches—enough to keep ULA in business into the early 2020s but not much longer. (McCain won one concession: RD-180s will be prohibited from national security space launches starting in 2022. Prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, U.S. lawmakers banned the use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for military and spy satellite launches after 2019.
SpaceX’s offering is dramatically more economical than ULA’s. It advertises its Falcon 9 rocket at a launch price of $62 million, compared with ULA’s “list prices” of anywhere from $164 million to $350 million for an Atlas V launch.
ULA has Delta IV rockets but they each cost $400 million to launch.
ULA will continue trimming its work force by a quarter—up to 875 people—through the end of next year. ULA will also scale back its portfolio, phasing out its Delta II rockets next year and its larger Delta IV in 2018. Three of five launchpads will close, leaving a single launch site on each coast.
Boeing and Lockheed and other partners got tens of billions for the Constellation space program and the Space Launch System. They were not able to deliver new launch vehicles. They received upwards of fifty times the money given to Spacex to help Spacex develop the Falcon rockets.
ULA is aiming to make the Vulcan as cost-competitive as possible. “We’re already bidding lower prices today, and by the end of 2017 we’ll be offering sub-$100 million launch costs,” Bruno says. “Vulcan is the last piece.” Both rocket and engine remain untested, raising huge question marks for a company whose strongest selling point is reliability. The BE-4 marks Blue Origin’s first foray into a rocket engine of this size and type.
The Vulcan rocket is planned to replace the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. Vulcan is projected to enter service by 2019, using the Blue Origin BE-4 methane-fueled rocket engine. The Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V are expected to stay in service for a few years after Vulcan’s inaugural launch, and the Heavy is expected to be discontinued in the late 2020s.