Main Engine Cut Off

House Armed Services Committee Markup of 2018 NDAA

The EELV section of the House Armed Services Committee markup is quite interesting. You can find it in this PDF (3.2 MB). Search “Evolved Expendable” and you’ll find your way there (it’s a huge PDF). The section itself is not long, so it’s definitely worth a read.

The full committee will be marking up the bill today, so things may change quite a bit. But until then, there are a few interesting bits within:

AR1 vs. BE-4

The language of the bill would keep the AR1 vs. BE-4 competition alive as it is today. It allows the Air Force to fund domestic engines and the integration of domestic engines with new or existing launch vehicles.

Fairings

The bill allows the Air Force to fund the development of fairings needed for national security launches:

Using funds described in paragraph (3), the Secretary of Defense may only obligate or expend funds to carry out the evolved expendable launch vehicle program to develop capabilities necessary to enable commercially available space launch vehicles or infrastructure to meet any requirements that are unique to national security space missions to meet the assured access to space requirements pursuant to section 2273 of title 10, United States Code, with respect to only modifications to such vehicles required for national security space missions, including fairings necessary for the launch of national security space payloads to orbit.

The one area that SpaceX cannot compete with ULA today is fairing size. The Falcon family has undersized fairings, which is sometimes why ULA wins a particular launch without competing, though these launches are often classified so it’s hard to know the details. This bill would allow SpaceX to pursue Air Force funding to develop new and larger fairing capability, which is probably of interest to the Air Force, because it’s one thing keeping the expensive Delta IV Heavy around.

One visible example of Falcon’s small fairings: the Bigelow-ULA partnership to launch a B330. The B330 could not fit within the short fairings of the Falcon family.

Vertical Integration, Payload Facilities, Ground Systems

The bill also allows the Air Force to fund the development of vertical integration, new payload facilities, and ground systems as needed for national security launches:

Using funds described in paragraph (3), the Secretary of Defense may only obligate or expend funds to carry out the evolved expendable launch vehicle program to develop capabilities necessary to enable commercially available space launch vehicles or infrastructure to meet any requirements that are unique to national security space missions to meet the assured access to space requirements pursuant to section 2273 of title 10, United States Code, with respect to only the development of infrastructure unique to national security space missions, such as infrastructure for the use of heavy launch vehicles, including

(I) facilities and equipment for the vertical integration of payloads;

(II) secure facilities for the processing of classified payloads; and

(III) other facilities and equipment, including ground systems and expanded capabilities, unique to national security space launches and the launch of national security payloads

SpaceX has plans for vertical integration at 39A, and 39A needs some upgrades to handle Falcon Heavy. All of that work falls under this language, so we could see some Air Force funding in this direction.

Orbital ATK’s NGLV Funding

(2) PROHIBITION. Except as provided in this section, none of the funds described in paragraph (3) shall be obligated or expended for the evolved expendable launch vehicle program, including the development of new launch vehicles under such program.

The bill as proposed would technically prohibit overall funding of Orbital ATK’s Next-Generation Launch Vehicle, but major components of it could still be funded. Orbital ATK’s first-stage motors, Blue Origin’s BE-3U, fairings, ground systems, and payload facilities would all be able to get funding under the language as written currently, but I’m not sure how that would square with the “no new vehicles” clause.