Sunday, June 22, 2014

United Launch Alliance Fights Back with New Marketing Campaign

Credit: ULA

With its 36-launch Air Force contract threatened by a SpaceX legal challenge and growing concern over its dependence on a Russian rocket engine, United Launch Alliance has kicked off a marketing offensive against SpaceX. The Boeing-Lockheed joint venture that is the sole launcher of U.S. national security satellites last week published an ad promoting its focus on “results over rhetoric.” “When the payload can pinpoint enemy movements trusting the launch company that has always valued results over rhetoric means keeping American troops safe,” reads the poster showing a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

At a recent media event, ULA issued “scorecards” comparing its costs and capabilities side-by-side to SpaceX’s, with the tag line “Know the Facts, Understand the Truth.”

One scorecard, for example, counts 70 ULA launches to four by SpaceX, with 100 percent ULA mission success versus 67 percent by SpaceX.

SpaceX’s upgraded Falcon 9 now competing with ULA has launched successfully four times in as many tries. The lower success percentage apparently counts failed launches by SpaceX’s first rocket, the Falcon 1, which the company discontinued years ago.

Under the heading of “launches to support warfighter,” ULA claims a 45-0 advantage.

SpaceX is suing the Air Force in part because it has not been allowed to compete for national security missions, despite its four successful launches, which include NASA cargo to the International Space Station and commercial satellites to geosynchronous orbit. An Air Force certification process could last into next year.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has described the Air Force’s block buy of ULA launches, many by Atlas V rockets relying on Russian RD-180 engines, as risky. And he’s said it wastes taxpayer dollars, calling ULA’s prices “insanely expensive.”

But the head of Air Force Space Command has defended ULA’s reliability and says SpaceX is getting a fair shot to compete for future missions.

ULA last week announced contracts with multiple companies to study concepts for a new American rocket engine that could potentially replace the RD-180 by 2019.

“As the nation’s steward of the launch industrial base and the only company certified to launch our nation’s most critical missions, it is incumbent upon ULA to bring forward the best solutions to preserve that capability for the future,” ULA President and CEO Michael Gass said in a statement.

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