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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Last Titan off from Vandenberg

The last of the Lockheed-Martin Titan rockets, after months of slow preparation, is finally up and away from Vandenberg. The blacksat on board was considered quite important and Lockheed used their clout as the launch contractor to kick fledgling rocket company SpaceX out of Vandenberg and away from the pad in which owner Elon Musk had invested millions of his own dollars.

Now that LockMart’s big launch is away they will not have the power to continue their underhanded operations against potentially cheaper competition. A number of folk have told me that Elon’s burn rate has been such that he is no longer quite a billionaire. As the adage goes, the way to make a small fortune in aerospace is to start out with a large one. Nonetheless, Elon is not letting the bastards (at Lockmart) get him down. I believe he has his next test coming up in November on Kwajalein, and the USAF is reportedly quite positive about working with him.

Except when LockMart throws a hissy fit…

20050520-ISDC05-ElonMusk-dsc00205.jpg
Elon Musk speaking at the National Space Society’s 2005
International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC.
Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved

15 comments to Last Titan off from Vandenberg

  • Midwesterner

    Dale, the link doesn’t seem to be working.

  • Dale Amon

    Sorry. I had an extra quote where I shouldn’t oughta. Sorted.

  • Midwesterner

    Thanks. Great link. What a time warp from the fifties and sixties. Then – entire cities supporting space launches that were major budget items for superpower nations. Now – a private entrepreneur hangs out his digitial shingle with booking info and a sales pitch. Gotta love private enterprise. Even when its (presumably) biggest customer is the gov.

  • Buckethead has a picture of what I’d like to see NASA working towards!

  • K

    The notion that Lockmart purposely screwed over SpaceX is a laughable one. Do you really think that
    LM executives came down from on high and told the engineers to screw something up? FYI, the present corporate culture in US aerospace is one of extreme sensitivity to anything which smacks of poor “ethics”.
    To the point of giving ethics training to every engineer/technician and office assistant. Having been through it, I can assure you that the aim is to make you comfortable, as a low level operative in the company chain, to blow the whistle on any upper management shenanigans. I have no doubt that any attempt to delay the Titan launch from any but an honest technical reason would result in an investigation of the person or persons involved and if found guilty, certain job termination and quite possibly incarceration.

    It should also be mentioned, that SpaceX is presently sueing BoLockmart, and has a vested interest making a big deal out of a routine launch delay. It is unfortunately the case these days that technology companies which screw the pooch often resort to the lawyers and not the technologists to get them out of their predicaments.

  • Dale Amon

    A private comapny invests its own money in a pad at Vandenberg… and you say that it is a routine matter when behind the scenes manipulations basically kicks them off the spaceport? Do you really believe that dinosaurs do not try to step on mammals while they still have a chance to do so? SpaceX and others are going to (as I believe Elon said and which annoyed LockMart no end) ‘Eat their lunch’.

    I was unaware he’d opened a suit against them. I am glad to hear it. I’ve certainly heard an earful from the commercial space crowd overs beers across America. I have heard this (and more) from multiple trusted sources.

  • Dale Amon

    More thoughts. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Lockheed Martin is a totally ethical company.

    In that case they should have no problems with paying Elon’s company fair market rental rates for his launch facility over the time he was unable to use it, plus any expenses he incurred in shifting his operations to Kwajalein.

    This is *commercial* space. It is no different from any other commercial operation. If it were American Airlines at Newark and JetBlue needed their facilities, JetBlue would pay for that use.

    Either Lockheed-Martin pays what they honestly owe or I cannot possibly consider them an ethical company.

  • Daveon

    Dale, I don’t think the Airline analogy is helpful in this case. The large airlines can and do routinely block smaller airlines from profitable hubs whenever they can and rarely have problems for it.

    This sort of thing to defend your business position is pretty typical across industry.

    It’s not far different from Microsoft protecting their APIs.

  • Dale Amon

    I disagree. There are other things which go on in the industry which are perhaps more akin to API’s and such. You are talkng about IP issues. And as to blocking access to key cities, yes, that does indeed happen with government collusion in most cases.

    I am not inferring anything illegal. I am pointing out hardball tactics which I find reprehensible. Perhaps by shining a light under the rock I can do a small bit to disencrouage this sort of thing in the infant comercial launch industry.

    One person I spoke to said that Elon invested $7M in the Vandenberg pad. By forcing him to leave it for an indeterminate time, a definite harm has been done to him. Someone owes him money. Perhaps Lockmart will hide behind the USAF skirt… and that will just get them a bigger blast from these quarters.

    If anything like this happened in commercial aviation, whether to a large carrier or small, it indeed would end up in court. Injoury has been done and I think Lockmart should pay so as to keep their reputation intact.

  • Daveon

    I certainly agree that it is reprehensible, but that, to be brutally honest is irrelvent.

    Most business practises are reprehensible, it’s probably why varients of socialism often look appealing.

    While the commercial industry (although I think we mean alt-space here) is an infant, there’s a big grown up launch industry that can make a living at the current cost points.

    The problem remains, for Musk and others, if they can pull the price point down enough to see if the price-elasticity of the demand is sufficiant to drive more activities. I’m still agnostic on that.

    But I’m deeply troubled that he has gone for this law suit, I’d not like to risk it myself.

  • Dale Amon

    Behavioral norms are those which society accepts. I do my part to enforce Civil society by pointing out such action publicly where the perpetrator can be named and shamed.

    While there is much in tort law I dislike, this seems to be a case where there is real damage and in which the damaged party should be made whole.

    Elon is no easy mark either. When you are in a bad neighborhood, you do not get being Mr. Nice. Yo gotta have an attitude and kick some Lockheed booty.

  • Daveon

    If I recall correctly he’s from South Africa, and I know from personal experience it takes a lot to get a South African down.

    However, this is the real world and these are real world business practises. I am becomming tired of reading a lot of what amounts to alt-space whinging that involved combinations of the following:

    * the conventional aerospace business are out to get uks
    * if they (meaning an amorphous blob of funding routes) would just give us X million we could prove how easy it is to do
    * it’s not fair – we need X,Y or Z and _they_ (for many values of they) won’t let us have it

    This is real business, it’s got to have a purpose and make money. I think it is Scott Lowther who calls many of them “Internet Rocketeers” and while I find little to agree with Scott about, I think he’s spot on here.

    I wish Elon a lot of luck, but I fear he’ll need it.

  • Dale Amon

    Elon has the money; he has the market; he has advance sales; he has the facilities now. I do not think anything can stop him except failure of his technology or predatory practices.

    Predatory practicers prefer to do it in dark rooms. That’s why I have turned the light on.

  • Will

    Pft. Having worked for LockMart I’d hardly call it them them most ethical company.

  • Stevely

    K -

    “FYI, the present corporate culture in US aerospace is one of extreme sensitivity to anything which smacks of poor “ethics”. ”

    Are you serious? Have you followed any of Boeing’s recent big procurement scandals, including the one that involved Air Force acquisition manager Darlene Druyun for $6 billion in contracts?

    I agree with Will, the idea of LockMart as an ethical company is hilarious. And yes I was also an employee (1997 – 2000). Having ethics training down to the janitor level does not an ethical company make. Not even when they make a Dilbert office ethics game for employees to play, complete with Vance Coffman and Dogbart on the intro video…