They’re filing a lawsuit against the USAF over launch procurement.
I don’t understand why the Air Force wouldn’t want more than two launch providers.
I have some thoughts on Twitter, based on some of the comments here.
First, since people are saying that Blue Origin should demonstrate the ability to develop an orbital rocket, it’s fair to say that so should ULA. They’re flying vehicles developed by other companies over two decades ago.
Arguably, only two teams with recent orbital launcher development experience are SpaceX and NGIS (by acquiring Orbital ATK). Vulcan and New Glenn both currently remain paper rockets. At this point in time, SpaceX has the most experienced launch-development team on the planet.
And while NGIS does have the Antares experience, that won’t necessarily apply to their new vehicle. Even if it was a good idea, no one has successfully developed an orbital launcher based on a large segmented solid rocket. We know that Ares I had teething issues.
And of course, this all ignores the reusability factor.
I assume that ULA still wants to recover engines, but that won’t make them competitive with Falcon series, let alone a successful Starship program. At least Blue plans booster reuse.
And ULA will remain hobbled by its parents’ unwillingness to allow it to spend sufficient resources on Vulcan development (and forget ACES). So the trajectory is that, if only two providers, Blue Origin and SpaceX are the way for the USAF to bet.
Also, both Blue Origin and SpaceX will have large commercial markets. Because it probably won’t be cost competitive, Vulcan probably won’t. But there are political reasons for the blue suits (if they remain in charge of launch procurement) to want to keep ULA alive.
If I were the head of Pentagon procurement, I’d go talk to the
FECFTC about forcing a divestiture of ULA from its parents, not just on legitimate charges of child abuse, but because of the huge changes that have occurred in the launch market since 2006.
But USAF seems to be stuck in the past, when it comes to procuring launches.
A nice history of the RD-180 and how it’s about to be superceded by both BE-4 and Raptor. The days of Russian dominance in rocket propulsion have come to an end.