Monday, July 30, 2018

A SpaceX Win: US to Require Airforce to "Consider" Both Expendable and Reusable Launchers

          By Brian Orlotti

Within the next week, the US government will almost certainly vote into law a new Federal government policy requiring the US Air Force (USAF) to consider both expendable and reusable launch vehicles for military launch contracts.

The move is a great milestone for the NewSpace industry and another triumph for Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, the only company currently capable of building reusable, orbital launch rockets. SpaceX has spent many years lobbying to open up bidding for military space launches, a market traditionally dominated by Centennial, CO based United Launch Alliance (ULA).

As outlined in the July 27th, 2018 Ars Technica post, "After 25 years, military told to move from “expendable” to “reusable” rockets," the final version of the defense budget bill, known as the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (H.R, 5515), will not only require the USAF to consider reusable rockets, but also require that if a contract is solicited for a mission that a reusable launch vehicle is not eligible to compete for, the USAF must justify it to Congress.

As outlined on beginning on line 10 of page 1183 of the bill:
In carrying out the National Security Space Launch program, the Secretary of Defense shall provide for consideration of both reusable and expendable launch vehicles with respect to any solicitation occurring on or after March 1, 2019, for which the use of a reusable launch vehicle is technically capable and maintains risk at acceptable levels.  
Beginning March 1, 2019, if the Secretary proposes to issue a solicitation for a contract for space launch services for which the use of reusable launch vehicles is not eligible for the award of the contract, the Secretary shall notify in writing the appropriate congressional committees of such proposed solicitation, including justifications for such ineligibility, by not later than 10 days after issuing such solicitation. 
The final bill has already been approved by the US House of Representatives, with the US Senate’s assent expected sometime this week. The bill will then require the US President's signature to become law.

The joint US House/Senate conference report (which formed the basis for the new bill) also calls for the US Department of Defense’s (DOD) Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program to be renamed the "National Security Space Launch" program on March 1st, 2019.

Author Friedrich Nietzsche from his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A Book for All and None," composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. Graphic c/o AZ Quotes.

The new bill will reverse decades of US policy.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the US military relied mainly on modified intercontinental ballistic missiles to launch its satellites into space. In the late 1970’s, the White House directed the DOD to rely on NASA’s space shuttle program to fulfill its launch needs.

The US government had originally intended for all US military satellites to be launched via the space shuttle, which did launch its first military payload in June 1982. However, such hopes were quashed by the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986.

Under the Reagan administration's National Space Launch Strategy, the US military was told to develop multiple ways to access space, which led to the creation of the EELV program in 1994.

The USAF urged Calabasas, Ca based Lockheed Corporation (now Lockheed Martin) and then Seattle WA based Boeing to modernize their Atlas and Delta rocket lines, improving reliability and lowering costs. Before the end of the 1990s, the Air Force awarded Lockheed and Boeing $3Bln US USD ($3.91Bln CDN) for this modernization effort.

The Atlas and Delta rockets’ high prices compared to Russian and European launchers shut the two companies out of the geostationary launch market, leaving them only the US national security market. Both companies began to consider whether they should continue flying with only a split share of the military market.

Fearful of losing its access to space, the US DOD brokered a deal in which Lockheed and Boeing would merge their rocket building ventures into a single company, ULA, founded in 2006. Their monopoly would not be broken until 2015, when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets became eligible to compete for military contracts.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after years of battling ULAs entrenched interests, has achieved its victory.

But that victory as outlined in the July 26th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "ULA Betting Big on New Vulcan Rocket for Future Business," might not last. ULA is betting heavily on its Vulcan rocket and advanced cryogenic evolved stage (ACES).

Only time will tell to ends up winning the bigger contest. Todays winner is SpaceX but tomorrows' winner isn't yet known.

Whoever wins then will receive the greater spoils..., the stars themselves.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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