Monday, October 17, 2011

Report questions planned bulk buy of ULA rockets

The Department of Defense doesn't yet have enough information to justify a planned five-year purchase of United Launch Alliance rockets and should consider alternatives, according to a government watchdog report publicly released today.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office report says the acquisition strategy "may be based on insufficient information" and "some critical knowledge gaps remain."

The department has said the so-called block purchase of 40 ULA boosters for national security payloads would stabilize the launch industrial base. (More background here.)

But the report found the department has done minimal independent analysis on that issue, has relied heavily on data from ULA and doesn't have information from subcontractors needed to negotiate the best prices.

The department mostly agreed with seven GAO recommendations suggesting an independent study of the industrial base,better cooperation across federal agencies including NASA and plans for developing new technologies.

It only partially agreed with a recommendation to "reassess" the length of the planned block buy contract, and said certification of some ULA components would be impractical, specifically the Russian RD-180 main engine that powers the Atlas V rocket.

Read the GAO report here.

The Air Force offered this response on Tuesday:
"We welcome the Government Accountability Office's feedback and recommendations on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The final acquisition strategy will consider cost, schedule, operations, and potential for new entrant competition. All alternatives will maintain mission success as our top priority, as the Nation’s access to space is reliant on this critical program. The Air Force remains committed to providing the best and most reliable capability for the warfighter through assured access to space, encouraging competition and innovation in the U.S. space industry, and providing the best value for the American taxpayer."

IMAGE: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2:41 a.m. EDT on July 16 with the Air Force's Global Positioning System IIF-2 payload. This launch marked the 50th successful GPS launch on a Delta vehicle. Credit: ULA.

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