In an interview with Washington Post reporters, Tory Bruno said that since he was named CEO of ULA last summer his job has been “to literally transform the company, ” and he also took a jab at his upstart competitor, saying it was risky to rely on Musk’s relatively new space company for national security launches.
For years, ULA, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, had it made. It had the backing of two of the most powerful defense contractors in the world, and no one to challenge its dominance in the lucrative field of launching national security satellites into space.
But in recent months, the Colorado-based company has faced two very big challenges. First, Musk’s startup space company sued the Air Force, saying that it should be able to compete with ULA for the launches. The company recently settled the suit, and the Air Force has pledged to certify it, perhaps within a few months, so that SpaceX can compete for upcoming contracts.
ULA's second hurdle is its Russian-made RD-180 engine. Musk has criticized ULA for using the engine at a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Russia over the crisis in the Ukraine. And late last year, Congress imposed a ban on the RD-180, which the ULA uses in its Atlas V rocket, by 2019.
To end dependence on the Russian engine, ULA recently announced a partnership with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company to build a new, American-made engine. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.) ULA is also partnering with Aerojet Rocketdyne on a new engine, but that company is further behind on development, Bruno said.
The Blue Origin engine, the BE-4, won’t be ready for test flights until 2019 at the earliest, Bruno said. And it could be 2022 or 2023 before it would be certified by the Pentagon for national security launches.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has concerns about that timeline, telling Congress last week that 2019 “was pretty aggressive, and I’m not sure we can make it.”
Bruno said that he thought there was support in Congress for softening the deadline, saying many “now really understand this complex issue. … We have very good support everywhere in Congress.”
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