ULA Signs Multiple Contracts for First Stage Propulsion Work

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Centennial, Colo., June 16, 2014 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) has signed commercial contracts with multiple American companies to investigate next-generation liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon first stage propulsion concepts. In collaboration with ULA, each company will conduct technical feasibility analysis, develop high fidelity plans, identify schedule, cost and technical risks, as well as cost estimates to meet aggressive recurring cost targets.  All concepts will support a first launch by 2019.

“As the nation’s steward of the launch industrial base and the only company certified to launch our nation’s most critical missions, it is incumbent upon ULA to bring forward the best solutions to preserve that capability for the future,” said Michael Gass, ULA president and CEO.

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Commission Recommends New Domestic Rocket Engine as Congress Provides Funding

Capitol Building
Aviation Week
reports on the impact of Russia banning the export of RD-180 engines for use in the Atlas V rocket:

An influential government commission is recommending the quick start of a new liquid oxygen (LOx)/hydrocarbon engine program not only as a measure to mitigate an Atlas V gap if Russia cuts off its supply of RD-180 engines to the U.S., but also to provide an alternative to the Delta IV in nearly a decade.

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ULA Slams SpaceX for Filing Frivolous Lawsuit During National Security Crisis

ULA_logoULA Statement on Department of Justice
Response to Court of Federal Claims
May 7, 2014

“ULA and the U.S. Department of Justice filed motions to dissolve the preliminary injunction supporting ULA’s earlier statements that the purchase of the RD-180 engines from our suppliers and partners, RD AMROSS and NPO Energomash, does not violate the Ukraine sanctions.

“Unfortunately, SpaceX has made many public but unfounded speculations to create negative perceptions of a competitor solely for purposes of its own self-interest. This frivolous lawsuit caused unnecessary distraction of our executive branch leaders during a sensitive national security crisis.

“The letters from U.S. Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce clearly state that NPO Energomash is not subject to any of the current sanctions and that ULA’s continued purchase of the RD-180 does not directly or indirectly contravene the Ukraine sanctions.

“As a result, both ULA and the Department of Justice have requested that the injunction be immediately lifted.”

Domestic RD-180 Engine Production Would Cost $1 Billion

atlasv_nrol39
Aviation Week
reports that producing RD-180 engines for Atlas V in the United States would be neither inexpensive nor fast:

“We hold a license to manufacture and deliver RD-180 engines,” says Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, which formed a joint venture with Russian engine manufacturer NPO Energomash in 1997 called RD Amross. The sole purpose of RD Amross is to provide the engines to the U.S. “A deviation from the contracted, agreed-upon delivery amount would represent a contractual breech,” says Maureen Schumann, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

If Russia were to hold the RD-180 hostage, the Defense Department estimates it would need $1 billion over five years to establish production on U.S. soil.

The RD-180 sourcing plan was established over years of regulatory review once Lockheed Martin, which developed the Atlas V in the late 1990s, selected the engine as its propulsion system. To mitigate concerns about supply, the U.S. Air Force maintains a stockpile of roughly two years’ worth of engines, ULA CEO Mike Gass told lawmakers this month. The stockpile was approved as a change to the U.S. policy with regard to foreign sourcing in 2000.

The policy today is three-pronged. In addition to the stockpile, the Pentagon also has a plan to “gracefully” transition to U.S. production if needed. And, finally, should the supply be interrupted, Pentagon officials can prioritize what missions would use Atlas V while a production facility is being established stateside.

DOD officials are concerned Russia could cut off supply of the engines as tensions simmer over the annexation of Crimea.

Orbital Drops Lawsuit Against ULA

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Orbital Sciences Corporation has dropped its anti-trust lawsuit against ULA over the RD-180 rocket engine — at least for the time being.

“The parties will now undertake to negotiate a business resolution for Orbital’s access to the RD-180 rocket engine, subject to all necessary approvals from the U.S. and Russian governments,” Orbital said in the filing. “If a mutually agreeable resolution is not reached, Orbital will have the option to refile its lawsuit.”

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U.S. Launch Companies at Crossroads in 2014

Cygnus is released from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Cygnus is released from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

Part 2 of 2

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Editor’s Note: In Part 1, we took a look at the highly successful year that all three U.S. launch providers had in 2013.  Today, we will look at the challenges ahead for each company.

Coming off a stellar year, each of America’s three launch providers — Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) — finds itself in a distinctly different place and facing unique challenges. The coming year could begin to significantly remake the global launch market, with significant consequences for all three players and rival providers overseas.

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Court Rejects ULA Motion to Dismiss Orbital Lawsuit Over Rocket Engines

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has rejected motions from ULA and engine supplier RD-Amross to dismiss an anti-trust lawsuit brought against them by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Space News reports.

Orbital wants Russian RD-180 engines to replace the AJ-26 engines the company uses in its new Antares launch vehicle. However, ULA has exclusive use of the RD-180 engines for its Atlas V rocket through a supplier agreement with RD-Amross, which is a joint venture between United Technologies Corp. and NPO Energomash of Russia.

ULA and RD-Amross asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that Orbital has viable alternatives to the AJ-26 engines and that RD-180s cannot be sold to foreign parties without the approval of the Russian government. Thus, Orbital could not prove the $500 to $1.5 million in damages it is seeking over ULA’s monopoly.

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Orbital Sues ULA Over RD-180 Engine, Asks for at Least $515 Million

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Sunday, April 21, 2013. The test launch marked the first flight of Antares and the first rocket launch from Pad-0A. The Antares rocket delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload, into Earth's orbit. Photo (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket on its maiden launch on April 21, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Orbital Sciences Corporation has sued ULA seeking damages of between $515 million to $1.5 billion for blocking sales of the Russian-built RD-180 that Orbital wants to use in its Antares launch vehicle, Space News reports.

Orbital of Dulles, Va., claims Denver-based ULA has not only illegally prevented open-market sale of the RD-180, but also has monopolized the launch-services market for certain satellites in violation of U.S. antitrust laws, according to a complaint filed June 20 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.

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Aerojet President: NK-33 Engines Can Be Put Back into Production

AJ26 test firing. (Credit: Aerojet)
AJ26 test firing. (Credit: Aerojet)

Space News is quoting Aerojet Rocketdyne President Warren Boley as saying the engine that powers Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new Antares rocket can be put back into production at a reasonable cost, adding an interesting wrinkle to an on-going anti-trust investigation of rival United Launch Alliance.

Antares uses two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines to power its first stage. The AJ-26s are refurbished Soviet-era NK-33 engines built for that nation’s long abandoned manned lunar program. The NK-33 engines are in limited supply because they haven’t been in production for 40 years.

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