Space: September 7, 2002

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Lockheed Martin launched the first of its new Atlas-V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle boosters on 21 August, pushing a Alcatel Hotbird 6 communications satellite into orbit. Ironically, the Atlas-V actually uses a Russian Energomash RD180 oxygen-kerosene rocket engine. The problem is that the company is going to be losing millions on the Atlas-V program. The original idea was for the government to pay half of the cost for two contractors (Boeing is the other one) to build a new generation of expendable launch boosters, which would then be used for both military and commercial launches. The problem is that the commercial launch market has shrunk considerably (and there is a lot more competition from Russia, Sea Launch, France, and shortly from Japan). There may not be enough business to prevent Lockheed Martin from losing tens of millions of dollars. Boeing, which won the lion's share of the military launch contracts with its Delta-IV, doesn't face the same problem. These new evolved expendable boosters were once thought to be unnecessary as the Space Shuttle, with 26 flights per year, was going to make heavy launch boosters obsolete. The problem (as predicted by shuttle critics long before its first flight) is that the shuttle's engines run too hot (anything less and they cannot carry the huge loads) and have to be rebuilt after every flight. So, the shuttle tends to fly every second or third month instead of twice a month, and most of the launch business goes to rocket boosters. The Pentagon is happy with its EELV program, expecting to save about $10 billion through 2020. Lockheed Martin wants some of that in the form of a subsidy for the lack of business.--Stephen V Cole

 


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