Star Wars: the Tesla Strikes Back

As of February 11th, Elon Musk and SpaceX protested the terms of a NASA contract worth USD 750 Million, submitting a complaint to the federal …

As of February 11th, Elon Musk and SpaceX protested the terms of a NASA contract worth USD 750 Million, submitting a complaint to the federal Government Accountability Office, a bureaucracy that offers auditing, actuarial and other financial advice to Congress. Specifically, SpaceX challenges the USD 150 Million in funds awarded to their rival United Launch Alliance, arguing that SpaceX can meet the demands of the contract at a significantly lower price and thereby deliver more value to the American taxpayer. ULA, when asked for comment, emphasized its experience and professionalism, writing ‘ULA was honored to be awarded this science mission… [with] a narrow launch window to reach all of the desired planetary bodies.”

To put this in context, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the two biggest players in the aerospace market, formed a joint venture in 2005 which effectively monopolized aerospace.

Then, in 2014, NASA contracted ULA to begin work on the Lucy space probe, which was created with the intent to visit asteroids around Jupiter. (The name Lucy refers to the fossil of an australopithecus discovered in East Africa, possibly the earliest hominid remains.)

However, despite ULA’s monopoly of 2005 – onwards, SpaceX broke into the industry by underselling ULA to launch a GPS satellite for NASA in 2016. The Lucy project, which comprises USD 6.8 Billion worth of funds, has to fall within a very-strict three-week astrological alignment, an opportunity that will take decades to recur.

SpaceX and ULA, sadly, have been struggling with production deadlines, ULA pushing back production targets by a year, and SpaceX pushing them back by almost two years!

The most recent USD 750 Million contracts from January are just the newest battleground in the ULA – SpaceX rivalry, which is ultimately technological. Lockheed Martin’s Atlas-series rockets have been in-service since 2002, but, despite an essentially-perfect track record, they’re being phased out and replaced with ‘Vulcan’ rockets by 2020. By the way, ULA is still selling Atlas-rockets on a private basis. SpaceX, never to be confused with SpandX, has seen success in running technically-sophisticated private launches. They’ve delivered crew and cargo to the ISS, and most critically have demonstrated their ability to recover (in 2015) and then re-use (in 2017) the first-stage rocket apparatus. Everyone knows, re-using the rockets makes the money.

From a financial take, the main message should be of gratitude for the introduction of competition into aerospace. It will tighten up those business and move their stocks to a natural price.

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The Race for Space — and $1.1 Trillion

… Blue Origin), space colonization (SpaceX has its eye on Mars) and mining on asteroids (Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, the latter …

On July 20, the United States will celebrate the 50th anniversary of landing a man on the moon. Since then more men have walked on the moon, but space travel and exploration, for all their advances, haven’t yet reproduced the wonder of that first moon landing.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. A recent estimate by analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate that the space business is raking in $350 billion in annual revenues, on its way to $1.1 trillion by 2040. And while guys like Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (founder of Blue Origin) are aiming for the stars, the reality is more mundane.

Spending on space is currently dominated by ground-based equipment that communicates with satellites orbiting the earth (33%), consumer TV (29%), government (25%) and other (13%). Morgan Stanley reckons that by 2040, 37% of spending on space will be directed at growing satellite broadband access to the internet. The ground equipment component will drop to 19% of spending, government spending will drop to 17%, consumer TV’s share will drop to 9%, spending on consumer broadband will rise to 8% and other spending will account for 10% of revenues.

Cui bono? Who benefits? Mass production of satellites is expected to lower the $500 million cost per satellite to something like $500,000, and companies like ViaSat and HughesNet will be launching lots of satellites to bring internet services to the 3.6 billion people around the world who do not currently have access to them. Those services now cost between $50 and $150 a month, depending on how much data a customer uses and how fast the connection is. That’s pretty pricey in many parts of the world and will depend on other technologies (5G terrestrial networks, for example). Morgan Stanley estimates that costs-per-megabyte will drop to 1% of today’s levels.

Rocket companies like SpaceX and Blue Origen are focused on reusable rockets to launch satellites, astronauts and, ultimately, tourists and colonizers into space. Launching a satellite into space now costs about $60 million, considerably less than the $200 million or so that the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture, United Launch Alliance, once charged. Launch costs could drop to just $5 million, according to Morgan Stanley.

There are also revenue opportunities in package delivery (UPS and FedEx probably have the inside track here), private space travel (SpaceX and Blue Origin), space colonization (SpaceX has its eye on Mars) and mining on asteroids (Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, the latter counting Google co-founders Larry Page and Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson among its investors).

The big opportunity, at least over the next 20 years, is satellite broadband. Reusable rockets have pared the cost of launching a satellite by a factor of around three and that number continues falling. Mass production of satellites will lower the costs even further in the near and medium terms. But space tourism, colonization of other planets and mining asteroids are likely to be the headline-grabbing programs. They extend the wonderment of that first moon landing of 50 years ago, and it appears that none will take another 50 years to achieve.

By Paul Ausick

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Thanks Elon: How SpaceX has lowered launch costs and made space more accessible

Frustrated with NASA and influenced by science fiction writers, Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. Though it suffered several setbacks, in 2008 it …

By Wendy Whitman Cobb, Cameron University

On March 2, SpaceX plans to launch its first test of an unmanned Dragon vehicle, which is designed to carry humans into low Earth orbit and to the International Space Station. If the test is successful, later this year, SpaceX plans to launch American astronauts from United States soil for the first time since 2011.

While a major milestone for a private company, SpaceX’s most significant achievement has been in lowering the launch costs that have limited many space activities. While making several modifications to the fuel and engines, SpaceX’s major breakthroughs have come through recovering and reusing as much of the rocket and launch vehicle as possible.

Between 1970 and 2000, the cost to launch a kilogram to space remained fairly steady, with an average of US$18,500 per kilogram. When the space shuttle was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kilograms for US$1.5 billion, or $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the rocket used to access the ISS, the cost is just US$2,720 per kilogram.

I’m a space policy analyst, and I’ve observed that cost has been a major hurdle limiting access to space. Since the 1950s, the high cost of a space program has traditionally put it beyond the reach of most countries. Today, state and private actors alike have ready access to space. And while SpaceX is not the only private company providing launch services — Orbital ATK, recently purchased by Northrop Grumman, United Launch Alliance and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are also players — it has emerged as the most significant.

SpaceX’s achievements

In 2018 alone, SpaceX made 21 successful launches. The new Falcon Heavy rocket — a more powerful version of the Falcon 9 — launched in February. This rocket can lift 63,800 kilograms, equivalent to more than 27 Asian elephants, to low Earth orbit and 16,800 kilograms to Mars for just $90 million. The test payload was Musk’s own red Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat. Frustrated with NASA and influenced by science fiction writers, Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. Though it suffered several setbacks, in 2008 it launched the first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket, the Falcon 1. Falcon 9 flew for the first time the next year, and in 2012, the Dragon capsule became the first privately funded spacecraft to dock with the ISS. SpaceX has since focused on recovering key parts of the Falcon 9 to enhance reusability and reduce costs. This includes the Falcon 9’s first stage which, once it expends its fuel, falls back through the atmosphere reaching speeds of 5,200 miles per hour before reigniting its engines to land on a drone recovery ship.

In addition to the crewed Dragon tests this year, SpaceX is continuing development of its Starship, which will be designed to travel through the solar system and carry up to 100 passengers sometime in the 2020s. Musk has also suggested that the Starship could serve as the foundation for a lunar base.

Impact on space exploration

SpaceX’s technical advances and cost reductions have changed the direction of US space policy. In 2010, the Obama administration moved away from NASA’s Constellation program, which called for the development of a family of rockets that could reach low Earth orbit and be used for long-distance spaceflight. With NASA falling significantly behind schedule, because of technological difficulties and budget cuts, the Obama administration was left with a choice of whether to boost funds for NASA or change direction.

In 2010, then-president Barack Obama toured Kennedy Space Center and even met with Elon Musk to get a firsthand look at SpaceX’s facilities. The administration chose to reorient the program to focus solely on deep space. For missions closer to home, NASA would purchase services from companies like SpaceX for access to low Earth orbit. Critics objected to budget cuts to NASA as well as concerns about whether the private sector would be able to follow through on providing launch services.

While NASA has struggled to develop its Space Launch System, an analysis from NASA’s Ames Research Center found that the dramatically lower launch costs SpaceX made possible offered “greatly expanded opportunities to exploit space” for many users including NASA. The report also suggested that NASA could increase its number of planned missions to low Earth orbit and the ISS precisely because of the lower price tag.

In addition to substantially affecting human spaceflight, SpaceX has also launched payloads for countries including Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and, most recently, Israel. On Febuary 21, 2019, a Falcon 9 launched a privately built Israeli lunar lander which, if successful, will be the first privately built lunar probe.

Overall, SpaceX has significantly reduced the barriers to space, making it more accessible and democratizing who participates in space-based commerce and exploration.

Challenges ahead

Despite SpaceX’s successes, it faces significant challenges. Earlier this year, SpaceX laid off 10% of its workforce to reduce costs. NASA remains suspicious of some of the launch procedures SpaceX plans to use, including the fueling of the rocket with astronauts on board, which was linked to an explosion of a Falcon 9 on the launchpad. The Department of Defense’s inspector general has also announced an investigation into how the Air Force certified the Falcon 9, though it is not clear what initiated the probe.

Among some in NASA, the concern is with Musk himself. In a video last year, Musk was seen smoking marijuana, which prompted NASA to initiate a safety review of SpaceX as well as Boeing, another company aiming to provide launch services. Musk has also found himself in hot water with the US Securities and Exchange Commission regarding his tweets about another one of his companies, Tesla. In recent days, the SEC has asked a judge to hold Musk in contempt for apparently violating a settlement deal reached last year. While he is undoubtedly the driving force behind both Tesla and SpaceX, erratic behaviour could make potential customers wary of contracting with them.

Musk, regardless of his personal missteps, and SpaceX have aggressively pushed technological boundaries that have changed minds, my own included, about the potential of private companies to provide safe and reliable access to space.The Conversation

The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Rocket Rivals SpaceX, ULA Split Air Force Contract Amid Pentagon Review

The new contract gives industry competitors SpaceX and United Launch Alliance responsibility for three satellite launches apiece, with SpaceX …

Falcon 9 Rocket LaunchGetty

The Air Force’s two approved rocket companies for national security missions split a new $739 million contract for launch services, just one week after an investigation launched into its practices for military launch certification.

The new contract gives industry competitors SpaceX and United Launch Alliance responsibility for three satellite launches apiece, with SpaceX receiving a $297 million fixed-price contract and ULA, $441.76 million.

An Air Force statement released Tuesday (Feb. 20) said the contracts support the Space and Missile Center’s mandate to provide “resilient and affordable space capabilities to our nation, while maintaining assured access to space.”

The contract comes only a week after the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General said it is investigating whether the Air Force properly certified SpaceX’s Falcon line for national security launches in 2015. As of mid-February, it was unclear what prompted the investigation. Neither the Inspector General’s office nor SpaceX responded to a query at that time.

The military launch scene changed rapidly in 2015 when SpaceX came on board as a new provider, breaking a monopoly by ULA that it held over the previous decade. (SpaceX’s first national security launch blasted off in late 2018.) SpaceX proponents argue that it can provide the same service for lower cost than ULA, while advocates of ULA point to its history of reliability as justification for paying a higher price.

Long exposure image of an Atlas V 551 heavy lift rocket launch from Cape Canaveral and shot from Indiatlantic Beach.Getty

While SpaceX’s tab for the contract’s services (which include launch vehicle production, mission integration, launch operations, and spaceflight certification) is 30% lower than ULA’s, launch costs are also highly dependent on the type of rocket used. SpaceX’s Falcon 9, for example, is much less expensive than its heavyweight Falcon Heavy that is most famous for launching a Tesla and mannequin into space in 2018. ULA has a range of rockets in light, medium and heavy configurations.

ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing formed in 2006, provides expendable launch systems — principally the Delta IV and the Atlas V. Neither of these systems experienced a complete failure in more than a decade of operations. The Atlas V rocket, however, has an Achilles’ heel; it uses RD-180 engines that are designed and built in Russia. Congress has a mandate to stop using these engines by Dec. 31, 2022.

ULA plans a replacement BE-4 rocket engine that it is developing with Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This rocket engine will fly on an Atlas V successor rocket called Vulcan Centaur, but that flight isn’t set to go until mid-2021 — only 18 months before the authorization expires, leaving little slack in the schedule for the Air Force certification.

But in a statement, ULA expressed confidence that these launches will serve as a springpad for bringing the Vulcan Centaur on board. The new rocket is “designed to meet or exceed the needs of our Air Force customer so we can continue to provide reliable, on-time, assured access to space well into the future,” said Tony Bruno, ULA’s president and chief executive, in a statement about the new contract.

One of SpaceX’s reference customers is NASA — for whom SpaceX launches cargo and soon, astronauts to the International Space Station. These heavy-lift civilian and military government launches will gain increasing importance as companies in general shift to smaller satellites.

For this award in particular, SpaceX said in a statement that it will “carry out an equal number of missions for the same vehicle class for approximately $150 million less than our competitors” and that the company has “rapid, responsive and reliable capability”. The company also said it has successfully finished twice as many missions than any other U.S. launch provider since the beginning of 2017.

“SpaceX is proud that the Air Force has chosen our company to support our country’s defense with these critical national security space launches and to continue providing the best value in launch with the proven Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX, in the same statement.

The article has been updated since publication to reflect information received from SpaceX.

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SpaceX Win $297 Million in DOD Launch Contracts

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded $297 million in Air Force launch contracts to SpaceX. The announcement was …
The Department of Defense has awarded SpaceX with over $290 million in Air Force launch contracts.
The Es’hail-2 communications satellite launches aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 on 15 November 2018 from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center | Image credit: SpaceX

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded $297 million in Air Force launch contracts to SpaceX.

The announcement was published on the official DOD website on February 19, 2019. In addition to the $297 million awarded to SpaceX, over $441 million in launch contracts were awarded to industry stalwarts United Launch Alliance.

SpaceX secured launch contracts for the NROL-87, NROL-85 and AFSPC-44 missions. According to the announcement, the company is expected to launch the NROL-87 and NROL-85 missions by no later than December 2021 and the AFSPC-44 mission by February 2021.

United Launch Alliance were awarded the contracts to launch SILENTBARKER and SBIRS GEO-5 with the optional addition of the SBIRS GEO-6 to be confirmed at a later date. The launch of SILENTBARKER is expected no later than March 2022 and the SBIRS GEO-5 launch no later than March 2021.

It is not yet clear which launch vehicles will be used for the four confirmed missions. However, the $297 million price tag for two SpaceX missions indicates they’ll likely both be launched aboard Falcon 9 rockets. All four confirmed missions are expected to be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The announcement of the $297 million awarded to SpaceX is the result of a protracted effort by the company to be allowed to compete against United Launch Alliance. The industry heavyweight had, for many years monopolised Air Force launch contracts until SpaceX sued for the right to compete in 2014. The DOD announcement confirmed that all six contracts received proposals from both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

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