Commercialization: March 2015 Archives

U.S. to modify launch capability deal for Lockheed-Boeing Venture, Reuters

"The U.S. Air Force must modify its annual "launch capability" contract with United Launch Alliance, to level the playing field for new competitors of the joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, senior U.S. Air Force and Pentagon officials told lawmakers on Wednesday. ... [Air Force Space Command Commander General John Hyten] said the contract made it impossible to have a fair competition, backing an argument often made by privately held Space Exploration Technologies. The company, also called SpaceX, hopes to be certified by June to compete for some satellite launches now carried out solely by ULA."

- Fiscal Year 2016 National Security Space Hearing, House Armed Services Committee, 25 March 2015

- Prepared Testimony

NASA Proposed Rule: Federal Acquisition Regulation; List of Domestically Nonavailable Articles

"SUMMARY: DoD, GSA, and NASA are considering amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to update the list of domestically nonavailable articles under the Buy American Act. DoD, GSA, and NASA are seeking information that will assist in identifying domestic capabilities and for evaluating whether some articles on the list of domestically nonavailable articles are now mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available commercial quantities and of a satisfactory quality. ... The current domestically nonavailable listing at FAR 25.104 is as follow: ... Beef, corned, canned ... Cashew nuts ... Fair linen, altar ... Goat hair canvas ... Hemp yarn ... Rabbit fur felt ..."

Sierra Nevada Corporation and Houston Airport System Announce New Agreement

"Entering into this new agreement with HAS will lead to enabling all variants of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to land in Houston, offering the ability to return cargo and science to Houston directly from space," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC's Space Systems. "Through this agreement, we want to promote broad awareness of the importance of utilizing low-Earth orbit as a source of research, science and the expansion of space flight that are critical to Houston's ongoing position as a 'Space City.' Houston has earned its place at the forefront of space exploration with such institutes as NASA's Johnson Space Center, Rice Space University, the Texas Medical Center, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and many other organizations."

SpaceX mocks rival in tetchy congressional hearing

"The two made a number of pointed comments about each other before Ms Shotwell responded sarcastically when asked why SpaceX thought it could provide launches to the US government for an average $100m. SpaceX claims ULA's launches cost US taxpayers an average of $400m each. Ms Shotwell was asked why the company claimed to be able to offer its services for 25 per cent of the ULA price. "It's hard for me to say," Ms Shotwell replied. "I don't know how to build a $400m rocket. The more difficult question would be to say that I don't understand how ULA are as expensive as they are."

How SpaceX and Elon Musk could conquer the market for military satellite launches, Washington Post

"If [ULA] stops the Delta IV rocket launches," said Rogers, "is there anybody else that can compete with you for those missions?" Shotwell struggled to answer, referring vaguely to there being international launch providers. She then went back and conceded that the Pentagon probably wouldn't trust those international services with sensitive military payloads. That was precisely the point, said Rogers. "You would have a monopoly, is where I'm going on this," he said."

- Watch the hearing (archive)
- Witness statements: Tory Bruno, Gwynne Shotwell, John Hyten, William LaPlante, Katrina McFarland, and Mitch Mitchell

Keith's note: Lockheed Martin just started a big media rollout for their new cargo concept for NASA's CRS-2 contract. Included in the PR effort are some infographics. Everyone makes mistakes, but given the large amount of money they are pouring into all of this, you'd think that they'd use a spell checker.

Keith's update: Looks like they fixed the typos. Here are the original image files [1][2]

A new space race emerges as NASA prepares to award contract to ferry supplies to space station, Washington Post

"Lugging groceries and supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station may not be as cool as ferrying the astronauts themselves into orbit. But the NASA contract to fly cargo to the station in unmanned rocket ships has attracted bids from high-profile companies in what analysts say is another indication of commercial spaceflight's recent renaissance. It appears that at least five space firms have submitted proposals for the work, including giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which didn't bother to bid on the work the last time. In a new sort of space race, the contract has touched off an intense competition between stalwart defense contractors and new space start-ups that have, in just a few years, shown they can compete."

UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE BEFORE THE PATENT TRIAL AND APPEAL BOARD SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGIES CORP., Petitioner, v. BLUE ORIGIN LLC, Patent Owner. Case IPR2014-01376 Patent 8,678,321 B2. Paper 6

"Space Exploration Technologies Corp. ("SpaceX") filed a Petition ("Pet.") for inter partes review of U.S. Patent No. 8,678,321 B2 ("the '321 patent"). The Petition challenges the patentability of claims 14 and 15 of the '321 patent on the ground of obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103.1 Blue Origin LLC, the owner of the '321 patent, did not file a Preliminary Response to the Petition."

"IV. CONCLUSION Because the challenged claims are not amenable to construction, we are unable to reach a determination on the reasonable likelihood of SpaceX prevailing on the prior art ground asserted in the Petition.

V. ORDER For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that the Petition is denied."

Keith's note: The title of this post is taken directly from words and statements used in the USPTO decision. Read the document. As best as I can figure this legal mumbo jumbo out, everyone involved is confused about what the patent claims and whether it can be challenged - and if so, how. Yet the SpaceX Internet fan boys are all over social media chastising non-believers and saying that this is a big win for SpaceX while others are saying that its a win for Blue Origin. Indeed, sources inside SpaceX now say that this decision is good for them.

If SpaceX thinks that this decision is good for them - and they want people to know that this is good for them - then they need to put out a statement that says so. Expecting the Internet to figure it out - clearly and accurately - and then tell the world - is not going to work.

Keith's update: But wait. There's more. There is another USPTO document (see excerpt below) that just fell out of cyberspace into my inbox wherein USPTO agrees with claims made by SpaceX. Taken together these two documents are not a formal decision for - or against - Blue Origin/SpaceX. The patent is still the patent and more lawyers will need to weigh in before anyone changes anything in that patent - if anything is ever changed. My point still stands with regard to letting Internet chatter suffice for statements by the actual parties to this dispute (SpaceX and Blue Origin) and I await their responses/non-responses.

Reader note: "FYI I tried to reach CASIS by phone. When you call their CASIS Corporate Headquarters listed here i.e. 321.253.5101 and hit 3 for "Contracts" you get a dead end. Your call is eventually disconnected.

ULA ready to compete against Elon Musk's space startup, CEO says, Washington Post

"Still, [ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno] also said that ULA is far more reliable in launching on schedule than SpaceX. When asked if he thought it was risky to rely on SpaceX he said, "I do." "We have a perfect mission success record and our schedule certainty is also substantial," he said. "Launching on time is huge." SpaceX took exception to Bruno's comments. "The Air Force and the taxpayers deserve more from ULA and its latest CEO, whose remarks are purposely misleading, but not unexpected," SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in a statement. "In anticipation of having to face real competition for the first time, ULA is distorting the facts in an effort to hide its own shortcomings. This is merely the latest example that ULA is realizing that its long-held monopoly is coming to an end."

Keith's note: Then there's this gem: "Bruno said that since ULA's inception, the company "has cut the price of launch in half, and I'm going to cut it in half again." While he declined to provide specific numbers, he vowed to "be competitive with SpaceX's prices."

Hmmm ... with reusable stages SpaceX may do this too - making their cost even harder to beat. At some point Bruno will not be able to turn a profit if he's focused only on cutting prices to chase SpaceX down this path.

Marc's note: Looking at the commercial launch market the last four years, ULA has had 2 launches, both last year for WorldView 3 and NASA's EFT-1. SpaceX on the other hand has had 11 launches and this is before the coming increase in cadence. (All data from the FAA)

SpaceX Launches Dual Payload to GTO [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"A SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the ABS 3A and EUTELSAT 115 West B satellites towards a supersynchronous transfer orbit. The launch took place on time when the launch window opened at 10:50 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 1, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida."

Marc's note: With this launch SpaceX has completed three launches so far this year. They completed six last year. By mid-year they should have equalled last years total and probably surpassed it based on the current schedule. Their launch cadence is clearly picking up as you would expect with a rocket and company that is maturing.


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