Crouching tiger, hidden dragon – competition between SpaceX and ULA still without winner

After retrieving participation from bid for contract for launching next generation GPS satellites, ULA representatives still are convinced about superiority of their company.

Money talks but not always for United Launch Alliance. As launch service provider with long tradition of cooperation with US Government and with stable position on market it seemed that SpaceX would have tough nut to crack to start being consider as equal with potential and experience. But now it seems that ULA is standing outside while SpaceX is in the center of the market. Reason is simple - money. With prices considerably lower than ULA (even up to over 50%), SpaceX managed to collect an impressive portfolio of companies satisfied from their services. They also started to develop new technologies and what is even more important started to put it into their launch vehicles. For now they are most counting company in space industry with own rockets, own engines, own operational spacecrafts - simply they have all the aces. Unfortunately ULA seems to live in land of Oz where they are still grabbing all government contracts, public money are transferred for their new engine research and USA are stopping every ban for any Russian goods especially for rocket engines. According to Reuters, Brett Tobey who is vice president of engineering in ULA gave yesterday statement at the University of Colorado-Boulder (where on 19 November 2015 they announce about offering free Cubesat slots during every launch for Cubesat satellites made by students of universities across USA):

"The government was not happy with us not bidding that contract because they had felt that  they had bent over backwards to lean the fill to our advantage. We saw it as a cost shootout between us and SpaceX," Tobey said.

Words of Brett Tobey were commented by ULA spokesman as not reflecting truly point of view of United Launch Alliance. But unfortunately these words are quite good illustration of recent ULA actions. Quitting from bid only because company rest on laurels and considered buying engines in country who is one of the major competitors of USA internationally, was really not good move. Particularly, if it was planned to utilize these engines in rockets contracted for US military. Secondly - sense of bidding is just cost shootout nothing more, because in terms of launch services everything is easily countable. Even experience and reliability of ULA which was often mentioned in their statements could be easily converted into money and the question is if experience and reliability are truly worth 50% of total launch cost. Of course experience and reliability are not countable if manned missions are concerned and in this kind of missions ULA is far more experienced (since 1995 Boeing and Lockheed, owners of ULA, were main shareholders of one of the Space Shuttle program contractor - United Space Alliance). Unfortunately for ULA remote sensing satellites launched for NRO or navigation satellites launched for USAF are not manned spacecrafts and possible loss is not painful as possibility of losing manned spacecraft. Still money talks and sooner or later ULA should improve their ability of operating even in conditions of aggressive market competition and hopefully will show their potential. Otherwise hidden dragon may be deprived of claws.

On picture above: ULA Delta Heavy rocket on launch site 37 at Cape Canaveral.

Sources:
http://www.reuters.com/article/space-ula-idUSL8N16O000

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