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Space Transportation

Lockheed, SpaceX Trade Barbs 215

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been getting all government launch contracts for the past six years. That is, until SpaceX demonstrated they could reach the International Space Station successfully this year. Asked about the new competition brought by SpaceX, Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens made light of the younger company's success. "I’m hugely pleased with 66 in a row from [the Boeing-Lockheed alliance], and I don’t know the record of SpaceX yet," he said. "Two in a row?" When he was asked about the skyrocketing price of launching his sky rockets, he said, "You can thrift on cost. You can take cost out of a rocket. But I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes." SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was blunt about the source of the price difference between the companies: "The fundamental reason SpaceX’s rockets are lower cost and more powerful is that our technology is significantly more advanced than that of the Lockheed-Boeing rockets, which were designed last century." The Delta IV and Atlas V rockets of Lockheed-Boeing average about $464 million per launch, while SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches for $54 million. Its upcoming Falcon Heavy will go up for $80-125 million.
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Lockheed, SpaceX Trade Barbs

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  • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @09:44AM (#42394061)

    Musk, is essentially running a massive experiment to see what costs can be squeezed out of building and operating launch systems. Much of it has to do with using off the shelf technology (as opposed to the proverbial gold-plated screws...), and flattening his supply chain.

    Obviously, it's working, as the old guard are getting butthurt that they're uncompetitive after growing fat and lazy off government space and defence contracts.

    Gotta love free markets when they work well.

  • Re:Progress! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:13AM (#42394211)

    SpaceX would need to have solids, which they've quite deliberately eschewed. As it is, they're thoroughly optimized for space launch, not storable rockets that can be launched at zero notice.

  • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:14AM (#42394223)

    ... and very, very deep supply chains. Like the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you have sub-sub-sub-contractors six to ten levels deep, each taking their cut, you're not going to be cost-effective.

  • Re:Progress! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smpoole7 ( 1467717 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @10:30AM (#42394321) Homepage

    > SpaceX would need to have solids, which they've quite deliberately eschewed.

    ULA's Common Booster Core (CBC) is liquid-fueled only. Solids are indeed more storable for the long term, but if you need to vary the thrust for different orbital profiles and payloads, liquid is the only way to go.

    I don't know that SpaceX is even interested in the ICBM market. Elon Musk is a space head who just wants to see people in the stars, and his company is a way to achieve his boyhood dream while making it pay for itself.

    What I want to know is when someone is going to take on the jetliner market. Maybe a SpaceX-like company could come along and eat into that market a swell. Then Airbus will join Boeing and the others in complaining and sweating. :)

  • Re:Progress! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @12:55PM (#42395557) Homepage Journal

    How many people do sharks kill every year?
    How many people does excess dietary fat kill every year?

    Which of the two are people more afraid of?

    People are nonsensical beings.

  • Re:Progress! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @02:53PM (#42396751)

    The spacex vs ULA to some upstart vs. Boeing/Airbus analogy is pretty weak.
    Commercial air transport is already an aggressively competitive business. Many other companies try to compete with Boeing and Airbus in the single-aisle jetliner market and struggle to compete on price, weight and fuel efficiency, to say nothing of attempting to compete in the wide-body airliner market. Look up how China is doing attempting to build a 100% national airliner with Comac. They are years behind and overweight, still relying heavily on the traditional supply chain for engines and avionics.

    As a commercial vs. government/defense enterprise most new airliners are sold at a loss for many years before the rate of production increases and supply chain becomes efficient enough to turn a profit. I was just reading that the 787 program is not expected to turn a profit until around 2020.

    On the other hand you can bet that ULA is making plenty of profit from their $464m per launch right off the bat.

    All told I dont think a couple hundred million bucks for mature, safe airliners from boeing or airbus that should last 20-30 years in service and tens of thousands of flight hours is a pretty great deal.

    It's uninformed to think that somehow a startup airplane manufacturer would bring a 10x reduction in airfares. Most of the cost of your airfare is FUEL and salaries. The capital expense of the airplane and maintenance is a small part of it.
    This WSJ breakdown has more detailed info.

    Any real efficiency gains in air travel are to be had in cheaper energy production, more efficient routing and operations, and to a lesser extent from more radical aerodynamic designs like the Blended Wing Body.. but those are decades and billions of dollars away.

    Commercial transport does not compare with ULA and their like at all. SpaceX is merely emulating how Boeing used to work, and to some extent continues to today.

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