I commented on this article on SFN:
A lot of stuff to talk about in this article.
Vulcan will fly its final configuration (ACES + Reusability) version, at the earliest, by 2025. By then it will be competing against BFR which will be vastly more powerful, 100% reusable, and much less expensive.
I'm fairly certain that SpaceX will, once Block 5 of the Falcon 9 comes online next month, be very reticent to fly expendable flights. They will very likely shift any Falcon 9 payloads that prohibit re-use to Falcon Heavy.
Vulcan still doesn't have engines selected. I expect its initial launch schedule to slide significantly.
Despite Tory Bruno's hinting that the Falcon Heavy on government missions would cost 3 x $96.5 million, that makes no sense at all. You don't just triple the mission cost for a 3-core versus a single-stick... at least not for SpaceX. There's a lot of fixed mission costs in there. I expect Falcon Heavy government missions to cost probably $150 million or so.
ULA has never made an orbital rocket from scratch before and they're claiming some pretty incredible performance out of Vulcan. They could pull it off, but again it will come slowly and incrementally. SpaceX is currently building their 4th orbital rocket from scratch and has instituted a myriad of incremental upgrades to their Falcon 9 series which has doubled its performance.
The ACES upper stage is super cool and I'm glad they're doing it. It definitely pushes the envelope of what is possible. However, it won't fly for at least 6 years. SpaceX's BFS should also be capable of most of the tasks ACES could perform and due to its low marginal cost, may still be less expensive even with refuelling if required for more complex or heavy tasks.
The plan to recover Vulcan's first stage engines mid-air with a helicopter is not fool proof and will likely need a lot of careful work to ensure it is safe.
They spend a good amount of time touting the capabilities of the heaviest version of Vulcan (6 SRBs + ACES) but fail to mention that almost that entire vehicle will be expendable. You throw away the 6 SRBs, most of the 1st stage, ACES, and the fairing**. This vehicle will also probably cost quite a lot. Those SRBs are several million each.
** = Apparently ULA are working on fairing recovery with their partner RUAG. If it works out, then Vulcan becomes significantly more reusable. (Thanks /u/Zucal!)
You throw away ... the fairing.
Interestingly enough, ULA & RUAG (their fairing supplier) are looking into fairing recovery. It's still mostly a hypothetical, of course.
That's awesome! Their fairings are huge and expensive.
Felt bad dropping that without a source, so here's two: