According to RUAG spokesman comments to a member of the space industry, an outstanding supplier in the aviation industry could finally reach an agreement with SpaceX to produce several larger fairings for the future premieres of Falcon 9 and Heavy.
In the likely case, when SpaceX will be one of the two contractors who will receive some dozens of contracts for US military aviation next year, the company will need to be able to meet niche requirements, including extremely high military satellites. These satellites can be so high that SpaceX's own fairing of the SpaceX cargo space – usually in the middle of the package compared to competitors' offers – may be too short, which means that SpaceX will have to find a way to circumvent this minor shortcoming.
SpaceX has three obvious answers: design and build a completely new variant of the Falcon universal wind deflector, buy the necessary wind deflectors from a recognized supplier or withdraw from contract competitions that require it. The latter option is immediately unacceptable, given that it could mean the bending of all US military competition known as Phase 2 of the National Security Space Launch Program (NSSL; formerly EELV) Launch Services Procurement (LSP).
For suspicious reasons, the US Air Force (USAF) organized the acquisition of NSSL Phase 2 in such a way that – despite the existence of four possible competitors – only two will be able to receive contracts at its conclusion. Approximately 30 start contracts to be won would be split between two winners in a 60:40 ratio, leaving the two players empty handed. In short, bending a Phase 2 competition may mean giving up one or two dozen contracts worth at least $ 1-2 billion, depending on the 60:40 split page.
According to a handful of recent comments and changes, SpaceX has opted for the option of purchasing higher fairings from an industry supplier. As it turns out, the European company RUAG has successfully mastered the western rocket fairing market, and SpaceX is the only western company currently firing its own fairings. RUAG builds fairings for both the Arianespace Ariane 5 and Vega rockets and Atlas V. ULA. In addition, RUAG will build and supply fairings for the new generation of rockets from both companies – Ariane 6 Arianespace and Vulcan ULA – and build fairings for many small startup companies.
Interestingly, although the Atlas V fairing built by ULA RUAG is technically narrower than the SpaceX fairing with a diameter of 5.2 m (17 feet), the largest Atlas V fairing is much higher, handling loads up to 16.5 m (54 feet) in compared to 11 m (36 ft) for Falcon 9 and Heavy. Given that only a small portion of the military spacecraft actually need such tall fairings, SpaceX is apparently not interested in modifying its own fairing design and production equipment to ensure 20-30% stretch.
This is probably partly due to the fact that one of the three NSSL phase 2 NSSL competitors – Northrop Grumman (Omega), Blue Origin (New Glenn) and ULA (Vulcan) – guarantees that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to finance development by winning one of two places available (60% or 40% of contracts). SpaceX, on the other hand, will not receive such funding and at the same time must meet the same stringent USAF requirements to compete in phase 2 LSP. It should be noted that Congressman Adam Smith managed to insert a clause in the defense authorization account for the financial year 2020, which could pay up to $ 500 M to SpaceX if the company is one of the two Phase 2 winners.
Despite this potential inflow of infrastructure-focused funds, SpaceX is still apparently seeking higher Falcon fairings from RUAG, perhaps as support in case the company is not one of the two Phase 2 winners or is unable to use the $ 500 million portion secured by Rep. Smith to develop his own extended fairing.
On August 12, SpaceX – along with Blue Origin, ULA and NGIS – submitted bids for NSSL Phase 2 launch services, confirming that all four companies will indeed apply for the contracts. It is expected that USAF will not announce the results of this competition until 2020. Teslarati contacted SpaceX to comment and will update this article if anything can be added.
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