Main Engine Cut Off

The Alabama Launch Alliance

Eric Berger of Ars Technica:

At the end of February, two US representatives, Mike Rogers of Alabama and Mac Thornberry of Texas, decided to push a little harder. On February 28, they sent a letter to Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the US Air Force, and James MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. In addition to reiterating a desire that ULA continue to fly a second rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, the letter urges the Pentagon officials to be skeptical about the BE-4 engine.

“The United States Government (USG) must have a hands-on, decision-making role... in any decision made by United Launch Alliance to down-select engines on its proposed Vulcan space launch system, especially where one of the technologies is unproven at the required size and power,” the letter states. “If ULA plans on requesting hundreds of millions of dollars from the USG for development of its launch vehicle and associated infrastructure, then it is not only appropriate but required that the USG have a significant role in the decision-making concerning the vehicle.” The letter then goes on to say the Air Force should not give any additional funding to ULA, other than for current launch vehicles, until the company provides “full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making” in its choice of contractors for the engines on Vulcan.

Politicians sure are politicking.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has stagnated for too long and is now a prime target of ULA’s cost-cutting decisions. The Delta IV—powered by the expensive RS–68A and RL10-B–2—is being phased out entirely because of how expensive it is to fly. The AJ–60A solid boosters on Atlas V are being phased out in favor of GEM–63 boosters from Orbital ATK, and a stretched version will fly on Vulcan. There hasn’t yet been a decision on ACES’ engines, but it’s safe to say that the BE–3U seems more likely than an RL10 variant.

After years of complaining about not having a robust supply of American rocket engines, the same group is now saying “No, no, no! That isn’t what we meant!”

This is the true coming-of-age moment for ULA. Fight for independence and a surely-more-exciting future, or take the “safe” government job like your parents think you should. Look, they already got you in the door because of their friends that work there. You’re practically a shoo-in.

“It’d look really bad for us if you didn’t take it, and you’d be making a huge mistake that you would regret later.”