March 22, 2019: Weekly Spatial Resolutions

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Don’t worry, this is about space. But if you don’t get some of it, you really need to watch “The Princess Bride.” Seriously!! This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome! Image from Bing.

Can the U.S. Save Alcantara, Brazil’s Cursed Spaceport?

Everyone KNOWS the best, most thoughtful articles begin with a question. At least that’s what Popular Mechanics thinks.

To answer the question, though: probably. Should the U.S. do so? No. Even if a certain orangutan in an ill-fitting suit gives its blessing for U.S. companies to do so.

That’s not to say that a company, from the U.S. or another nation, couldn’t swoop in and maybe buy all that antiquated infrastructure cheap (it’s been mostly dead since 2003). Or leasing may be better. Whichever, it’s just a matter of whether it makes sense for that company to do so. It does not make sense for the U.S. government to do so, if only because certain higher-ups would be concerned about border security down there, too.

What might make more sense is for Brazil’s government to create incentives (I don’t mean giving away money) for local businesses to step in and create something. There are a lot of people in Brazil. There are educated Brazilians. There are Brazilian business-people. Why not let them try their hands in this, instead of resorting to courting outside businesses? Is this an attempt to outsource U.S. space launch jobs to provide bottom-line increases while launching for less?

Maybe that’s how a U.S. launch company launches a rocket cheaper than the competition.

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JUST IN: Key Lawmaker Optimistic Congress Will Green Light Space Force

Just an observation, but don’t all lawmakers think of themselves as key?

Not news, then.

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The Air Force will soon take bids for mid-2020s launches. It’s controversial

… … …

Something about this sounds very familiar. It should, since this is about EELV phase 2.

It’s always funny to me when a military agency believes that it somehow has the magic key to create competition and foster open markets. It didn’t have that key during the other phases of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program (which cost, oh, so much more once Lockheed and Boeing created ULA). It’s demonstrating it still doesn’t have that key with this bid plan. Two bids isn’t a competition. It’s a duopoly and it probably won’t be transparent–as it’s predecessor wasn’t. I am unsure, however, that even a duopoly is the aim of this program.

The following bit probably is in every single evaluation the government’s been writing the past few years. It’s an example of why we know the DoD doesn’t understand market competition. Here’s the text from the DoD’s Phase 2 Evaluation attachment:

1.1 Unbalanced Pricing

  • The Government will evaluate the Offeror’s proposed prices for unbalanced pricing in accordance with FAR 15.404-1(g).  Unbalanced pricing exists when, despite an acceptable TEP, the price of one or more contract line items is significantly over or understated as indicated by the application of cost or price analysis techniques.  An offer may be rejected if the contracting officer determines that the lack of balance poses an unacceptable risk to the Government.

This is one of the many cards in a stacked deck against newer, cheaper competitors. It sounds very responsible, but why is it in there in the first place? Probably because someone wanted this to be “fair.” And to be clear, in competition, there is no fairness, no matter how fair people try to make it.

The way that section is written seems to put one company at a disadvantage while giving the other company the edge. It means that a person will look at the offerings of the companies in this competition. That person will be the expert at how much the government has paid in the past for similar services under EELV. Those early prices were really high when it was just one company dictating terms to the DoD for launches.

So, if another company offers to do the same thing, for less than a third of what it would have cost to launch with that original company, that expert, who is aware of this pricing history, might consider the significantly lower option as unbalanced, resulting in a rejection of that low price.

You see, this helps justify giving a lot of money to certain launch companies, and not rewarding other launch companies who can do the same thing, better and cheaper. It’s the circle of life, but with U.S. taxpayer money.

Of course, I might just be too cynical about things like this and might be reading in to things that are not there.

SpaceX had some interesting things to say about EELV way back when. I don’t know if the company that said those things back then is the same company today. It has had many more successful launches since then. And landings. That starts going to a person’s head.

There are so many people in the Air Force that keep saying the service has changed the way it does business. Then it turns around and does this. If the rationale is assuring access to space for US military and intelligence activities, wouldn’t it make more sense to not pare down competition and foster it instead? But that won’t happen.

This may be a case in which certain military folks are waiting to retire to a space launch company or two. And it would make sense to ensure that one of those companies exists upon retirement, which means a block buy is the best way to keep that company afloat.

Mission control boost for Australian Space Agency

D’ya see, Brazil?? Australia gets it.

Australia is trying to get its citizens interested in becoming a part of the space economy. The government is also trying to get its kids interested, which is even more crucial. Sure, it took New Zealand’s success with Rocket Lab to kick its Aussie neighbors to the west in the pants in the most tender bits, but it seems like Australia has gotten the message.

Russian police launch criminal probe over ‘negative’ coverage of Putin’s space chief: Report

First, it’s never a good sign for the probee to have Russian police be the prober. Also, knowing how things are going down over there, I don’t think “probe” means what you and I think (hope, really) it means.

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Second, it’s always weird to me that people who manage to get to the upper levels of society, even if it’s government, have a skin thin enough to make crepe paper look sturdy in comparison. These guys have theoretically gone through a lot to get to where they are. Did they always feel so insecure in themselves that they needed a brute squad, instead of being grown up, to deal with criticism?

The victim in all this is supposed to be Dimitry Rogozin, who is not known for angelic behavior. Before he was put in charge of fixing Russia’s tanking industry, he was not doing a great job elsewhere, in arguably a position that was considered higher in status than where he is today.

Is “failing down” a thing?

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Conflict in space doesn’t always look like ‘Star Wars’

Sometimes it looks like ‘Star Trek,’ ‘The Orville,’ or ‘Stargate.’

Like those shows, the book this press release is promoting is fiction…until things start happening, then maybe not so much. Is it too much to hope that this remains to be seen for a long, long while?

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