Delta 4 Heavy ULA launch

COLORADO SPRINGS: After more than a month during which upstart rocket company SpaceX defined the debate about how much America should pay to launch big satellites into space, the Boeing-Lockheed United Launch Alliance crawled out from under its own rock and let fly.

Feisty CEO Michael Gass sat opposite a phalanx of defense and space reporters and finally rebutted charges by SpaceX and its owner, Elon Musk, that ULA charges north of $460 million per launch and is a profligate spender of the American taxpayer’s money. Gass said he wanted to address “a lot of rumors and innuendos about our costs.”

Here is the American military launch world for much of the next seven years:

ULA signed a deal with the Air Force for 70 launches, according to Gass. (For those who’ve followed this mess for a while, the company had earlier only spoken about 36 rocket cores bought by the Air Force);

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).

That last one may raise eyebrows, especially since the 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.

Atlas V launches NROL39

The discussion Gass had with us was primed by a five-page press release titled “Dispelling Myths about the Cost of EELV and United Launch Alliance.”

The precipitate cause of this press event was SpaceX’s lawsuit against the Air Force, which many observers believe will backfire on Musk by ticking off his biggest customer.

SpaceX really wants some of what is currently ULA’s launch business and is furiously working the halls of justice and Congress, the offices of the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Why is Musk so angry he’s willing to sue the Air Force? The service decided it could cut the number of launches it had to buy because satellites were lasting longer and, frankly, there just wasn’t enough money. The number of launches to be competed in the next two years dropped by half, from 14 to seven or eight. Musk’s company filed a protest against the EELV contract award in the Court of Federal Claims, one of three avenues for companies seeking redress through the filing of formal protests about contracts. None of this pleased ULA but the company said relatively little in public and did not explain what the actual launch costs were until today.

It should be fun to witness Musk’s response to the new ULA information. ULA faces its latest test on Thursday, when NROL-33 is set to launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral at 9:05 a.m. The thousands attending the National Space Symposium here will be watching to see if the company can make this successful launch number 69.

Comments

  • Michael J

    Glad to see the ULA decided it was time to stop playing punching bag.

  • Kdog

    Does the low, low price of under $100 mil/per launch include the over $1 billion fixed cost subsidy per year that ULA gets and which Spacex does not get?

    • Gary Church

      No, it includes billions of dollars in free support SpaceX receives from NASA labs and engineers that ULA does not get. Yelling “no fair” yet being totally dependent on the space agency for any success illustrates the collective cognitive deficit of the new space mob.

      • yaycapitalism

        NASA’s “help” to SpaceX is well documented under so-called “milestones”. If a contractor doesn’t meet a given milestone, no game.

        Besides, if ULA can match SpaceX’s pricing, then why haven’t they won global competitions for satellite launches. The market is a cruel judge. When ULA starts winning open global competitions for satellite launches beating out the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, etc. as SpaceX has demonstrated, let’s talk some more.

        • Gary Church

          Scream cheap all you want and this is not about “the market”; this is about the Air Force not wanting to launch this nations most sensitive payloads on an inferior lift private rocket.

          The SpaceX infomercial has not changed in years and always repeats the same line; cheap, cheap cheap, competition, competition, competition. Except there is not much competition to go to a worthless space station that never should have been built in the first place. You want a cruel judge? YOU GOT IT.

          The hobby rocket is cheap and nasty obsolete junk.

          • spaceboy22

            We’ll see how “inferior” the rocket is when the boost stage comes back and lands vertically for reuse.

            As far as ISS goes… regardless of whether or not it has any use… there is plenty of competition. Besides for the competition SpaceX has already gone through on cargo resupply, crew is facing serious competition between Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX. Plenty of competition. Only place where there isn’t any is with DoD. Which I suppose is good because ULA can’t win competitions. All of their payloads are DoD.

          • Gary Church

            Then why does SpaceX want to launch DOD if they are getting all the civilian payloads? And landing that stage back for reuse is…..really a joke. Cheaper to drop it in the ocean and forget about it. It is a dog and pony show.

          • randomguy

            ULA is expensive and easy to compete with if they get the chance. If ULA did not get 1 billion each year to keep the light on their rocket would cost 260 million.

          • Gary Church

            Easy to compete with. Everything is cheap and easy with new space. That’s why Musk is years behind schedule and has raised his ridiculously low prices over and over again and will continue to do so. Because it’s easy. Right.

          • randomguy

            When were the prices raised?

          • Gary Church

            You don’t know? I thought you were a Musk fan? The prices on the website have changed several times. Nobody seems to notice huh? It will only take another billion dollars to qualify it for astronauts. And a couple more years. I doubt it will happen. Hopefully it will blow up on the pad within the next couple launches and that will end this farce before more tax dollars go down that hole.

          • randomguy

            the rocket have always cost slightly below 60 million. The rocket is aldready qualified for austronauts.

          • Gary Church

            Not qualified for spy satellites though. Too bad. And after slapping the air force in the face with a lawsuit it never will.

          • randomguy

            It’s a bid protest, not a lawsuit.

          • Gary Church

            Suuure. It is whatever you call it. And everyone else is calling it a lawsuit.

          • Marcelo Pacheco

            Wrong. Prices were raised, in line with inflation.
            SpaceX is still the cheapest rocket able to place a 3+ ton satellite into GEO. Cheapest even than the Russians and the Chinese. Musk isn’t years behind schedule for currently operational F9R rocket, perhaps a little over 1 year for the Falcon Heavy. Check your facts mate.

    • Guest

      The figure does include capability as well as hardware.

    • http://www.ulalaunch.com United Launch Alliance

      The figure includes hardware and capablity contracts.

      • Roland

        Could you explain what a capability contract is. It isn’t very clear to me.

        • Jim

          The capability contract with ULA pays for the “capability” to produce launch vehicles. It i cludes hundreds of engineers as well as manufacturang planning etc – basically almost everything except touch labor and actual hardwAre costs.

  • Gary Church

    The beginning of the end for SpaceX and their hobby rocket. Finally. Let this company that has been the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration do the human race a favor and go bankrupt. The rabid screeching hordes of Ayn-Rand-in-space-idiot-Musk-worshiping-sycophants will have to find some other websites to contaminate.

    • Gary Church

      Sorry, that would be “rabid screeching hordes of Ayn-Rand-in-space-Musk-worshiping-idiot-sycophants.”

    • Ranger

      How is the privatization of the space industry a bad thing? As quoted by Ronald Reagan, the private sector will always do things better and more efficient than the government. Relying on Russia to launch our critical military satellites into space is illogical and should be prevented as soon as possible. On top of this, SpaceX will most likely be the first company to develop a manned crew capsule to take US astronauts to the ISS, again lessening dependence on the russians

      • Gary Church

        Relying on Russia? Puh-leez.
        And that astronaut taxi to the albatross ISS is still a billion dollars and years away. Years behind schedule with unresolved safety issues; I doubt it will ever carry a human being. So many SpaceX fans are living in a comic book fantasy world and polluting space forums with this garbage it has become the big lie told so many times that the public thinks it is true. It’s a scam.
        That collection of tin cans and solar panels going in endless circles at very high altitude is not a space program and needs to end. And when it ends SpaceX and their tourist scam is over. Or when the hobby rocket blows up on the pad and real space advocates are hoping and praying for that so this farce will end.

        • Thatswhat

          You might want to read up on the perils of space. Having anything in space is momentous achievement for humanity. And the solar panels are for power. You have a better idea ? Deep manned space exploration thousands of miles from earth before testing manned habitation modules (ISS) right outside our atmosphere….I’m sure you would be the first to sign up for that

          • Gary Church

            30 years of space stations has taught us everything there is to learn going around in circles in Low Earth Orbit.
            The “momentous activity” you are advertising is not space exploration. It is for-profit space tourism for the ultra-rich. That is what the hobby rocket was built for and now that SpaceX has bills to pay they are screaming for more tax dollars anyway they can get them. Including suing the Air Force.

          • Chris

            I agree with you Gary, I think it’s time the US just GTFO out of the space game and just let the Russians and Chinese take it over. They do it better anyway. Given the fact that our space program has done so much in the past three decades, I think it’s time stop even trying. We can continue to use the Atlas Vs that use the Russian rocket engines for the lower stage. Oh, and exploring other options such as privatization is stupid too. Go China! Go Russia!

        • Todd Austin

          Please tell us about the unresolved safety issues on the Dragon. We’re very interested to hear your well-informed engineering analysis.

          • Gary Church

            Escape system that-is-not-an-escape system. Life support systems are years away. SpaceX is nowhere near launching an astronaut and probably never will.

          • Todd Austin

            Once again, where’s the beef? Why are the Super Draco engines not an escape system? What marvelous knowledge do you have that 3000 engineers at SpaceX mysteriously lack?

            Why are their life support systems years away? What do you know that makes you so wonderfully prescient?

            Nowhere near? Never will? Oh Great and Omniscient Diety of Anonymous Blubbering, what is the source of this great wisdom you possess? Tell us, that we, too, might partake of this great cheap beer you drink and this manna called stale Cheetos.

          • Gary Church

            Jackassian commentary from the space clown wannabe crowd always exposes the musk mob for what they are- sleazy toxic cyberbullies. The system is designed more to keep tourist space stations in orbit than make an escape from a launch anomaly successful. Instead of putting crew safety first and using the far more powerful and simple escape tower they went with a load of toxic propellents stored on board. It is a bad system and when it comes time to qualify it for actual astronauts someone is going to throw the B.S. flag. The CST team made a really bad mistake in trying to do the same thing.

    • Thatswhat

      Neat . USA hobby rockets can reach the international space station. If it was up to you we would be stuck using a trampoline . Go USA

      • Gary Church

        Not a trampoline; a Heavy Lift Vehicle with hydrogen upper stages called the SLS. And why go to a collection of tin cans and solar panels when you can go to the Moon? Go SLS and go USA!

        • Chris

          The SLS is a waste of money, and so is going to the moon. It’s time we stop all US space flight, public and private. We can use the money to build up our dying military that Obama gutted.

    • Dylan

      OMG it’s the beginning of SpaceX’s hobby rocket business what are you saying? I just invested in thirty of the Falcon 9 1.1 Build-your-own kits and I cannot WAIT to get them in the mail. Already have a large stock of C motors to work through it’s gonna be flippin awesome. I like to pretend they are real rocket ships!

      • Gary Church

        That is what you are doing…pretending. Sick with it. The Musk mob is so clever. So Ayn-Rand-in-space. So everything American. They can mock and smarm anyone who dares to criticize their hero. Because anyone who dares blaspheme their space god must be punished.

  • Gary Church

    You cannot build a fake company using inferior technology and advertising impossibly low prices without that key ingredient:

    • Thatswhat

      What’s the key ingredient? Russian core engines?

      • Gary Church

        Does the picture show a Russian core engine? Ridiculous.

        • Gary Church

          My picture of Musk and Obama was taken down. I wonder why?

    • Todd Austin

      Support from George W. Bush? Yep, SpaceX freely admits that NASA’s help has been key to its success. As we all pay for NASA’s research, the fruits of that research are available to any of us. Musk decided to use it to build a family of rockets and a spaceship. How is that bad?

      • Gary Church

        Because I don’t want to pay for his company so he can charge me again for technology that I paid for once already. That’s the dirty secret of SpaceX; it’s a scam. It is just charging the taxpayer twice and for an inferior lift hobby rocket that was designed for space tourism.

        • Todd Austin

          Charge you again? So, any products using tech developed by NASA ought to be free. Memory-foam mattresses, computer chips, IR ear thermometers, high-efficiency airfoils, LEDs, …, all of it free FREE I say, because we paid for the basic research that made them possible.

          So, Falcon 9 is a “hobby rocket”? Where did you dig up that cutsie name, eh? It’s straight out of the Karl Rove handbook on cheap meaningless insult lines designed to divert attention among the weak-minded. Tell us, oh Great and Wise One, just how high do your “hobby rockets” go? 1000 feet? Do they reach geosynchronous transfer orbit? No? Perhaps you should go collect degrees from Penn and Wharton and start a few multi-billion-dollar companies, then maybe your “hobby rockets” would manage to get higher than the steps down to your mama’s basement where you spend your days.

          • Gary Church

            Pretty sophisticated debate here with you Musk worshipers. That’s how it always is though. Shrill insulting ad hominem and not much else except the SpaceX infomercial and after that gets exposed for the propaganda and deception it is then the really foul insults begin. You snarky arrogant ass.

          • Gary Church

            Oops, let me rephrase that; Pretty sophisticated debate here with you Musk worshipers. That’s how it
            always is though. Shrill insulting ad hominem and not much else except
            the SpaceX infomercial and after that gets exposed for the propaganda
            and deception it is then the really foul insults begin.The idiot sycophant new space mob members that patrol the internet are all the same. Snarky arrogant asses.

          • spaceboy22

            Well given SpaceX is the only American company capable of delivering satellites to orbit with American-made rocket engines… I’ll take the “hobby rocket.”

          • Gary Church

            God, where do you people come from? The Delta IV heavy puts the largest and most classified intelligence payloads into orbit and lifts far more than the hobby rocket can. Made by Boeing.

          • spaceboy22

            I think Delta is a great rocket, don’t get me wrong. Terrific lift capability. It’s not human-rated and likely never will be, but Delta is a fantastic rocket. If ULA found a way to contract less of the work out to third-parties, they could probably get the cost down to a more reasonable place too.

            Falcon 9 is also a great rocket though. The engines are basic and open-cycle, but they have a terrific TWR. Falcon will also likely succeed in landing the boost stage vertically, hopefully fulfilling the promise of rapid and cheap reusability.

            I really don’t care how “classified” Delta’s payloads are. Nothing about that rocket makes it more capable of carrying secrets than a Falcon. Obviously Falcon can’t even compete for Delta-class payloads. All that SpaceX and I want… is for SpaceX to be allowed to compete for the payloads that are small enough for Falcon (which is the majority of the payloads in the several years). Allowed to compete. Nothing more.

          • Gary Church

            Falcon 9 is NOT a great rocket. Comes nowhere near the capability of the Delta. Reusability is a myth; a PR ploy.

            You might not care how “classified” the payloads are but the Air Force does. SpaceX was not allowed to compete because they did not qualify. The fan club can wail and gnash their teeth but the Air Force said no. No means no. And after Musk’s crying and publicizing SpaceX will never launch a spy satellite. Never.

          • spaceboy22

            We shall see. I’m skeptical about the reusability aspect as well… whether or not it will really bring the promised cost savings. But I’m also hopeful.

            SpaceX not being able to compete for launches right now makes sense. You’re right. Not qualified. They presumably will finish qualification this year though. It’s unreasonable for ULA to have been awarded launches which will likely last through 2020. It’s unprecedented to award launches so far in advance, and no one is missing the convenient timing of it.

            Fortunately for SpaceX, the Air Force doesn’t get to say no. If they were a private company, sure, they could do that. But the government has a legislated mandate to allow competition on all government contracts. Ultimately, disallowing SpaceX from competing isn’t up to the Air Force. The bottom line is this. There is nothing magic about ULA’s rockets that allow them to carry secret payloads. If the rocket can get a payload from point A to point B at the required velocity, it really doesn’t matter what is sitting on top.

          • Gary Church

            It does matter when you are launching top secret satellites. Sorry. The hobby rocket crowd likes to scream cheap but there is much more to it than that.

          • Dylan

            Those vertical take off and landing videos on Youtube? Fake. Those are balloons and people in cow suits pretending to be frightened cows. Stupid Ignorant Americans Just pay your taxes to the same contractors you always have and stop believing those 30 foot long carbon fiber landing legs they bolted onto the last CRS-3 mission are real. Gary is right. He knows what’s up.

          • Gary Church

            The rocket equation? It’s not really relevant. What Elon Musk says is the gospel. Don’t pay any attention to over a half century of space flight. Listen to Musk; he will take you on a space station vacation. He is a hero. Dylan knows.

          • Kdog

            The half-century of spaceflight that has stagnated since Apollo, that half-century?
            I almost threw up in my mouth when ULA’s Gass basically said to Congress said, “We went to Russia and we were golly-gee awestruck at the amazing things they were doing with rockets over there that we thought were impossible.”
            How is this not embarrassing as an American?

          • Gary Church

            What are you babbling about now? Stop making stuff up. You are what is embarrassing me about being an American right now.

        • Jim

          Suggest you look at all the support that LM and Boeing received to develop the EELV. The AATS program paid Boeing and LM millions of dollars to do what they were already under contract to do. Boeing and LM have been paid Billions of dollars even of the do not launch ANY vehicles in a year.

  • cambomambo

    If all that’s true why not let SpaceX compete and kick their ass?

    • Gary Church

      Because the hobby rocket cannot compete. It would be an incredible waste of money.Just like the whole private space industry. A scam.

      • randomguy

        In what way is it a scam? And why can’t Spacex compete?

        • Gary Church

          Because their junk is not qualified and the air force does not want to send this nations most sensitive payloads up on a hobby rocket. SpaceX does not compete; they get most of their support free and cook their books quoting lowing prices. That’s why it’s a scam.

          • randomguy

            Spacex have competed the 3 required launches.

          • Gary Church

            Whatever you say- the air force says they are not qualified.

          • Marcelo Pacheco

            Actually, they have been certified already. Check your facts. The Air Force never said there weren’t qualified, but rather that they had to go through certification in order to get certified. Which now the F9R launch vehicle is. Once Falcon Heavy go through it’s first 3 launches, it will be able to get certified too. With F9R and Falcon Heavy certified SpaceX will have alternative solutions to every ULA launch configuration, and bye bye ULA monopoly after the block buy is fulfilled, ULA will crash and burn since they won’t be able to compete.

  • Thatswhat

    Does this include the billion dollars the government pays ULA to be on standby?

    • Roland

      Not sure, but if you multiply the $64million they were talking about times about 15 launches a year, (which is about how many ULA launches) you get $1billion.

      So it seems SpaceX’s $133 million per launch would be compared to the $100 million Atlas V 401 plus a $64 million for launch svcs ULA. Since launch pad maintenance & services would be included in the SpaceX contract, while they are additional for ULA.

      • randomguy

        What do you get 133 million from? the rocket costs 90 million. And then they receive the one billion dollar as ULA does they can lower their price to 10-20 million.

        • Gary Church

          SpaceX already receives billions in free support from NASA. Jeez. This infomercial is getting old.

          • randomguy

            What do you mean by free?

          • Gary Church

            Ask your parents.

          • Marcelo Pacheco

            NASA had an open and fair COTS program that SpaceX won fair and square, that was for developing Dragon space capsule and associated launch vehicle. ULA could have participated, but it would have required ULA do something it doesn’t do, actually competing in the market.

  • Ad Astra

    Thank you for dispelling the myth ULA. While we’re at it, let’s apply the same math to SpaceX’s launch costs? NASA paid $1.6B for 12 launches… That’s $133M per vehicle, NOT the $60-$90M marketing price that SpaceX fanboys continually parrot.

    • MBP

      $1.6 billion for twelve Falcon 9 and Dragon mission. That’s $133 million for the rocket and its payload.

      • Gary Church

        Does this include the billions in free support SpaceX has received from NASA labs and engineers?

    • Alistair Fox

      So SpaceX *with* subsidies is around the same price as ULA *without* subsidies?

      • Dylan

        *I* *am* *Jesus Christ* – You can quote me. That’s a *True* statement.

        • Gary Church

          Sure you are.

    • Todd Austin

      They are not strictly comparable. The $60-90 figure you quote is for commercial launches. Gov’t launches demand a heap of paperwork and double-checking that add a good $30 million to the price. There is also a Dragon cargo spacecraft involved, not part of a standard commercial payload launch. Then there’s the cost of running it on orbit, bringing it back down, and recovering and delivering the returned payload. Those are also not part of a satellite launch.

      • Dylan

        Thankyou! Comparing a satellite launch platform to a cargo mission with an actual spacecraft capable of reentry is NOT apples to apples. .

    • randomguy

      The airforce don’t use the dragon vehicle.

  • Gary Church

    The Musk worshipers are homing in on this article and burying any criticism of their space god- like they always do. Disgusting.

    • Some Guy

      …and you’re ranting fast and furious just like you always do.

      • Gary Church

        So you are a fan? A SpaceX fan of course. Some guy huh.

    • Todd Austin

      Seriously, do you have anything at all of substance to offer? I’m waiting with baited breath for a rational argument from you.

      • Gary Church

        Seriously, you can wait as long you want. I am not here for you. Do you think I am here to explain things to you Todd? Seriously?

        I presented all the facts in my other comments; you just want to fill up space and argue to obscure any criticism of SpaceX. That’s what Musk fans do on every website without fail. Anyone can surf to other space sites and see the same thing. Except on this defense forum the dogpile is not quite big enough make my comments disappear. Quite a change. I detest the whole private space mob and their cyber-bullying. It has gone on for years till their ridiculous infomercial is accepted as the truth. What a bunch of garbage.

  • Gary Church

    So far there are half a dozen “different” people who just came out of nowhere answering my comments. They all sound pretty similar. Could they all be the same person?
    I think so. Sleazy- like the entire new space internet propaganda campaign.

    • squidgod
      • Gary Church

        And you are another one of the conspirators; a space clown wannabe.

        Thanks for proving my point.

      • Gary Church

        Well gosh, squid can post a picture and I can’t? Let’s try this again; It’s not a conspiracy- it’s just malicious space clown wannabes doing what they always do to anyone criticizing SpaceX

    • Todd Austin

      What’s wrong? Can’t stand the heat and the light of a bit of honest analysis? You’ve become far too accustomed to listening to yourself ranting in the wilderness here, it would seem. When forced to say something of substance, which you clearly cannot, you resort to simple-minded conspiracy theories.

      Truly, this is the thinking that made America great.

      • Gary Church

        More ad hominem. Truly, this is what SpaceX fans do. The falcon can’t put nearly as much into orbit as either the Atlas or the Delta- even though it has more thrust than the lighter versions of either ULA rocket. Why? Because it does not use hydrogen in the upper stage. It uses one rocket engine- a low thrust kerosene design from the 60′s. It has to use a cluster of them in the first stage instead of one. 9 engines each with it’s own turbopump and plumbing. What a mess. But somehow this all seems to make sense to SpaceX fans….in fact, IT’S BETTER!

        How is that for some honest analysis of the ass-backwards company the Air Force does not want launching their satellites?

        • Gary Church

          When presented with “substance” the spaceX nuts always go to screaming CHEAP!! and demanding fair competition. Except that it is not fair because SpaceX gets most of it’s support free from NASA. It takes advantage of every subsidy, grant and tax break it possibly can and even with billions of dollars in services received free of charge from government labs and engineers this for-profit-created-with-my-tax-dollars company still comes up with an inferior lift rocket that is years behind schedule and years from lifting any ultra-rich space tourists into orbit; what it was originally designed for.

  • Marcelo Pacheco

    Funny seeing ULA comparing booster prices to a booster + space capsule price.
    F9R full price is around US$ 60 million.
    If ULA had an even remotely competitive price, they would be launching lots of commercial payloads, while in actuality they are launching one every few years, probably a sweetheart deal to be able to claim they are in the commercial market. Plus, get that US$ 1 billion / yr prorate it to the block buy and add it to each launch, that will give you more real numbers.

  • Gath Gealaich

    I got the distinct impression that Gary Church either works for ULA, or hates spaceflight, or both. :-p