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Interesting personal reactions - SpaceX vs ULA

I've been a fan of space, planets, rockets, etc since I was a kid. I've read many a book, played with toys, watched TV shows and documentaries and generally have always liked the topic.

Since the Shuttle missions ended I really didn't think about it much, until recently with the exciting advancements that SpaceX has been pushing forward. I caught the first successful drone ship landing live online and was stunned, excited and amazed. Since then I've gotten to see a few Falcon 9 launches live (including CRS-10) and always came away with a true, deep and intense sense of wonder and inspiration.

Today I watched the webcast for the ULA NROL-79 launch, and my overwhelming feeling was one of mild displeasure. Sure, it's a rocket and all that and I'm glad it went up fine, but after thinking about it a bit I think that my distaste came from the complete lack of excitement on the part of ULA, and the thought that their "customer" was the gov't who spent untold billions on yet another spy satellite.

SpaceX missions seem to be exciting, science-based, inspirational affairs. Events that might help mankind grow or communicate better or have some new technology. ULA is just another "your tax dollars at work" business based around things they'll never tell us about.


Well-Known Member
Mar 14, 2013
I bet they'll try and do something unique with the booster afterward, just to gather some data on the "disposable" booster... deploy the grid fins and see how much re-entry abuse they take before they rip off... see what kind of attitude control or roll rate they can achieve at the upper aerodynamic limits, see what happens if they try and fire an engine and let it literally run out of fuel, etc...

They'll get something out of it I bet.
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"You know the joke about Boeing: It puts the zero in being." - Elon Musk


And, cherry on the cake, Boeing, whose Dreamliner Li-Ion batteries Self-combusted, which can't get the Supersonic Plane to stop breaking up and can't retrieve/reuse their first stage, is going first to Mars.

“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” Boeing CEO Muilenburg said.

Boeing CEO Vows to Beat Musk to Mars
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Active Member
Jul 21, 2013
Perhaps this is because of how reliable the Atlas ULA launches are. They have only had one partial failure in the last 20 years. SpaceX has had two complete failures in the last two years.

Atlas has 1 partial failure from 70 launches at over $100 -150 million each.

Falcon 9 has 2 failures from 30 launches at $ 50-100 million each. Over last 6 years.
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Active Member
Nov 18, 2014
Bay Area
SpaceX missions seem to be exciting, science-based, inspirational affairs.

I think part of your problem is this emotionally modified perception.

Atlas missions: MRO, New Horizons, LCROSS, SDO, X37, Juno, MSL, Macen, OSIRIS. Plus weather. GPS. ~30% of A5 launches are something other than 'boring' DOD or commercial comm/EO.

Yes, ULA is dry. Yes, they're old school. But...in context, judge them on their actual accomplishments.
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2014 S P85 | 2020 3 P19"
Jun 27, 2013
Kansas City, MO
The thing with ULA is they are just a business. Their management doesn't seem to aspire for them to be anything more (if I'm wrong, then I think they are doing a terrible job of communicating their vision). They do a great job as a company, but management lacks the suave, spirit, and ambition that inspires men and women to greatness. That's okay, and their business is appreciated, but it's not going to make the news or get anyone excited about the future. No one really cared until SpaceX came along and reminded us all how you can take it further, and make it part of an incredible adventure for mankind.
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EU Model S P-37
Jul 6, 2011
While I can see your point, remember that ULA launches military missions and does everything possible to prevent SpaceX to do the same.

I have no doubt that SpaceX is willing launch spy satellites as soon as the govt allows them to do sp. And we will have no webcast or onboard gopro footage on that mission, then.
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SpaceX Moderator
Jan 31, 2012
Santa Fe, New Mexico
While I feel very similar to xmetal, I understand and agree with bxr140 's point that ULA has their place in the advancement of humanity into space. As he mentioned it is old school/good old boy thinking as opposed to pushing the envelope/innovative thinking that SpaceX promotes. I do find the sleazy underhanded maneuvering that ULA does to be pretty disgusting though. However having a solid backup company that is utterly reliable provides a nice counterbalance to SpaceX's rapid innovation and envelope pushing advancements.

In the coming years I expect and hope that SpaceX leads with innovative projects that Elon wants to do while ULA continues to launch with a reliable and consistent cadence of military and NASA launches that demand enormous amounts of resources for bureaucratic reasons. SpaceX shouldn't be excluded from those projects but they have plenty to do besides a basic orbital launch.


Well-Known Member
Aug 18, 2012
The 2nd failure caused a complete loss of the payload, for an unmanned flight vehicle thats all that matters.

What if you lose the payload while simply loading it to the upper stage? say the crane goes caput. Or transporting to launch pad?

We need to able to discern between actual launch accidents - count down and beyond, and other accidents. Just because there was a blast, we shouldn't bracket that into the same category. It seems like splitting hairs, but in my mind - notable difference.
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