SpaceX and the ULA: Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla?

SpaceX vs. the ULA–the ULA vs. SpaceX. Who is who? Image from wikia.net.

Maybe it’s more David and Goliath, but I prefer the imagery of two rocket manufacturers duking it out as Japanese Kaijin, “Pacific Rim”-style.  But who is who?

This latest Spacenews.com post hosts the written exchanges between SpaceX’s Elon Musk, and United Launch Alliance’s Michael Gass.  These questions and answers were requested by the Senate Committee on Approprations’ Senate Defense Subcommittee, and meant to give each company the chance to make its case about why the Department of Defense (DoD) should or shouldn’t change the EELV contract.  The links to those questions and answers are in Spacenews.com’s post, so go there to see how each company questions and answers the other.  If you’re interested in the future of space launch, they are interesting reads.

Musk wants to give the Air Force and other government agencies better launch options, saying the ULA is a “monopoly provider” to the Pentagon’s current EELV contract and that current launches cost way too much.  He’d like that changed, but admits to Gass that SpaceX can only provide for 60% of the launch requirements of the Air Force.  But, Musk predicts that SpaceX’s requirement fulfillment capability, which would eventually include heavy lift rockets, would be at 100% by the time 2018 rolls around.  If they continue to be successful in their progressive tests and launches, that might be possible.

On the other hand, Gass is fairly happy with the way things are between the ULA and the EELV contract.  His response is “what monopoly?”  and “We’re cheaper now than we were then.”

Here’s the thing–Gass is a good politician.  The difference between how he answers SpaceX’s questions, versus how Musk answers the ULA’s questions is night and day.  Notice how there is not really a single number or fact Gass uses in his answers that would allow anyone to pin him or the ULA down?  In fact, he doesn’t use his own numbers and facts, but things other people have stated, like General Shelton’s quote about the $4.4 billion savings.  So while it appears like Gass is answering, all he’s really done is given himself and the ULA some wiggle room.  And I am sure there are a few Air Force space acquisitions officers cheering him on.

Musk, on the other hand, has no problem answering the ULA’s questions with facts.  I’m not saying Musk is an angel and that SpaceX is the answer to all of the US launch prayers.  But Musk appears to be a bit more on the up and up with his answers, unafraid to be pinned down, and angling to get in on DoD EELV launches.

But I do agree with SpaceNews.com’s assessment about the exchange:  there was no knock-out.  Both Godzilla and MechaGodzilla are still standing in the wasteland.

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