ULA Hits Back at SpaceX & Musk, Sees No Interruptions in Russian Engine Deliveries

Launch of Atlas V with NROL-33 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 22, 2014. (Credit: ULA)
Launch of Atlas V with NROL-33 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 22, 2014. (Credit: ULA)

ULA has begun to hit back SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk after weeks of criticism. The Washington Post reports:

In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Michael Gass, the head of United Launch Alliance, met critics’ questions about its reliance on Russian-made engines head on, saying it would begin to develop its own engine in conjunction with several other firms. And he targeted Musk’s SpaceX, saying it was trying to “cut corners” and taking a “dangerous approach” to entering the national security launch business.

The counterattack by ULA, which is made up of defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing, includes a media campaign designed to showcase the firm’s long-held dominance in the field of space flight and highlight what it calls “results over rhetoric.”

“The whole tenor of the campaign is to make perfectly clear that there is a lot at stake when it comes to successful space launches — literally lives are at stake,” Gass said. “We also want to make clear that there is a big distinction between a company that has a 100-year combined heritage in successfully delivering satellites into orbit and a company that is not yet even certified to conduct one [national security] launch.”

[….]

“SpaceX is trying to cut corners and just wants the USAF to rubber stamp it,” Gass said. “SpaceX’s view is just ‘trust us.’ We obviously think that’s a dangerous approach and, thankfully, so do most people.”

Gass accused SpaceX of wanting the U.S. Air Force to “rubber stamp it” to compete for defense launches before the service complete certification of the Falcon 9 launcher, which is expected later this year. He also called SpaceX’s appeal to set aside the USAF’s decision to bulk buy of 36 ULA Atlas V and Delta IV rocket cores “baseless.”

Gass told reporters that despite a threat by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to cut off exports of the RD-180 engine, ULA expects deliveries to continue on schedule. There have been no indications that Russia will follow through on threat. The engine powers the first stage of ULA’s Atlas V engine.

Meanwhile, ULA has embarked on an effort to replace the engine with a U.S. developed motor. Earlier this week, the company announced a series of contracts with engine providers for initial work toward a replacement.