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back to article Spy sat launch wannabe SpaceX fails to stop rival gobbling Russki rockets

SpaceX has failed to stop its rival United Launch Alliance from buying Russian rocket engines. The Elon Musk-led upstart sought a court injunction against the purchase, and was granted a temporary banning order last week. But that was lifted yesterday after the judge was assured by Uncle Sam's officials that the sale didn't …

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Different rules

To download free software from a european supplier you have to promise you aren't Cuban - because they have to comply with US rules to do business there.

Yet the US government is allowed to bankroll the development of Russian ICBMs and compensate the Russian minister in charge of invading his neighbours

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Re: Different rules

And Exxon isn't about to stop its joint ventures with Gazprom. I am so surprised.

The indignation about the Ukraine crisis is to a degree manufactured; historians are commenting that the conflicts being exposed go back over 100 years. Once the Kiev government wobbled, it all started to come out again. Putin probably did the right thing over Crimea, which seems relatively peaceful, even if he probably did it for quite the wrong reasons.

The US has a history of playing with fire; they are in Afghanistan now because a previous administration thought it was clever to fund Islamofascists to carry on their proxy war against the Soviet Union. Stirring things up in Ukraine is business as usual, blaming someone else is also business as usual.

But real business must continue.

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Unhappy

Re: Different rules

"Putin probably did the right thing over Crimea". No I don't think so, nor do I think the USA did the right thing in Iraq.

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Re: Different rules

I'm not about to engage in whataboutery, as in "Crimea, what about Iraq?", but I do not think you can compare an invasion with the full force of Western firepower that, in the end, has left hundreds of thousands of people dead, with an almost bloodless coup in Crimea which seems to have had at least the tacit support of most of the population. Whether the organisers were Russian troops without insignia, former Soviet troops, or a local security force employed by the Russians, they don't seem to have gone around shooting people. When I wrote "Putin probably did the right thing over Crimea", I meant simply that recognising the referendum and annexing the territory is probably in the best interests of the population. In a similar kind of way, the Nazi put in charge of Latvia and Lithuania in WW2 ran a relatively benign regime which was probably better for the locals than Russian occupation would have been. It doesn't make him a nice man (he wasn't), it's just a comment on the ironies of history.

Anyway, enough of this. I post far too much on the Reg and far too much of it is a bit off topic, so I'm going to have a holiday. Ending with an off topic post is perhaps par for the course, but there you go.

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Pint

Re: Different rules /Arnaut

have a thumbs up and a beer for the word "whataboutery" :)

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“Sadly, SpaceX’s frivolous lawsuit caused unnecessary distraction of the executive and judicial branch and increased tensions with Russia during a sensitive national security crisis,” the alliance said.

Which demonstrates why Russia does not take the US seriously in it's dealings with the Ukraine.

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I think it's the opposite - Russia clearly takes the US dealing with Ukraine pretty seriously...

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Once through Google translate ...

> she [ the judge ] had received letters ... explaining that the ULA deal doesn’t violate sanctions.

One assumes that's the jargon du jour for someone stratospherically high up in the administration screamed threats and abuse at her if she didn't "see the error of her ways" - and then dangled the carrot, for when she did.

Energomash - really?

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Re: Once through Google translate ...

No need for threats this time. The administration hasn't approved sanctions for their pal in Russia who happens to be invading Ukraine at the moment. All that sanctions hoopla is just so much crap to keep the rubes distracted.

I'll admit I was expecting that given the situation with the ISS they'd been issued a waiver, but it wasn't even that complicated. They just flat out haven't affirmed the company should be on the list.

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Grimy Underbelly of Aerospace

Everything about the aerospace industry is skewed, if not downright crooked. It's all so messed up that if you actually win a contract bidding war it's only because there's something terribly wrong that you're not going to be privy to until it's gotten inside your bank and eaten all your money. The back channel communications between DC and the big aerospace firms is huge, and right in your face, they don't even try to play it off.

Aerospace is our second largest industry, which is cool, but I don't bid on jobs for complete systems with any of them anymore. I'll do parts, tooling and test rigs, but no more complete systems. You never get your money. They're willing to throw you under the bus and argue breach of contract, thus refuse to pay, until you get sick of going to court and two weeks after the case is closed they'll order a duplicate of what they just spent two years saying wasn't to spec, and have the audacity to ask for better terms. Fuck em.

It's going to take someone like Elon Musk to get any of that changed. It's going to cost zillions of dollars, near limitless political clout and require many school buses full of innocent children to be sacrificed to appease the blackguards in aerospace and government. I hope he eventually prevails, but there are going to be a lot more losses like this one before things get better.

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"“Sadly, SpaceX’s frivolous lawsuit caused unnecessary distraction of the executive and judicial branch and increased tensions with Russia during a sensitive national security crisis,” the alliance said."

Yes, frivolous, I can see exactly how the awarding of a 36 core contract (which at the claimed $400m/launch amounts to $14.4bn) could be described as "frivolous".

But it's certainly not frivolous for SpaceX's bottom line, not frivolous for the US taxpayer, and definitely not frivolous for the bottom line of a bloated whale of a corporation who will struggle enormously in a free market where SpaceX can undercut them by up to 75% (and where Virgin LauncherOne may drop the price even further for small payloads in very low orbits, which fits the bill rather well for some of the short-lived, very-high-res spysats that noone knows about, especially as WhiteKnightTwo-alike craft can operate from any old airfield that offers an optimal launch profile).

Much cheaper to laugh them off as boisterous kids and pay the right people to make sure the "grown up" supplier gets the grown up contracts.

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Orbital Science has been air-launching payloads with the Pegasus for a while now, but depending on weights I suppose there's plenty of room in that pool.

As for bloated whales, I've said it before and I'll say it here: When you work goverment contracts, a rather non-trivial part of the cost is in giving the government what they demand in terms of auditing and compliance and proceduralism. There's this wonderful thing called FAR 15... no, it's not wonderful, it sucks really badly. To a certain degree, rules and regulations are a good thing because they keep folks from behaving too badly. But you have to balance them or it just ends up slow, unwieldy, and expensive. Sound familiar?

I think you'll be shocked when the comparison between SpaceX and ULA really IS apples-to-apples.

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Hoping..

That SpaceX just get on with the job and show these entrenched firms the door simply by showing how much cheaper and better they are. Hoping for a point where it's so obviously to everyone that ULA and whoever are just ripping off everyone. Although I suspect that various laws will be passed that make it impossible for SpaceX to compete, as is happening in certain states with Tesla. Still, Musk isn't stupid. He's likely to find a way round.

USA. Land of the Free. As long as you don't start taking money away from the people at the top.

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Re: Hoping..

If you don't give them an uncontested multi $Bn contract for launches you will just need to buy a new generation of supersonic stealth fighters (to fight terrorists) or find some other way of subsidizing Boeing.

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Re: Hoping..

Expense and performance, unfortunately, haven't been useful metrics in the aerospace industry since the early 1960's when building ICBM's became a thing you could get rich doing.

Things like integrated billing, pre-negotiated offsets, headcount and work distribution guarantees, tie-ins with parallel projects, co-op support agreements and all sorts of other shit come first. Waaaay down on the list of decision making criteria is where you'll find cost and performance.

All that competitive bidding chatter you hear people talk about is so oversimplified as to be dishonest. Price is the determining factor only when all other things are equal. As an easy example, we provide laser positioning assemblies for high energy research facilities around the planet. To the best of my knowledge there isn't a high energy project on Earth we don't provide those assemblies to (we will even rebrand them and ship the subassemblies as a kit so some of our fussy allies don't get embarrassed because they can't do the work) and the last time one of the contracts was up for bid was 2006. Since then we're the no bid contractor for those widgets. For everybody.

Don't get me wrong, those positioning devices are expensive, but in the overall scheme of things they aren't that much. Other things like materials handling equipment, shit tons of the stuff in nuclear facilities, shipboard systems, rocket engine cores, really big ticket items are done the same way our positioning devices are done. No bids, just a contract and check(s). Hell, at least 12-15% of all Western government high tech spend isn't even accessible for review by government spending oversight committees and agencies.

My point is, cost and performance are easy. They just take expertise and willingness. Wading through the quagmire of bullshit is the hard part. But that's what has to be done if you want to deal with those people. It sucks, but it is reality.

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Self serving

"In a statement, ULA said SpaceX’s lawsuit was “self-serving and irresponsible”."

So ULA leaning on the Judge and the State and Treasury departments in order to hang on to their 14 billion plus deal is not self serving?

What? Do they think it's patriotic or something?

The corporate and political spin that is spouted by so many nowadays is sickening, the perps don't even bother to make it sound reasonable.

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Re: Do they think it's patriotic or something?

Of course it's patriotic!

And besides that, it keeps high paying jobs in at least 30 states and 200 congressional districts.

/end sarc

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Anonymous Coward

irony?

I'm mostly struck by the irony that American spy sats go up using Russian rocket engines.

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Unhappy

Just to be clear what those departments actually said

Was (in effect) "We've never considered if the RD-180 deal does (or does not) break sanctions with Russia, but since we have not carry on BAU while we consider if we will (or have to) review if the contract breaks Russian sanctions."

Which is an approach Sir Humphrey Appleby would have been impressed by.

BTW for anyone wondering why LM (or the Atlas V mfg part of ULA) did not set up a US mfg line for the RD-180 as it's such a key part of their vehicle it's simple.

RD-Amross supply them.

The DoD never asked ULA to set up such a line in RD-Amross

ULA never asked RD-Amross to do it off their own bat (because no one paid them to).

The average profit ULA returns to it's corporate parents (Boeing & LM) is $45m/launch.

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This shoddy piece of journalism isn't worthy of The Register.

For starters, SpaceX isn't an 'upstart' - its what usually referred to as a 'startup' (see 'Silicon Valley') except for the fact this particular startup has been in the rocket business for more than a dozen years, is profitable and has an order book of over $5B which includes NASA and the Pentagon. Its also shaking up the entire launch industry and putting monopolistic dinosaurs like ULA to shame.

SpaceX's rockets are 100% American made, cutting edge and with a perfect safety record. Their rockets cost one quarter as much as the bloated ULA antiques which are powered by Russian engines sporting mainly European made cores and components. SpaceX simply shone the spotlight on Boeing's and Lockheed's sleazy back room deal with its DoD cronies by launching a lawsuit seeing as its been effectively blocked from launching Air force rockets for the next five years.

Now that Russia has blocked any use of its engines by ULA for Pentagon launches and announced it will be abandoning the ISS ULA has the nerve to publicly blame SpaceX for its own mess. Really? Sorry boys, but what goes around comes around. Better yet, what goes up comes crashing down ;)

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