ULA Responds To SpaceX Complaint: Defends Its Government Contract

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Last Friday (April 25), SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk filed a legal complaint against United Launch Alliance (ULA) stating that the launch provider unfairly won contracts to launch sensitive government satellites. On Monday (April 28), ULA fired back, defending its right to be the sole launch system for the US government.
“ULA is the only government certified launch provider that meets all of the unique Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe. That is the case today, when the acquisition process started in 2012 and at the time of the contract award in December 2013,” ULA said in a statement on its website.
ULA continued, stating that its recent “5-year block buy contract was the result of a best practice acquisition process that enabled the government to negotiate a block of launches in advance that enabled significant operations efficiency and created the needed stability and predictability in the supplier and industrial base, while meeting national security space requirements.”
According to ULA, this approach saved the US government and taxpayers about $4 billion and will keep the nation’s best interests intact by assuring safe deliveries of national security assets to space.
Because space launch is a risky business and it is critical to ensure safe transport of government properties in the sake of national security, ULA maintains that any new entrants must meet rigorous certification criteria in order to compete for business. These criteria include vehicle design, process maturity and safety systems, all areas that ULA’s Atlas and Delta launchers have met.
“ULA now provides Atlas and Delta EELV rockets that have complimentary capabilities that assure our customers that their mission needs are met. ULA has purchased a first stage engine built in Russia for the past 20 years for the Atlas rocket and has always maintained contingency capabilities if the supply was interrupted to ensure our customers mission needs are met. ULA maintains a two-year inventory of engines in the U.S., and would be able to transition other mission commitments to our Delta rockets if an emergent need develops,” the company stated.
“Since its inception in 2006, ULA has consistently exceeded EELV cost reduction goals. At the same time, we have conducted 81 consecutive launches, achieving 100 percent mission success,” it added. “EELV continues to be the most successful DOD acquisition program of the past few decades. Launches have been delivered on schedule, meeting or exceeding all performance requirements, and exceeding cost reduction goals.”
While Musk insists that SpaceX can save the government as much as a billion dollars annually on space launches, ULA has already shown that its “Block Buy” contract has provided more than $4 billion in savings under President Obama’s FY15 Budget.
The “Block Buy” contract is a commitment of 35 launch vehicle cores to achieve the economy of scale savings, according to ULA. The missions ULA provides for the government and commercial customers have a wide range of capabilities. ULA provides unique ground and orbital insertion capabilities that are included in the contract that are unique to national security missions.
The US Department of Defense (DOD) recently stated that canceling the contract and terminating the “Block Buy” would cost billions. Additionally, it could put “critical mission schedules at risk that would have impact on operational capabilities and the satellite program costs. ULA is focused on delivering on all of its mission assurance and cost reduction commitments that support its customers.”
Still, SpaceX maintains that it can save the country money.
According to the commercial launch provider, DOD officials have reported that EELV has exceeded its original estimated per unit cost by more than 58 percent. Each ULA launch costs American taxpayers about $400 million – four times as much as a SpaceX launch costs.
SpaceX currently provides launch services for NASA and other commercial customers. It insists that it can reliably provide launch services at an estimated cost savings of 75 percent.
SpaceX also went on the offensive about one of ULA’s launch vehicles: the Atlas V – which uses the Russian-designed RD-180 engine. The company that produces the RD-180, NPO Energomash, is majority owned by the Russian Federation. As well, the head of the Russian space sector, Dmitry Rogozin, was sanctioned by the White House in March 2014 in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” Musk said in a statement on the company website. “Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”
SpaceX’s legal protest document can be found at www.freedomtolaunch.com and is also being filed with the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC.