SpaceX  and ULA:  The Battle for Number One is On

Gwynne Shotwell, chief operations officer (COO) and president of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s  US space launch provider, has dismissed its main rival, United Launch Alliance (ULA), plans of revamp so it can handle emergent competition, calling it  far from being a “real commercial provider”.

ULA, a joint venture of Boeing-Lockheed Martin which handles all US national security rocket launches, on Monday unveiled plans for a revamped launch system called Vulcan.

ULA said the new system enables the cut down of launch costs. It also said ULA will achieve the innovative competency to use sequential launches of parts of an immense spacecraft then assembles the parts in orbit.

Yet, Shotwell has scoffed at rival’s assertions.

“I don’t know why they think they have an edge.  I think we’re already better.” she said with regards to the new craft claims pertaining to its new capabilities and speaking at the annual Space Symposium in the sidelines, in Colorado Springs to the Financial Times.

The two arch rival enterprises are programmed to vie for all national security launches staring 2019.

However, Ms Shotwell said SpaceX can billet a dip in government trade because it has “lots of room” in the rest of the other sectors it served, while ULA is dependent almost wholly on government proceeds.

Tory Bruno, chief executive of ULA, has earlier spoken concerns about the monetary effects of an impending decline in US military satellite launches. ULA Vulcan’s launch cost average below $100m while SpaceX offers launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for as low as $60m.

Ms Shotwell said of ULA,  “They have lots of strategizing to do with how they’re going to turn themselves into a real commercial provider.”

Last Tuesday, SpaceX was able to launch a successful latest mission to the International Space Station for NASA. But, it failed to recover one of the rocket boosters, which crashed into an autonomous barge.

ULA argues that its excellent track record of reliability justifies their higher costs. The company has carried out 95 launches since its formation in 2006 and weathered only one fractional fail, when two satellites were launched into an exceptionally low orbit.

Nonetheless, Shotwell was insistent that SpaceX’s 17 successful record launches, was way much better compared to ULA’s. In 2012, SpaceX mislaid a customer’s satellite, but was still able to complete a delivery of cargo to the International Space Station, the flight’s primary mission.



  1. Bryan says

    You should make note of the fact that SpaceX could have corrected the mistake in 2012 and put the secondary satellite into orbit but the customer of the main cargo (I think Nasa but maybe the Air Force) prohibited them from changing the trajectory. The customer knew the risk beforehand.

  2. Jeffrey says

    I think it’s obvious that a $100 million dollar ULA Vulcan rocket can only compete with a $60 million Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket if SpaceX gets too far backed up on its launch manifest. This has been an issue with SpaceX, but SpaceX has picked up some speed this year. They are now handling an average of 1 rocket launch a month and possibly a second launch this month in April. ULA’s Vulcan rocket is on paper while the Falcon 9 is already flying and is testing reusability on live missions. If and when SpaceX lands a Falcon 9 they will take care of the problem with too many launches on their manifest. They are also building their own spaceport in Brownsville Texas to accommodate more launches. Even the Falcon Heavy is developed to be fully reusable. Is ULA really competing or are they putting out false hope to please future customers?

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