jump to navigation

The Deep State Can Even Fool Ron Paul September 19, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in asshatery, Basics, disaster, error, Flightline Friday, foolishness, It's all about the $$$, non squitur, scandals, self-serving, Society, technology.
trackback

There is no more corrupt, insider-dependent government contractor than the entity known as United Launch Alliance (ULA).  Conceived as an obviously illegal monopoly and yet approved by the Bush 43 Administration, ULA was a way for giant defense contractors Lockheed and Boeing to avoid profit-inhibiting direct competition over space launch costs – which they were contractually obligated to do – in order to charge exorbitant launch vehicle and support fees and bilk the taxpayer out of billions of dollars; and this after having received further billions to develop two competitive launch vehicles whose contractual intent and obligation was to reduce the cost of “access to space” by 1/2 to 2/3 or more.

The obvious failure of the Space Shuttle program by the late 1980s left the United States in a very bad situation with regard to space launch – since the Shuttle had turned out to be an unbelievably expensive way to access space, and the only alternatives were derivatives of Cold War era ICBM-derived launch vehicles (with one exception), the US was falling badly behind European, Chinese, and then Russian alternatives which were often an order of magnitude or more cheaper than American launch vehicles.  Plus, many of the unmanned launchers were simply becoming so old they were unreliable and difficult to manufacture.  At some point the US might lose important space launch capabilities due to age.

The only bright spot in the US launch scene in the 80s and 90s was the reliable workhorse Delta II, which was cheap and had a great record but which was only capable of launching light and medium-weight payloads.  Delta II was actually cheap enough and reliable enough to compete with rivals from Europe and other nations.  But, it was a bit too limited in capability.

So, to insure continued access to space across the spectrum of mission needs and in the hopes of dramatically reducing launch vehicle costs, USAF began a program in the 1990s called the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.  The deal was this: USAF would fund development of two different launch vehicle families, which became the Boeing Delta IV and Lockheed Atlas V, in the hopes that competition between these two launchers would result in greatly reduced launch costs.  McDonnell Douglas (later acquired by Boeing) and Lockheed agreed, and received several billion dollars each to pay for the development of the new boosters.  However, once development was concluded, and once it became clear that the Atlas V with its Russian-designed and built engines would be much cheaper (which resulted in some ugly industrial espionage by Boeing against Lockheed), the two largest defense contractors decided it was easier to renege on their original agreements and bilk the US taxpayer of further billions than it was to actually compete with each other, and so they merged their respective launch vehicle design, manufacture, and servicing organizations into a new entity called United Launch Alliance (ULA).  Somehow, unbelievably, USAF and the Bush Administration went along with this.

Launch costs immediately skyrocketed. Far from lowering launch costs, numerous payloads actually saw increased costs, especially once Boeing phased out the cheaper Delta II and forced the government payloads to ride on either the (often massively over-capable) Delta IV or Atlas V.

This situation persisted for a decade, until a plucky little company out of Hawthorne, CA, started launching commercial payloads at rates nearly an order of magnitude cheaper than ULA.  ULA tried to use their political clout to freeze SpaceX out, but finally the obvious success of SpaceX and the far greater value it represented could not be ignored, and the Air Force (reluctantly) started doling a few flights out to SpaceX under Congressional pressure. Still, USAF has generally preferred to stay with ULA for now, because SpaceX doesn’t create literally scores of six-digit executive positions a year for former O-6s and O-7s to occupy because of ostensible concerns over SpaceX’s success rate, but this is really weak, as Falcon 9 is at this point in its life cycle more reliable than either Atlas V or Delta IV were at a similar point in theirs.

Should SpaceX continue to grow and maintain an excellent overall record, ULA will be ruined.  Both Boeing and Lockheed will have to exit the space launch business as completely uncompetitive players.  Obviously, they do not want this, since space launch has meant billions to their respective bottom lines.  Equally obviously, they will engage their massive lobbying arms (SpaceX lobbies, too, but at a trifling rate compared to ULA/Lockheed/Boeing) and significant government support to try to win the competition by other means.

Thus it was rather sad to see both American Thinker and former Congressman Ron Paul fall for what is nothing but ULA propaganda, excoriating SpaceX for purported excesses at the public teat while making the ludicrous claim that SpaceX rockets can not achieve the same orbits as ULA launchers.  Really, casting United Launch Alliance as the good guy, the relative innocent in a competition of draining the public purse is just beyond the pale.  Anyone who knows anything about space launch would just burst out laughing at such a claim.  No organization in space launch worldwide is more lowly regarded in the commercial sector than ULA.  Yes that even includes the Chinese.

Regarding the orbits, these are corner of the envelope issues and have nothing to do with orbit achieved, but payload to orbit. Yes Falcon 9 at present falls a bit short of the much more expensive Delta IV and Atlas V, but that won’t be the case within a few months, once Falcon Heavy launches.  Falcon Heavy will bury Delta IV and Atlas V in every respect – including cost.  Falcon Heavy will put nearly 3 times the payload into low earth orbit as Atlas V, and at 1/3 the cost.

This is what terrifies ULA.  This is why they have been waging a massive PR campaign against SpaceX and, especially, the person of Elon Musk.  Typical of the statist drones they represent, they accuse their adversary of the very evils they themselves not only commit, but utterly depend on.  There are many legitimate criticisms of Elon Musk, that SpaceX is too government-dependent, that most all of his recent businesses depend on government subsidies, etc.  But all the above applies to ULA to much, much greater degree. SpaceX launches dozens of commercial payloads a year.   ULA rockets are so laughably expensive they haven’t launched a commercial payload in over a decade (sorry they launched one, but at the behest of the US gov’t for Mexico).

This is how the Deep State works – misinformation, lies, insider access, misdirection, bureaucratic stonewalling, self-interest, buffaloing well-intentioned  public servants, lobbyist support, etc., etc.  They pulled a fast one on Paul and some of his close associates.  It’s easy to see how they could, they know these matters intimately while most Congress-critters and others do not.  It’s easy for them to spin misinformation to concoct what seems like a very believable story for those outside this specialized industry.  ULA is one of the worst, but far from the only practitioner of this.  No one can be an SME across every possible subject the US government deals with.  That is how the Deep State has managed to create such vast sinecures for themselves – the more the government is down in the weeds of everyone’s business, the more room there is for corrupticrats to carve out very comfortable niches for themselves.  ULA had that going for a decade-plus.

This is just one, small example.  There are others, far worse.  This is what happens with a tyrannical Leviathan state.

Comments

1. Tim - September 19, 2017

Mel nails it:

2. Richard Malcolm - September 19, 2017

Some people are saying Ron Paul is compromised here because he’s taken money from Boeing et al in the past.

But I think what’s going on is that Ron’s ideology and animuses connected to it. Certain GOP people on the Hill of a neo-con bent have been critical of ULA and its reliance on Russian engines, and these people are deeply exercised about Russia. And chief among them is John McCain, who has long been convinced that Vladimir Putin is the Anti-Christ. If John McCain were to claim the sky is blue, Ron Paul would suspect a neo-con plot to destroy all the non blue receptors in our optic nerves. He’s opposed to sanctions or trade restrictions on Russia, because he’s a good libertarian.

And for Ron Paul, these concerns are overriding all else – even if it means he has to take a hostile posture to a successful entrepreneur who has managed to take business away from a lumber federal contractor who’s been acting as a monopolist until now – and for that matter, the lumbering private-public monoopolist (Arianespace) on the other side of the Atlantic, too.

Everything you say about ULA is sadly true.

Tantumblogo - September 20, 2017

Man I read so many Air Force Magazine articles in the 1990s and early 2000s about how EELV was going to lead to much cheaper launch costs because of direct competition between the suppliers. And as soon as the development is done the suppliers turn around and say – guess what! – we’re going to scrap competition and just merge our launch vehicle businesses. This after Boeing had stolen millions of dollars worth of IP from LM. And then the government approves it!

BTW ULA has been cutting especially Atlas V costs dramatically in response to pressure from SpaceX but as late as 2014 they charged $423 million for an Atlas V 401 – the base model, not as capable as Falcon 9 – launch for DoD. That is 6-8 times the cost of a comparable launch on Proton or Zenit and almost 4 times Ariane V.

Now they list Atlas 401 at $109 million but my understanding that is just for the rocket itself, not payload mounting, set up, test, launch services, etc., whereas SpaceX charges about $60-80 million for the rocket as launched.

Richard Malcolm - September 21, 2017

Right.

I think it’s too late for ULA now.

Even *without* getting the benefits of real reusability (which is at least a year off for SpaceX), SpaceX has skunked them on pricing. At $60 million per launch at base price, they’re already at a level which ULA cannot touch, no matter how many additional economies Tony Bruno (a pretty competent CEO) makes. What will it be like once SpaceX can turn around used Block 5 Falcon 9’s in a month (let alone a week)?

And that’s even before Blue Origin gets into the game. ULA hasn’t even bent metal on Vulcan yet, and it’s already a dinosaur.

But all will become apparent even to the likes of Ron Paul before long. I understand what gets his goat – I even sympathize to some degree – but it has blinded him to the realities of the commercial space launch industry.

3. Tim - September 21, 2017

Deep State Russia BS:


Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: