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Report to Congressional Committees
Weapon Systems Annual Assessment
Knowledge Gaps Pose Risks to Sustaining Recent Positive Trends
Government Accountability Office
Full Report (PDF)
Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program
Technology Maturity, Design Stability, and Production Readiness
All but one (14 of 15) of ULA’s launch vehicle variants—which are based on payload fairing size and number of strap-on solid rocket boosters used—and two variants of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 have flown at least once, demonstrating technology maturity. For design stability and production readiness, the program assesses launch vehicles using Aerospace Corporation’s “3/7 reliability rule.” Once a variant is launched successfully three times, its design can be considered stable and mature. Similarly, if a variant is successfully launched seven times, both the design and production process can be considered stable and mature.
Well, this doesn’t sound very good.
The burgeoning private space industry might find itself caught in the middle of geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia. Russian lawmakers have drafted a law that would ban cooperation between the two countries on building rocket engines, including sales of the crucial RD-180.
The RD-180 powers the Atlas V, the launch system maintained by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint company owned by both Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Earlier this year the company was awarded a $351 million dollar contract by the U.S Air Force for launching satellites.
If the Russians follow through on this, ULA and the U.S. Air Force and NASA will be in quite the pickle.
Hopefully, it doesn’t happen. But, you never know.
“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.
“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.
Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.
The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The first of ten contracts awarded under the Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) was recently completed. Moog Inc. successfully completed a “Non-Destructive Evaluation, Standards, and Testing” project, March 13. The company met all program objectives and completed all deliverables on time and on budget during the 15-month period of performance.
The Space and Missile Systems Center awarded the Booster Propulsion BAA contracts between November 2015 to January 2016 with the objective of maturing technologies and reducing risk in support of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The BAA was part of a comprehensive Air Force plan to transition off the Russian made RD-180 propulsion system used on the Atlas V rocket by investing in domestic industry launch solutions.
Commercial Cargo’s Lower Costs Brought Higher Risks
By Douglas Messier
In October 2014, NASA engineers were deeply worried about Orbital Sciences Corporation’s upcoming Orb-3 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
An Antares booster was set to send a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with 2,215 kg (4,883 lb) of supplies to astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. It would be the third of eight Cygnus flights to the station under a Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract worth $1.9 billion.
CENTENNIAL, Colo., June 15, 2016 (ULA PR) – ULA successfully delivered the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 22. During the first stage burn, the Atlas V system experienced an anomalous propellant mixture ratio resulting in an early booster shutdown and degradation of first stage performance. The Atlas V’s robust system design, flight software, vehicle margins and propellant reserves enabled the successful outcome for this mission.
The Senate has approved a defense measure that will allow United Launch Alliance to purchase 18 Russian-built RD-180 engines for use in Atlas V national security launches. The number is twice that wanted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ).
His committee unanimously passed a draft National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the military to buy nine more, and only nine, to help bridge the gap until an American-made replacement could be fielded. Today, McCain agreed to the double that number to the full 18 RD-180s requested by the administration and approved by the House.
McCain declared victory nevertheless because he won a provision not in the House bill: a deadline of 2022, after which the Pentagon could no longer buy RD-180s, even if some of the allotted 18 were left. That deadline would hold the Pentagon tightly to its goal of developing a replacement rocket by 2021 and certifying it for flight by 2022. If that schedule slips — as happens all too often on high-tech defense procurements — well, too bad.
“I supported this compromise because it contains a legislative cutoff date for the use of Russian rocket engines,” McCain said in a statement praising Flroida Sen. Ben Nelson for brokering the deal. “For the first time, Senate authorizers and appropriators agreed to a legislative cutoff date for the use of Russian rocket engines in national security space launches. As a result, no space launch contracts using Russian rocket engines may be awarded after 2022, and the number of Russian engines utilized could actually be lower than the 18 provided in the House bill.” (Emphasis on “could”).
Read the full story.
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
S. 2943 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017
Multiple Provisions Imposing Restrictions on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program: The Administration strongly objects to sections 1036, 1037, 1038, and 1611. Section 1036 would restrict DOD’s authority to use RD-180 engines, eliminate the Secretary’s authority to waive restrictions to protect national security interests, and — with section 1037 — disqualify a domestic launch service provider from offering a competitive, certified launch service capability. Section 1038 would repeal the statutory requirement to allow all certified providers to compete for launch service procurements. Section 1611 would redirect funds away from the development of modern, cost-effective, domestic launch capabilities that will replace non-allied engines. The combined effect of these provisions would be to eliminate price-based competition of EELV launch service contracts starting in FY 2017, force the Department to allocate missions, inhibit DOD’s ability to maintain assured access to space, delay the launch of national security satellites, delay the on-ramp of new domestic launch capabilities and services, and increase the cost of space launch to DOD, the Intelligence Community, and civil agencies. The authorization to use up to 18 RD-180 engines is necessary and prudent to expeditiously and affordably transition to the new domestic launch capabilities currently under development.
Back in March, we shared with you our efforts on building two new test cells to further support risk reduction testing on the BE-4. We began the construction of these additional facilities in October last year and we’ve just commissioned the first of these cells last week. This test cell is pressure fed and supports the development of the preburner start and ignition sequence timing that will be used on the upcoming full scale powerpack test campaign.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday that limits United Launch Alliance (ULA) to purchasing nine Russian-made RD-180 engines for use in the first stage of the company’s Atlas V booster to launch national security payloads.
The move sets up a showdown with the House Armed Services Committee, which earlier put the number of engines ULA could purchase at 18. ULA and the U.S. Air Force support the higher number, saying the engines are needed to meet military launch needs.
CENTENNIAL, Colo., April 29, 2016 (ULA PR) — ULA successfully delivered the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to its precise orbit as planned on March 22. During the launch, the system experienced a premature first stage shutdown. Atlas is a robust system. The Centaur upper stage compensated for the first stage anomaly, delivering Cygnus to a precise orbit, well within the required accuracy. The ULA engineering team has reviewed the data and has determined an anomaly with the RD-180 Mixture Ratio Control Valve (MRCV) assembly caused a reduction in fuel flow during the boost phase of the flight. In addition to analysis and testing, all RD-180 engines are being inspected.
Last Friday, in preparation for the MUOS-5 launch, the Atlas V completed the Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) operation, erecting the Atlas V into the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. LVOS will allow configuration of the vehicle to support RD-180 engine inspections and confirm all engine components are ready for launch. The Atlas V MUOS-5 launch is targeted for early summer; a new launch date has not been secured on the Eastern Range. The impact to the remainder of the Atlas V manifest is in review with new launch dates being coordinated with our customers. All missions manifested for 2016 are expected to be successfully executed by the end of the year, including OSIRIS-REx, which will remain in early September to support its critical science window.
The House Armed Services Committee approved a measure on Wednesday that would allow United Launch Alliance to purchase up to 18 Russian-made RD-180 engines to power the first stage of its Atlas V rocket.
The House Armed Services Committee appears determined to require United Launch Alliance (ULA) to re-engineer its Atlas V booster with a new Aerojet Rocketdyne engine in its first stage even though the launch provider doesn’t really want the motor.