Firefly Aerospace Announces New Board of Directors and Corporate Expansion Plans

Deborah Lee James and Robert Cardillo. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

CEDAR PARK, TEXAS, February 3, 2021 (Firefly PR) – Firefly Aerospace, Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, announced the appointment of Deborah Lee James and Robert Cardillo to its Board of Directors. Firefly’s new three-person board, including Firefly CEO, Dr. Tom Markusic, will be led by Ms. James, serving as Chairman of the Board.


Hyten Defends Cost Estimates on Ending U.S. Dependence on Russian RD-180 Engine

Gen. John E. Hyten
Gen. John E. Hyten

The head of the U.S Air Force’s Space Command is defending estimates on what it would take to end Atlas V flights powered by Russian RD-180s and transfer payloads to United Launch Alliance’s other booster, the Delta IV.

But it is impossible to accurately predict the cost of launch vehicles by the end of the decade, the point at which McCain wants the Air Force to stop using the RD-180, Air Force Space Command chief Gen. John Hyten said Thursday during the Space Foundation’s annual National Space Symposium.

The Delta IV is much more expensive than the Atlas V — on that point Congress and the Air Force generally agree. But exactly how much more the Delta IV will cost in 2020 is difficult to calculate, Hyten said. It all depends on what assumptions the Air Force makes about the state of the launch industry in the next decade.

“The reason I don’t know how expensive that’s going to be is because I cant tell you what the industry is going to be in 2020, I can’t tell you what ULA’s business case is going to be in 2020,” Hyten said during a media briefing. “I can make certain assumptions that make the Delta IV very attractive, and I can make certain assumptions that make the Delta IV unbelievably expensive — it’s all based on the assumptions that you make of what you think the world is going to be like in 2020.”

In a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, McCain cited a discrepancy between a $5 billion figure the service cited publicly and $1.5 billion he said James cited privately.

McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been adamant about getting ULA to stop using the RD-180 engine as soon as possible. ULA officials say it will take a number of years before its new Vulcan rocket will be ready to launch national security payloads.

McCain Demands Answers About ULA From Air Force Secretary

John McCain
John McCain

Washington, D.C. ­(John McCain PR) – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah James today expressing concern about her recent congressional testimony about how much it would cost to eliminate U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines, and the participation of Russian nationals in space launches under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.

During the hearing, Secretary James estimated that ending the United States’ reliance on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines by replacing the Atlas V launch with a combination of Delta IV and Falcon 9 launches would cost as much as $5 billion. But, shortly before the hearing, Secretary James indicated to the Committee that transitioning to Delta IV and Falcon 9 launches would cost roughly $1.5 billion. Secretary James’ testimony was also contrary to recent independent cost estimates by the Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), which has determined that the cost of ending reliance on Russian-made rocket engines could be similar to what the United States pays today. In the letter, Chairman McCain invited Secretary James to clarify her testimony in light of these contradictions.


McCain Wants Russian Engine Restrictions USAF Says Would Be Costly

John McCain
John McCain

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) continued to push for a ban on the use of Russian-made rocket engines on United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V booster at a hearing on Thursday, saying that their use allowed President Vladimir Putin to hold U.S. national security launch capability ” in the palm of his hand.”

“This is a national security threat, in addition to a moral outrage, at a time when Russian forces continue to destabilize Ukraine – including nearly 500 attacks in the past week, as General Breedlove, the Commander of European Command, testified on Tuesday,” McCain said in a prepared statement.


USAF Could End ULA Launch Capability Contract Early

ULA_logoSome more potentially bad news for United Launch Alliance (ULA): the U.S. Air Force is considering ending its $800-million-a-year launch capability contract prior to its expiration in 2019 after the company’s decision not to bid on an launch contract.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, testifying Wednesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military space launch, said she has directed staff to study the implications of ending the EELV Launch Capability contract early.

The Air Force buys ULA rocket hardware through a fixed-price EELV Launch Services contract but funds ULA’s launch infrastructure and engineering support through the cost-plus EELV Launch Capability contract that competitor SpaceX considers an unfair subsidy….

During Wednesday’s hearing, [Sen. John] McCain called ULA’s EELV Launch Capabilitity contract “$800 million to do nothing.” ULA disputes that characterization. On its website, ULA says the contract is not a subsidy since it “pays for very well-defined national security space requirements that allow the Air Force to launch exactly when and where it needs to launch.”

In her testimony, James said the contract currently is scheduled to end in 2019 after ULA carries out the final launch covered under an $11 billion sole-source block buy agreement with the Air Force. That deal, which predates the 2006 creation of ULA, covers the production of 36 Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rocket cores plus launch costs for a total of 78 missions.

Read the full story.

USAF Testimony on Military Space Launches Before Senate Armed Services Committee

Capitol Building


Subject: Military Space Launch

Witnesses: Honorable Frank Kendall III
Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics

Honorable Deborah Lee James
Secretary of the Air Force

JANUARY 27, 2016

Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Reed, and distinguished Members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss how we deliver national security space capabilities to the nation’s warfighters and intelligence community (IC). These capabilities provide our nation decisive advantage in situational awareness, precision navigation and targeting, and command and control, and without assured access to space via reliable launch services, that advantage would be at risk.


Air Force Doubts New ULA Engine Can Be Ready by 2019

Atlas V launch of WorldView-3 satellite (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V launch of WorldView-3 satellite (Credit: ULA)

U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee Jones told a Senate committee this week that it would be difficult to develop a new rocket motor to replace the Atlas V’s Russian-produced RD-180 by the the 2019 deadline established by Congress.

“Because this,” James said, “is rocket science.”

James said the technical experts she’s spoken with estimate that it would take six to eight years to build a new engine and another year or two to integrate it into the launch vehicle. If those estimates are right, it would push the first use of a new engine well into the 2020s.

The Air Force has not decided what engine to fund to replace the RD-180, which powers the Atlas V’s first stage. United Launch Alliance, which builds the launch vehicle, has announced a partnership with Blue Origin to develop the BE4 engine.

The Atlas V is used almost exclusively to launch defense payloads. Replacing the RD-180 has become a priority given deteriorating ties between the United States and Russia.

In series of Tweets, ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said he expects the first flight of the BE4 engine to occur in 2019. The new engine and rocket would be certified in 2022-23 for launching national security payloads.

“Developing an American engine by 2019, cert in 2022-23, is an aggressive schedule,” Bruno wrote. “The existing law leaves us no flexibility.”

“No, we cannot realistically accelerate certification to 2019. 2022-23 already has risk,” he said in another Tweet.