United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno fielded questions March 11 on everything from the Denver company’s next-generation rocket to his rivalry with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk during a 90-minute “Ask Me Anything” session on the popular Reddit website.
Bruno’s 12 most interesting exchanges with Reddit users are presented here lightly edited for clarity.
Q. As a new grad, what makes ULA an attractive employer over SpaceX or anyone else in the industry?
A. If you come to ULA, you will be with the premier provider, flying every month, if not more often. You will also get to work on advanced technology in an environment where we value our people and work hard to develop you as a professional throughout your career. You’ll work with the best and … have the opportunity for work-life balance.
The Internet is beautiful thing when a CEO needs to answer a question about why his company is attractive to someone named Smell_my_toots.
— Mike Gruss (@Gruss_SN) March 11, 2015
Q. What space-related business opportunities can you see arising in the next 5-10 years, towards which students could start focussing their projects and research right now?
A. What a great question! I anticipate an appearance of real utility in small sats appearing in the next decade. This will create new opportunities for a number of commercial providers. That will affect lift (us) as well as satellite builders and the terrestrial businesses they support.
Q. What do you think will be the future of rocket propulsion on the long run (presuming we will move away from conventional chemical propulsion)?
A. There will be a future beyond chemical, but it’s a ways off. A clean nuclear-thermal hybrid might be the next break through.
Q. Has ULA looked at the stage recovery like SpaceX with boostback, re-entry burn and so on? And if so, why was the partial recovery preferred over the full SpaceX style of recovery?
A. We have looked at a wide spectrum of reusability options. The challenge is not technology. It is economics. Full stage reuse is challenging for the reasons I discussed at Stanford. I believe a SMART Systems Engineering approach to this problem is possible.
Q. Where do you find the time to answer all your tweets? Do you set ten minutes aside every hour?
A. Every spare moment. (and I don’t actually sleep…)
Q. Do you have a launch-day ritual?
A. Yes, I do, but it’s a secret you can only learn by coming to ULA.
Q. What is your philosophy of leadership?
A. Leaders create a compelling vision and then enable their people to succeed
Q. Were you aware of the transition and role you were stepping into when offered the CEO position? (i.e. did you know you would be transforming a company in the way you have?)
A. Not to this extent.
Q. What is going to happen to Boeing’s commercial crew missions once the Atlas 5 is discontinued? I ask because it’s going to take several years to certify the new launch system. What happens in the meantime?
A. We intend to have Atlas supporting Boeing’s crew missions until [the Next Generation Launch System] is available and certified for human flight.
Q. What was catalyst to step up PR effort to interface with space community and rocket fans?
A. Space touches everyone’s life. I want to demystify the industry that does this.
Q. Will the certification process be the same as the new entrant certification that SpaceX is going through with Falcon 9, or will ULA’s incumbent status allow for a different process.
A. The U.S. Air Force chartered a review board to examine the certification process. On going now. Both ULA and Space X are participating. I think its likely that some simplification will result. However, certification will still be hard. It should be. Billion dollar assets with lives at risk…
Q. Kirk or Picard?