The United Launch Alliance has taken a lot of heat lately.
Pressure has been growing on the Lockheed Martin/Boeing joint operation ever since Elon Musk rode into town on his Falcon 9 and started the certification process with the Air Force, a move explicitly designed to introduce competition to ULA’s monopoly of military space launch. But it was Musk’s decision to sue the Air Force over a block-buy contract awarded to ULA that really brought the spotlight onto the company.
Two months later, ULA has decided to stop being polite and start getting real.
Speaking to reporters June 18, ULA president and CEO Michael Gass showcased a new ad campaign (see below) designed to push back at SpaceX’s “dangerous approach” to military launch.
“National security payloads have no margin for failure,” Gass said. “That means launch providers have to be perfect every time, and that’s hard to do. SpaceX is trying to cut corners and just wants the US air force to rubber stamp it. SpaceX’s view is rubber stamp us. We obviously believe that’s a dangerous approach, and thankfully so do most people.”
The message is nothing new for those who closely follow these issues. But that’s not necessarily the target of the message. SpaceX has been very successful playing to the public – and more importantly, the Hill – as an outside underdog story, and ULA is clearly trying to counter some of the bad publicity it has received as a result.
“Before the US Air Force was sued, almost no one ever heard of United Launch Alliance. We quietly worked behind the scenes… however, once SpaceX filed its lawsuit and heavily stepped up its lobbying efforts, we quickly found there was an enormous amount of misinformation that was being provided to the media, members of Congress and the public.
The ad, the first in a series, is “aimed at demonstrating to the public that we can’t afford rhetoric and misinformation when real lives are at stake, namely our troops,” Gass added.
Gass later admitted that the real targets of the ads aren’t the basic public, but the “the influencers of the launch vehicle strategies and propulsion strategies…The main purpose is clearly at the influencers and decision makers. They get influenced by public opinion so it’s important we make sure the public has the appropriate information.”
He also noted that it is partly for internal morale reasons, so that “our team knows that we’re out there getting our message out there.”
Which brings us to a challenge for our Intercepts readers. See a ULA ad up around town? Take a picture and let us know!