How Worms Turn Part 2: John McCain vs Alabama

Atlas rocket launches military payload

Atlas rocket launches military payload (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Senator John McCain and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) are not getting along.

He’s not very happy with some of his fellow lawmakers either.

After ULA refused to bid on the GPS III launch contract, siting the RD-180 engine restrictions and a budgetary requirement that funding for the launches can’t come from other projects, McCain called Horse Hockey on them and ordered an audit.

Now more recently, a lawmaker from Illinois (ie. Boeing, part owner of ULA with Lockheed Martin) and a lawmaker from Alabama (ie. ULA), both members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, secretly snuck a provision into the omnibus spending bill, just before it went to a vote, that effectively ends the RD-180 engine restrictions that originated with John McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee. This after multiple failed debates and votes over the question of ending those restrictions.

President Obama signed that omnibus appropriations bill into law on Friday.

English: John McCain official photo portrait.

English: John McCain official photo portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“This is outrageous.  And this is shameful.  And it is the height of hypocrisy, especially for my colleagues who claim to care about the plight of Ukraine and the need to punish Russia for its aggression.

…perhaps we need to look at a complete and indefinite restriction on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s rocket engines. … I simply cannot allow Senator Shelby, Senator Durbin, the Senate Appropriations Committee, or any other member of this body to craft a … bill that allows a monopolistic corporation to do business with Russian oligarchs to buy overpriced rocket engines that fund Russia’s belligerence in Crimea and Ukraine, its support for Assad in Syria, and its neo-imperial ambitions.” — Senator John McCain

It remains to be seen whether this new development will impact the GPS III launch contract. If ULA changes their mind on bids on it then we all get to see ULA and SpaceX compete on a contract after all. Unless ULA can afford to fly Atlas rockets at anything near $93 Million (it can’t), then the winner would be chosen based on the more nebulous “total value to the government”. That could potentially put the Air Force in a pickle between the Senate Proportions Committee, which would certainly become annoyed if they choose SpaceX, and SpaceX lawyers which would almost certainly sue the Air Force, again, if the much higher-priced ULA gets the contract. The evidence discovery process of Federal lawsuits is deep, probing, and multi-layered, and includes Supreme Court mandated felony charges for purgery. Is there something dark and unseemly embedded in the military procurement process that doesn’t want so much light shed on it? Almost certainly.

I’ll enjoy watching, and writing about, what unfolds. I’m already enjoying watching folks turn it into a McCain vs Alabama flap (see the link below).

How can I continue to criticize lawmakers for turning space exploration into an overly expensive, go nowhere, pork-barrel jobs program when folks in the media talk like that?

Folks, listen, again, launch mishaps (like what happened in June to SpaceX) don’t kill launch systems, mission shrink kills launch systems and almost all the new launch contracts signed in 2014 went to SpaceX or Ariane Space…because of price. Atlas is more reliable because it is older, it is loosing business because it is dramatically more expensive. When Vulcan comes out it will be younger, and less reliable, than Falcon and still be dramatically more expensive. Customers stop caring about reliability if a successful launch on any Atlas costs more than a failed launch on Falcon 9.

~ by Bill Housley on December 20, 2015.

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