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article imageCompetition on the cost of a rocket heats up between ULA, SpaceX

By Karen Graham     Apr 7, 2017 in Technology
Colorado Springs - After SpaceX's successful launch and recovery of a recycled Falcon 9 rocket booster, the discussion over the cost of rocket launches has heated up, with United Launch Alliance dropping the cost of its workhorse Atlas 5 rocket flights by about one-third.
Speaking at the 33rd U.S. Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs this week, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said the company had spent “substantially less than half” the cost of a new first-stage Falcon 9 booster during last week's historic flight.
Shotwell added that the cost savings were realized even after factoring in the amount of time that went into refurbishing the booster rocket. “We did way more on this one than we’re doing on future ones, of course,” said Shotwell, according to TESLArati.
The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft sits on top of an Atlas V rocket on March 22  2016 at Cape Canaver...
The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft sits on top of an Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, ahead of its launch to the International Space Station
United Launch Alliance, NASA/AFP
However, on Tuesday, Tory Bruno, the chief executive officer of United Launch Alliance (ULA), the nation’s largest private rocket operator, said during an interview, that the company had dropped the price of its Atlas 5 launches by about one-third in response to growing competition from SpaceX and other companies.
“We’re seeing that price is even more important than it had been in the past,” said Bruno, adding, “We’re dropping the cost of Atlas almost every day. Atlas is now down more than a third in its cost."
Based on pricing in December 2016, the baseline cost of an Atlas 5 launch was around $109 million. But even that cost can be reduced by almost half if satellite operators can get favorable rates on insurance, as well as taking advantage of other factors such as an on-time launch.
ULA's biggest competitor, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, on the other hand, lists the base price of a Falcon 9 launch on their website as $62 million, with the base price of a Falcon Heavy launch going for $90 million.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket -- carrying a Dragon cargo capsule -- blasts off from the Kennedy Space C...
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket -- carrying a Dragon cargo capsule -- blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center's launchpad 39A in Florida, on February 19, 2017
, NASA/AFP
ULA again cuts jobs as competition grows
In February, ULA announced an unspecified number of job cuts were in the works, claiming they were striving to be more price competitive with SpaceX and other groups, reported the Denver Business Journal.
At the time, ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said the company was seeking voluntary departures in the hope that they wouldn't have to involuntarily lay off any employees. “We appreciate all of our team members’ contributions and understand the difficulty and stress that workforce reductions place on the impacted employees and their families,” she said.
ULA came into existence 10 years ago as a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co., the result of merging their rocketry divisions. For years, ULA was the sole provider of major military space flights and has dominated NASA's space flight missions. But that has all changed, especially with the coming of age of the upstart, Elon Musk's SpaceX.
More about united launch alliance, Spacex, Cutting costs, Falcon 9, Atlas 5