back to article ULA says to blame SpaceX for Russian rocket rebuff

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) says SpaceX is to blame for a looming diplomatic standoff between the US and Russian space programs. After Russian officials said earlier this week that the nation would only export rocket engines to the US with the guarantee that the parts would not be used for activity "in the interests of …


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  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    So the KGB not as good as the NSA

    Until SpaceX's court case the Russians didn't know that ULA were planning to use the launches for military payloads ? Really?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: So the KGB not as good as the NSA

      Of course not. But it hadn't yet escalated into a tit-for-tat butthurt contest.

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: So the KGB not as good as the NSA

        " tit-for-tat butthurt contest."

        They are going to take turns shagging each other until one gets sore?

        Leave out the 'butthurt' homophobia - there's a dear.

        If you can't think of anything esle - either you need a larger vocabulary or just shut it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So the KGB not as good as the NSA

          Interesting that you take it as homophobic, so butthurt cant' involve spanking and heteroes then?

          Even consensual large multi-national heteroes, which I'd assumed to be neuter, so are you neuterphobic?

          I suggest you pull back on the rainbow flag waving hurt face and go and look for something real to be upset by.

        2. toxicdragon


          Butthurt is not used as a homophobic thing on the internet at least, it basically defines this exact "teacher teacher the mean boy looked at me" mentality displayed by the ULA with this exchange. The only one getting offended here was you.

  2. Dave 52

    What ULA is really saying:

    "Stop trying to derail our gravy train!"

  3. Syzzleman

    This is such a joke. ULA cuts a sleazy secret back room deal with its DoD cornies to block SpaceX from challenging its monopoly and has the gaul to cry foul when it challenges them in open court for the right for fair and open competition. Boeing and Lockheed are a bunch of greedy jerks...screw them

    1. Norman Hartnell

      @Syzzleman "has the gaul"


    2. Don Jefe

      This is not a joke, this is aerospace. Full stop.

      Every. Single. Aspect. Of every State run aerospace venture is as dirty and bent as it is possible for something to be. Unfortunately, if you want to get in on some of that dirty, dirty money you've got to play dirty too. Which is a lesson SpaceX is now learning. Fortunately SpaceX has the resources to actually put up a fight, for a while anyway. Those other private space projects that failed or haven't gotten any real traction simply don't, or can't, want to get in the middle of what is effectively school bullies getting nerds to do their homework for them, but instead of violence they've got money and a lack of morals as tools.

      Because the fact of the matter is there's no such think as a private space program that involves ICBM's rockets and everybody in the industry knows it (see Virgin Galactic). If there's something on the end of a rocket that's not explodey or related to explodey things it's only because that's how my clients are paid back for their backscratching and willingness to participate in big games of hide the money. The weird military/civilian part of aerospace is the sole reason we don't provide complete systems to aerospace projects, just parts and subassemblies. The deals are all sketchy as shit and if you aren't willing to participate in said sketchiness 'the right way' you'll never see the money you're owed.

      It's going to take a plucky SpaceX type entity, run by an immensely wealthy person like Elon Musk, to get any real change to happen. I've got confidence he knows what he's getting into. He's already in deep to the US government, and that's a requirement if you want a voice, I just hope he doesn't get sucked in. If he isn't able to get 'real' private interests a seat at the Space Table then it's going to be at least another generation before somebody with new money comes along to take a shot.

  4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Or perhaps this is about the spat over GPS/GLONASS monitoring stations

    Russia wants to build GLONASS monitoring stations in is US, but the CIA say the base stations would be used for spying. The US has 0, 11 or 19 GPS monitoring stations in Russia depending on who you ask.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Or perhaps this is about the spat over GPS/GLONASS monitoring stations

      Which is itself only a problem because of the issues in Ukraine/Crimea.

  5. Lars Silver badge

    Oh shit

    Lets remember that this was all stared by Putin in Crimea. And then started this kids game by SpaceX about importing stuff from Russia, success for a while until not, and now the Russian will not sell unless and so forth. What a game. Perhaps there is something else of some importance the USA needs from Russia that should be pointed out by somebody like SpaceX, certainly there must be something to add to this kids game.

    1. Florida1920 Silver badge

      Re: Oh shit

      Perhaps there is something else of some importance the USA needs from Russia
      I have a friend who can get you a deal on slightly used Ladas, if you buy in quantity. They make more-interesting lawn ornaments than those creepy gnomes.

      (Thought I'd left the keys in my coat pocket, but no worries -- it won't start anyway.)

    2. DrBobMatthews

      Re: Oh shit

      Really, so Victoria Nuland the serial liar and $5billion to destabilze an elected government of a soveriegn state using paid and sponsored US thugs had nothing to do with it. Which news channel do you watch? Fox News. Grow up. Everyone around the world know why the problems were started in Ukraine.1) The US wanted to park missiles on Ukraine soil pointing at Russia to threaten them, 2) Monsanto was sniffing around for somewhere to grow GM crops 3) Goldman Sachs were looking for an opportunity to rip off whatever was not nailed down as usual 4) Why did the US ship 30 tons of Ukraine's gold to New York, which will never be returned (A bit like Germany' gold which Merkel has repeatedly asked to be returned) 5) The US needs a war, any war to feed its burgeoning arms industry which is the only way the USA manages to survive.

      1. grammarpolice
        Big Brother

        Re: Oh shit

        Boring Putin propaganda is boring.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh shit

          I don't class the accurate facts about a coup-d'etat as boring!

          why not have a link to two more recent regime overthrows whilst we're doing

          boring 'conspiracy' [a Belgian/Dutch printed newspaper and online specalised press]

          I follow neither side in this/these sitution(s), I'm just using the power of the internet - whilst we still can - to maintain an accurate world-view, if that means reading Brazilian or Belgian newspapers and laughing at the Beeb, then that's what *you* call propaganda?

          Any replies to this thread may be monitored for "Human Science Operations Cell," research purposes

    3. Don Jefe

      Re: Oh shit

      Saying this is the 'fault' of anyone is dangerous ground. I guarantee you there are completely valid arguments saying the loons in Crimea started all this. The first to shoot is not an indicator of who started any given conflict.

      Nobody except a handful of people on either side of a conflict are ever privy to all the slights, real and imagined, that lead to conflict. Hell, even then the various perspectives are usually 180 degrees out and they're both equally valid.

      History will then go on the be revised, edited, binned, recycled and remastered and all that's left are half understood guesses at why any conflict ever occurred. It's nearly inevitable that todays 'existential threats' are nothing more than tomorrow's lobbying point.

      I've found it generally best to not worry with placing blame on anyone in a situation where I can never actually know the whole truth. I'm just glad to not be getting shot at.

  6. brooxta

    Sad indictment

    It is a sad indictment on the state of USAian space rocketry that ULA are so vulnerable to Russian manoeuvring on this issue. Not exactly a show of strength or prowess.

    SpaceX on the other hand appear to have shone a light onto a rather murky area of the industry in a timely fashion. Yes it is about making money, but it seems that in this case SpaceX have been concerned about how that money is made.

    1. rh587 Bronze badge

      Re: Sad indictment

      "Yes it is about making money, but it seems that in this case SpaceX have been concerned about how that money is made."

      If by that you mean they are concerned that the money is not being made by them, then you'd be correct.

      SpaceX want in on the government launch contracts. Have for a while, which is why they've been working towards certification and approval for those jobs. The recent politics offer an opportunity for them to dig the knife in and play the "Jobs for 'Mericans" card that the DoD can't be seen to ignore, and leverage it against the ULA monopoly.

      Supply issues aren't really the issue. If ULA genuinely runs out of RD-180s they can deploy the All-American Delta in place of Atlas, they'd just prefer not to. It's more a case of embarrassing ULA and twisting the DoD's arm to review the incumbent arrangements.

    2. Daniel 1

      Re: Sad indictment

      What it's a sad indictment of, is that no one in the US can make the RD-180 cheaper and to the same quality as Energomash.

      They have that right: it's part of the contract. They could hire American workers to make as many RD-180s as they wanted. No retooling needed, no nothing. It's just that the Russian ones are cheaper and more reliable.

  7. tempemeaty

    When the supplier's the enimy....

    National security demands self sufficiency in supply of military and national security related hardware. The fact we are getting needed hardware from another country at all is mind boggling. Now that we are on a course of ending all peaceful relations with Russia as it returns to being the old Soviet Union again just re-enforces this. It's just foolish to rely on possible enemies and those who have a historic past as enemies for anything that our national security relies on.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Yes the ULA have been pushing the "irrisponsible" routine for a while now.

    This issue has been known since before the day the Atlas V first launched.

    NASA proclaimed LO2/LH2 was the only way in the early 1970's. So everybody walked away from LOX/RP1 development.

    Time has proved that was pretty short sighted, given the number of Atlas V Vs Delta IV launches.

    In normal businesses this would mean the supplier would reinvest some of their profits into bringing the engine mfg "on shore." (people forget that LV "off shored" one of the key parts of any LV, especially one primarily funded for "National Security Space" applications ).

    But of course this is government con-tractor land, where the con-tractor only ever does what the USG asks (and pays) for.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Yes the ULA have been pushing the "irrisponsible" routine for a while now.

      LO2/LH2 engines are "better" but also more complex and expensive. The lack of good LO2/LH2 technology, especially for upper stages (like the Centaur), is what is keeping Russia away from deep space probes. While Pioneers and Voyagers were able to reach the outskirt of the Solar System, and the New Horizon is running towards Pluto, Russian launchers still have issues to reach Mars - which became a routine destination for US probes even with large payloads.

      That said, once the Shuttle resulted too expensive as a "shuttle", for launches within Earth orbit, it was clear some cheaper rocket and engines would have been useful for commecial launches, but it looked nobody wanted to spend but government money in designing them - better to "offshore" then also...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: Yes the ULA have been pushing the "irrisponsible" routine for a while now.

        "LO2/LH2 engines are "better" but also more complex and expensive. The lack of good LO2/LH2 technology, especially for upper stages (like the Centaur), is what is keeping Russia away from deep space probes. "

        Generally speaking people think of the RL10 as one of the simplest LO2/LH2 engines, given its relatively modest chamber pressure and fairly benign expander cycle.

        I'd expect a Russian RL10 to be mfg with he same level of automation as their other engines, which means substantially cheaper.

  9. localzuk

    Nothing to do with the heightened tensions then?

    Its all SpaceX's fault for wanting a fair market and for the US government not to break its own sanctions against Russia. Definitely not the fault of the increased tensions over Ukraine... Nope.

    Watch the left hand, watch the left hand *right hand stabs someone* watch the left hand...

  10. LDS Silver badge

    That's what happens when you let managers handle RD...

    NASA to the industry: "Hey, we need more R&D on expendable rocket engines! The Shuttle is too expensive so we need expendable rockets, after all."

    Industry executives: "sure, RD-180 is cheap and we don't have to pay US engineers and workers so we can gobble all the cash, let's get them, after all it's always RD".

    Depending on Russian technology was a big mistake from the start, as it was retiring the Shuttle without an alternative but the Sojuz. But that's what happens when you put bean counters in charge of such kind of projects, and especially when politicians are very interested is the beans...

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: That's what happens when you let managers handle RD...

      Not that I don't agree with you, but the whole situation is far more complex than finances, technology or aerospace capabilities.

      As a general rule, anything that flies, in space or down here with us, is approximately 70% diplomatic investment group, 30% commercial business. From before Ancient Greece until the end of WWII ships had served the same purpose.

      With the Russian space deals a big part of the idea was to defuse tensions over another arms race by demonstrating we weren't developing weapon delivery capabilities under the guise of a scientific mission of space exploration (which we most certainly had been doing). Scrapping the Shuttle was a convenient way to show 'fiscal responsibility', but that program was, unfortunately, scheduled for execution a long time ago anyway. There were really big personnel exchange programs going on as well.

      We had been talking with the Russians about such a deal as far back as the 1990's and in reality it was a good idea. Somebody in those situations has to put their willy away first and it was clear that we had firmly beaten the Russians; gentlemanly conduct demanded we initiate making overtures of friendship.

      Again, there was little risk, as the article notes, we've got surplus motors, and there was a lot to potentially be gained. This was all perfectly fine until we rode off to start two useless wars that divided an already divided country and effectively eliminated Congress from serving any useful purpose. Internal political instability, huge financial instabilities, crushing blows to our international policies. Combined with a post Bush MkII President, who nobody likes very much after they meet him, created an all too good scenario for a Russia with strong leadership and growing economy to pass up.

      Putin would be a fool to pass up any chance he can get to tweak our noses. We sure as hell have done it when we were at an advantage. It's now clear that the situation has changed and it's going to be quite a while before we've got leverage there again.

      Overall, it's a good situation economically. The line item costs of various Russian space tech is considerably lower than our prices, but the overall costs are dramatically higher. Staff exchange programs, the funds we send over there for space R&D, the big ass space facilities we've built for them and about a zillion other quasi-related things means the actual costs are insanely higher than doing it ourselves, especially if diplomatic advantage isn't there. The spend has been broken out to many different agencies so as not to alarm anyone, but it's no longer a worthwhile exercise. Which makes me happy :)

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: That's what happens when you let managers handle RD...

      "as it was retiring the Shuttle without an alternative but the Sojuz."

      The REAL mistake was making Shuttle the only manned-to-orbit option. The thing is so expensive it should ONLY have been used for missions where several tons of stuff needed to be brought back down.

      You could blame Proxmire for that but he was just the tip of the iceberg.

  11. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    ULA buys engines from Russia

    ULA complains national security is up the proverbial without these engines.

    The corollary is that the launch vehicles for spy satellites to spy on Russia rely on the Russians to supply Russian engines.

    Am I, and the US administration, totally stupid ... or have I missed something?

  12. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    If SpaceX can influence international politics to this scale...

    ...then what the hell are they doing faffing about with rockets?

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: If SpaceX can influence international politics to this scale...

      There's a secret only a few people know, but I'll let you in on it. The best way to influence international politics is with rockets :)

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: If SpaceX can influence international politics to this scale...

        Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That is not my department.

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  14. Tom 13

    Dear ULA


    You knew damn well that this was a potential issue. You should have had an acceptable contingency plan for it. If you can't crap one in the next three weeks, maybe the Pentagon should cancel that sweet contract they just handed you. Because whether it was Crimea or SpaceX or GPS Ground Stations doesn't really matter. Russia is back in belligerence mode so sooner or later they were going to pull this on you/us.

    That Crazy 'Merkin who keeps posting on El Reg,

    Tom 13

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