The intense rivalry between well-established United Launch Alliance and the up-start SpaceX boiled over during a House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel March 17, with company executives questioning their rival’s costs and capabilities to provide the critically important assured access to space. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell claimed her firm’s launches were 25 percent cheaper than ULA’s, which ULA CEO Salvatore Bruno quickly challenged. Shotwell complained that ULA benefited from a $1 billion subsidy from the Air Force through a contract provision that helps cover the costs of its launch facilities whether or not it launches anything, while SpaceX supports recovering the launch facility costs only when it launches. Bruno indirectly questioned the rival’s ability to launch the full range of national security payloads, noting that ULA’s 16 variants of rockets could cover the entire spectrum, while SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 was only able to handle up to medium weight satellites. Shotwell expressed confidence that the Falcon Heavy would have its first flight later this year and could be certified for national security missions by 2018, which subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) questioned as highly optimistic. But ranking member Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said SpaceX has accomplished some “marvelous things” in its short life. Air Force officials have said they expected SpaceX to be certified as a national security launch provider by mid-2015. (Bruno prepared testimony) (Shotwell prepared testimony)
A majority of panelists convened by the Atlantic Council to assess the situation in Ukraine believe that Russia will have enough forces—and recent practice in Belarus—to invade Ukraine within a month. A senior Air Force official concurred, saying the service expects the conflict soon.