18 thoughts on “McCain’s Folly”

  1. I don’t follow McCain closely enough to understand the politics at work here. Is he against the RD-180 for national security purposes (since it would be supporting Russia)? Could somebody fill me in on the backstory/motivations?

  2. I’m not sure I understand what part of the efforts to get away from Russian engines that you think is “folly”.

    ULA has a small stockpile of engines that should last about 2 years of Atlas flights. In a bold move of brinksmanship, it won’t use Delta 4 as a substitute for Atlas. This would be costly to ULA, but this why delta exists; to serve when Atlas cannot.

    Also, SpaceX is currently capable of fulfilling some of the DOD launches. When Falcon Heavy flies this year, it will become capable of flying any DOD payload.

    I think it is appropriate for a Senator to set a “USA first”, space policy.

    1. Using Delta IV would be costly to the Air Force, not ULA. And they don’t want to have to rely on a single provider.

      I’d take McCain’s upset about sending money to Vlad more seriously if he was as upset about larger-in-value Soyuz purchases, but he seems indifferent, which makes me think that this is more hatred of Boeing than anything else.

      1. I’d take McCain’s upset about sending money to Vlad more seriously if he was as upset about larger-in-value Soyuz purchases

        McCain is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

        If you have reason to believe the armed services are purchasing Soyuz flights, I’m sure McCain would be interested, but he has no authority over Soyuz purchases by NASA. That is under the Commerce Committee, which McCain hasn’t headed for more than 10 years.

        1. You make a good point. However, as the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee he has the power to denounce and block the waiver that NASA gets every year to buy Soyuz flights. As far as I know he’s never even talked about it.

          1. Since folks here don’t seem to understand the Committee system, let me explain another aspect of this.

            There are Authorizing committees, which set policy and decides priorities for an agency and determine spending limits, and Appropriations committees, which appropriate the actual funding but do not (in theory) set policy.

            McCain heads the Senate authorizing committee for the Armed Forces. In this case, the lobbyists circumvented his committee and got the appropriators to override the authorizing committee’s decision.

            Whatever you think of the merits of this action, the way it was done from a procedural standpoint further undermines the committee system, and it is easy to see why McCain, as a committee chairman, would be outraged by it.

            On top of that, of course, there’s McCain’s personality and the fact that he just flat does not like being contradicted, about anything. (All politics is personal. You cannot take personalities out of the equation and set policy by pure Vulcan logic, however much you might desire it.)

      2. Using Delta IV would be costly to the Air Force,

        But the “Assured Access” policy does not require the Air Force to use two different launchers for national-security payloads ; it merely requires that there be two launchers *available*.

        How costly would it be for the Air Force to use Falcon Heavy with Delta IV as backup? Delta IV might not win any actual orders and would probably never fly unless Falcon Heavy was unavailable for some reason — ULA wouldn’t like that, but why should the Air Force care? The purpose of Assured Access is not to ensure ULA’s profitability (or is it?).

        And DoD’s definition of “Assured Access” was never all that assured. Delta IV and Atlas V are built in the same factory. It would only take a few well-placed bombs from an enemy air force, or a terrorist attack, to stop production of both rockets. There are no doubt supply-chain commonalities as well, where both rockets use components from the same manucturer.

        Contrast that to security requirements during World War II, when any critical military hardware was required to have a second source in another location. Boeing could *not* refuse to allow GM to manufacture B-17s, even though the US had multiple types of heavy bombers in production. That’s what a real industrial security policy looks like.

        On the other hand, continuing to put money into Putin’s pocket might be costly down the road, not only to the Air Force but to the nation as a whole. The problem is not just the “perception” of dealing with the enemy but the reality. (Would it have been a wise policy to buy airplane engines from the Nazis in the 1930’s, even if they had better engines?)

        1. Delta IV and Atlas V are built in the same factory. It would only take a few well-placed bombs from an enemy air force, or a terrorist attack, to stop production of both rockets.

          Being in North Alabama, a more likely scenario is the factory being hit by a tornado. We get quite a few of them here and there isn’t a damned thing anyone can do about it.

          1. Good point.

            Then there’s Cape Canaveral and VAFB. DoD has been willing to put up with single-point vulnerabilities for decades. The only time they seem to be intolerable is when big aerospace financial interests are on the line.

            The fact that DoD allowed ULA to move Delta and Atlas production to a single facility shows they were never serious about assuring Assured Access.

  3. Is SpaceX in Kevin McCarthy district?

    There are alternatives for the atlas, maybe more expensive but there are, that is not the case with the soyuz. McCain did mention he would like to stop using the soyuz also and the Nation will have it’s providers soon.

  4. Strange. I would have thought Rand would be on the side of McCain.. there’s no sensible reason to launch national security payloads on Russian-made engines. There’s no sensible reason to keep sending money to Russia. There’s no sensible explanation for where the assured access to space funding has been going for all these years. I didn’t think I’d see the day when Rand was in the same camp as Sen Shelby, but there ya go.

    1. The reason to launch on Russian-made engines is to maintain redundant launch capability for national security launches. I’d like to see that end as soon as possible, but the way to do that is to support ULA’s efforts, not hand out pork to Aerojet Rocketdyne. McCain is living in a fantasy world.

      1. How about Boeing and Lockheed Martin support ULA’s efforts? How about the Congress force ULA to compete instead of handing them sweetheart deals? How about an investigation into where the assured access money has been going for the last decade and holding Aerojet Rocketdyne to account for the fact that they aren’t ready to produce the RD-180 domestically as they’ve been funded to be ready to do so?

        As for the capability – it already exists. It’s called the Delta IV Heavy. How about an investigation into why it’s still produced by old ladies hand wrapping copper coil around engine bells? What we’re seeing here is negligent decay. I can’t believe you think the criminals should be supported.

  5. Huh?

    Nixing the Russian rocket would give ULA more incentive to support development of Bezo’s rocket.

    Myself, I’d rather my tax dollars go to Blue Origin than the Russians.

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