Boeing and Lockheed are the backers of ULA. They have not built a complete new rocket for over a decade. They have used the Russian engine for the Atlas V. They have not launched the Space Launch System in spite of getting over $12 billion since 2001. They will not launch the first Space Launch System until late 2019 or more likely 2021. ULA is contracting out to Aerojet and Blue Origin to make a replacement engine for the Atlas V.
ULA gets about $832 million per year to be the “reliable” heavy launch provider for the USA. ULA still gets this money in 2018, supposedly to guarantee launch capabilities for the USA.
The US government should give the nearly $1 billion per year to Spacex and Blue Origin in order to have two reliable rocket companies. They should also kill the $2-4 billion per year Space Launch System project. Boeing can then stick to making commercial jets and Lockheed will continue to ripoff the US taxpayer with the ridiculously overpriced F35 stealth fighter.
Blue Origin is not yet a successful rocket company. They have a reusable suborbital system and have successfully test fired a new large rocket engine. The US wants more than one supplier for heavy rockets, so beyond Spacex, Blue Origin seems like the best bet.
United Launch Alliance has a problem and the problem is that rocket science is hard. They are struggling to get non-Russian engines working by 2019 or 2020 for about $100-150 million per launch without factoring in launch pad maintenance costs.
* SpaceX aims to fly each Block 5 first stage ten times with only inspections in between, and up to 100 times with refurbishment. This could reduce launch costs by 2 to 4 times
* Spacex will try to launch the Falcon Heavy for the first time in Dec 2017. It could take 2-3 launches for the Spacex Heavy to get reliable
* Spacex is building the BFR rocket able to launch 150 tons and is fully reusable. Spacex has a target for launch costs of about $7 million per launch
Even with only some reusability and just the Falcon 9, Spacex is half the launch cost of United Launch Alliance when ULA is using the Atlas and the Russia engines.
With the more reusable Block 5 Falcon 9, Spacex becomes four times cheaper than United Launch Alliance and the Atlas V. Without the Atlas V, Spacex is about 5-8 times cheaper than the Delta rockets.
The Falcon Heavy will mean that Spacex can launch two to three times more than United Launch Alliance for each launch.
Blue Origin is developing the Vulcan engine. It is slated to enter service in 2020, likely using a new rocket engine known as the BE-4 under development at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. To bridge the gap between now and 2020 ULA needs to continue launching its Atlas V rocket, and the Atlas V needs the RD-180 to power it.
In 2014, ULA detailed their launch costs.
ULA’s launches cost an average of $225 million;
The Delta 4 Heavy, its most powerful rocket, runs about $350 million a launch;
The lower end of the Delta costs $164 million;
Any launch of the Atlas V (version 401) over the current buy would cost less than $100 million (this is the rocket closest to Musk’s Falcon 9).
Delta runs $164 million as part of the regular contract. The lower costs result from the fact that the launch maintenance costs — preparing and maintaining the launch pad and the equipment that goes with it — are paid for on annual basis by ULA. So the $64 million is already paid for, ULA representatives explained, and the per-launch price comes down below $100 million.
Since 2016 ULA has provided pricing for the Atlas V through its RocketBuilder website, advertising a base price for each rocket configuration which ranges from $109 million for the 401 up to $153 million for the 551. Each additional SRB adds an average of $6.8 million to the cost of the rocket. On top of the base price, commercial customers can also choose to purchase larger payload fairings or additional launch service options. NASA and Air Force launch costs are often higher than equivalent commercial missions, due to additional government accounting, analysis, and processing requirements. These government requirements can add $30-$80 million to the cost of a launch.
The U.S. Air Force awarded a $115 million contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne for development of the AR1 engine to be completed in 2019. Contract options could increase government funding up to $501 million. Aerojet had received US$228 million in funding for AR-1 through June 2017. In April 2017, Aerojet announced that the engine would be built in a new factory planned to be built in Huntsville, Alabama.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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