Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SAC-D Hearing on National Security Space Launch Programs

The Senate Appropriations Committee, Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D) held a hearing on 5 March concerning National Security Space Launch Programs. The written testimony and webcast is available from the Senate website:
Chairman Durbin's opening statement emphasized that this hearing had some features that were a bit unusual,
It's been the general practice of the appropriations committee to direct questions about acquisitions programs to the government officials responsible for the use of tax-payer money. Today, we're taking a different approach by going into the details of the EELV program with the two companies most involved in the upcoming competition, as well as two distinguished experts in space acquisitions.

Later in the hearing he also noted that SpaceX and ULA were requested to provide 10 questions for the record for the other one to answer. I wonder what those twenty questions are, and if the two companies will answer them "appropriately and in a timely manner"?
Michael Gass of ULA plays to the strengths you'd expect him to: it may be expensive, but when the nation needs us, we get the hardware where it has to go reliably.

I like this point that Elon Musk makes in his spoken testimony,
The impacts of relying on monopoly providers since 2006 were predictable and they've borne out.
The price consequences of monopoly are so predictable, and so often ignored. His 5 points are,
  1. The Air Force and other agencies are paying too much for space launch services
  2. SpaceX has to meet requirements that were never demanded of the incumbent provider
  3. Robust competition must begin this calendar year; SpaceX recently learned that only one launch may be awarded this year
  4. Eliminate the $1 billion/year subsidy to ULA which creates an un-level playing field for competition
  5. Falcon Rockets are made in America (U-S-A! U-S-A!)

Gass makes some interesting points about investments in advanced propulsion technology being a bit unstable in the US compared to the Soviets. Musk suggested that it makes sense to support two families of rockets: Delta and Falcon. He recommends that we phase out the Atlas 5 which relies on the significant foreign input (Russian engines). In response to questions from Sen Feinstein Musk mentions an interesting approach of using a fixed-cost contract for the "basic vehicle", but cost-plus for any mission unique requirements or to provide operational flexibility.

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