back to article SpaceX makes nice with U.S. Air Force, gets shot at black ops launches

Private rocket firm SpaceX has settled its feud with the US Air Force over the rights to launch national security payloads. The company said that it would be able to compete with United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the ability to launch spy satellites. "Going forward, the Air Force will conduct competitions consistent with the …

  1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    Problems with landing on the barge

    Even if they fail again, at least they're much closer to doing it than ULA...

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I want to upvote that more than once... It's not just ULA that SpaceX is beating at this.

    All in all, this is a really good thing. It's probable that ULA and others will actually <gasp> streamline things a bit and get their tails in gear. Possible but improbable that they will be able to catch up in the near term or at all. When Musk and crew are successful at this on a regular basis and price drops, the AF and others can launch more stuff for the amount it takes now. This will make the Generals very happy.... but the procurement group at DoD probably won't be happy as they'll lose whatever perks they get from the existing setup.

    Hopefully, manned spaceflight will actually be encouraged by all this and the exploration of space can be aided by spaceboots on the planets. Fanciful, I know, but I have some hope.

  3. MD Rackham


    What does landing a reusable booster have to do with getting classified satellites into orbit?

    While reuse has the potential to lower SpaceX's costs, they're not relying on that to bid on the Air Force contracts. In fact, they might need another certification process to determine if the reusable booster can be used for Air Force launches.

    Methinks the reporter is a bit confused by there being multiple SpaceX projects.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Huh?

      If they can land safely and gently on a 100x100 ft floating barge then black-ops return sites can be mobile. And some payloads needs to get returned from space physically without a big bang (so to speak).

      1. Dave Bell

        Re: Huh?

        The first-stage booster doesn't even get near orbit, so it's hardly vital to be able to recover it. And SpaceX already have payload return with the Dragon capsule. They're working towards man-rating the system.

        But guidance to a floating barge, and crashing on it at the first attempt, does suggest some interesting possibilities. It would need o be done with something like Dragon, which already parachutes into the sea for recovery, and SpaceX have certainly done work on doing this on land. It all looks a bit of a high risk at the moment, but there are possibilities.

      2. Marcus Aurelius

        Re: Huh?

        What this means is that when you have your own personal extinct volcano as your lair, there is the genuine possibility of having your spacecraft return to you with their captured contents....

    2. MarleyChil

      Building a Fleet

      That is why they are so important. SpaceX customers are buying rockets, SpaceX is landing 1st stage dragon9 booster rockets. Those now belong to SpaceX. You see SpaceX is going to build a colony on Mars. They are going to need a lot of launchers.

      They build up a fleet while building 2nd stages. The can then offer the reusable lower cost to commercial customers who are willing to accept the risk. SpaceX will probably do some of their own missions to develop a recover second stage progam. All the while SpaceX is creating, learning and growing. Trust me the CEO knows what he is doing.

  4. Bruce Hoult

    of course?

    What on earth is this "of course"?

    SpaceX already has massively lower costs than ULA even if they throw away every Falcon 9 after use, just like ULA does.

    If/when they do manage to reuse engines or stages, that will drop their costs massively again.

    But they don't *need* it. Let alone "of course".

  5. xeroks

    Interesting name,

    Especially given its relationship to the name chosen for the sistership, "Of Course I Still Love You".

    I'm going to have to look out "Player of Games" not read it for ages.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up

      Re: Interesting name,

      Well there is a Limiting Factor

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Interesting name,

        They should go the whole hog and name the rocket first stage the Look Out Below!

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    The last SpaceX launch did not fail... in fact the payload is still safely docked at the ISS right now

    The only thing that failed was the experiment to see if they could land the first stage on a barge after the last 2 soft landing attempts went pretty much ok

    But this story is a good thing, because once SpaceX starting launching DoD payloads for 1/2 the price of ULA, ULA will have to lower prices to compete, which will result in some serious questions being asked of ULA along the lines of :

    "If you can afford to charge us $200 million for the next DoD/NSA/NRA launch, why did you charge us $500 million last year?"

    1. Kharkov

      Re: Eh?

      Gotta agree with that, people are throwing around the word 'failure' far too much.

      They successfully got a capsule into orbit and docked with ISS. The 2nd stage performed exactly as it needed to.

      And the first stage? Did what every other 1st stage out there did, and did it exactly as it needed to. AND THEN it controlled its descent, something no other non-SpaceX stage has done, put itself into close proximity with the desired landing spot, something else that no other non-SpaceX stage has done, and then... ran out of hydraulic fluid and blew the landing.

      Can we apply the word 'failure' to this? Doing much, much more than anyone else yet falling sllightly short or your desired goal is not, to my mind, 'failure'. I call it awesome!

      And next time they'll try again. Anyone want to bet they won't make it next time?

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Can we apply the word 'failure' to this?

        Yes. Because failure is how we learn what NOT to do next time, so long as we survive.

        Also, I'd note the precise wording. The "failure of" not the "failed launch". The second would indeed imply the mission was a failure, while the first notes that things did not go the way they were planned.

        I concur that the success greatly outweighs the failure, but that does not negate the fact that there was some small amount of failure in the mission.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: Can we apply the word 'failure' to this?

          A test is only a failure if you don't get the data.

    2. DryBones

      Re: Eh?

      "If you can afford to charge us $200 million for the next DoD/NSA/NRA launch, why did you charge us $500 million last year?"

      "You're doing less change orders and 'special test' requests now."

      If you don't believe it you haven't seen government.

      1. Grimzod


        459 million vs 90 million, fuck ULA, kick their sorry asses to the curb

        When Boeing and Lockheed joined forces in 2006 to form ULA and become a monopoly single source of US national security launches they got 1 BILLION in cash each year for 0 launches......just to sit there and do nothing but maintain capability to send something up.

        SpaceX has claimed the cost of ULA's launches are approximately $460 million each, and has proposed a price of $90 million to provide similar launches.[14] In response, former ULA CEO Michael Gass claimed an average launch price of $225 million, with future launches as low as $100 million.[15]

        When the annual capability and readiness funds are included in the launch cost calculations, the cost per launch exceeds $459 million. This figure contradicts the cost information released by ULA.

        The contract was negotiated in part by Roger Correll in 2013 who joined a major ULA supplier, Aerojet/Rocketdyne, as a Vice President in May 2014, a few months after concluding the deal.

        The US Govt could say nothing and ULAs costs would go up.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: Bullshit

          While I concur with your disgust and vehemence on this issue, there is one thing of which we must take note, and a damned annoying thing it is:

          Government contracts invariably require at least two sources for damn near everything, and it does nearly require an act of Congress to sole source something. So for purposes of maintaining two sources, ULA will continue to gouge for many years.

  7. MarleyChil

    Serve with Integrity

    Well, I will be hopeful that they will develop a good working relation. Shame about the cronyism. I want to be proud of all America's arm forces. It is time for this good ole boy stuff to end. We have to get back the spirit of purity in which we serve, in whatever capacity.

    The pride and professional, the integrity of individual and office, whether military or corporate has been violated. And it does not stand well with American People who you both serve. Corporate America do not forget your place. "The Revolution will not be televised"

  8. DropBear Silver badge

    I was wondering who would just shoot SpaceX and why...

    ...then it started to dawn on me what they meant was SpaceX gets "a" shot at something...

  9. Mikel

    Landing a rocket on its jet is impossible.

    We have been told this so many times. It is exciting to see it being done. No doubt everybody in the business is working on it now too.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Landing a rocket on its jet is impossible.

      Should that be exhaust rather than jet?

      But notwithstanding that, a number of companies have demonstrated vertical launch/landing - Armadillo aerospace, Masten Systems, Blue Origin. SpaceX are the only ones at the stage of trying to return a booster though. I suspect BO might be the next ones.

      It's an idea that has come of age.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Landing a rocket on its jet is impossible.

        "Landing a rocket on its jet is impossible"

        To be fair, I expect what they implicitly meant was "landing a rocket on its jet is impossible without some seriously kick-ass descent control systems" - you can launch a passively stabilized rocket but you can indeed hardly expect it to just come back the same way. On the other hand, seeing as how accelerometers and gyroscopes come as standard in every single smartphone nowadays, it's easy to see how the time of such an endeavour might indeed have arrived...

    2. cray74

      Re: Landing a rocket on its jet is impossible.

      "Landing a rocket on its jet is impossible. We have been told this so many times."

      More proof that Apollo was faked? :)

      Rocket-powered landing systems are old hat. The Russian Luna-9 probe demonstrated the first non-test rocket landing in 1966, and did so on the moon. It was followed by the Surveyor probes, then Apollo, and then Viking. Recently you had Curiosity's rocket landing with the added twist of a sky crane system. During the 1990s, DC-X performed about a dozen rocket landings 20 years before SpaceX's Grasshopper did the same thing. Since then, there's been a slew of other rocket-powered test landers from companies mentioned by other posters.

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