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spaceSpace and Physics

SpaceX Files Protest Against Air Force Over National Security Launch Monopoly

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Lisa Winter

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clockApr 25 2014, 18:29 UTC
771 SpaceX Files Protest Against Air Force Over National Security Launch Monopoly
SpaceX

This morning, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX announced that he has filed a lawsuit against the United States Air Force due to an inability to compete for future launches for the Department of Defense. This comes after exhausting other avenues to be able to compete for the contract and break the monopoly.

Back in December, a US government contract was awarded to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is a collaboration between Boeing and Lockheed Martin for national security launches. The ULA charges the government about $3.5 billion annually to perform these launches, though Musk claims SpaceX could do the same job and save taxpayers at least $1 billion each year. That amount of savings could fund 12 F-16 squadrons for an entire year. 

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Musk also confirmed that the Falcon 9 rocket launch for NASA last week had a successful soft landing, bringing them a step closer to the creation of a reusable rocket. A rocket capable of a targeted landing onto its legs could be reset to launch the same day. Aside from the convenience factor, this represents a huge savings in the cost of the launch, as rockets don’t come cheap. Musk also added another perk of SpaceX rockets over the competition: “We have the advantage that our rocket was designed and built in the 21st century, whereas [the vehicle used by the ULA] was designed in the 90s, with roots going back to the 70s and 80s.”

In addition to the savings SpaceX could offer the taxpayers, Musk noted yet another advantage his company had over ULA: domestic production. The SpaceX rockets are designed, manufactured, and launched in America. The ULA gets about half of their rocket components from overseas and the main engine itself is actually from Russia. Currently, the US government has sanctions against Russian collaboration due to the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, though ULA CEO Michael Gass claims to have two years worth of engines stockpiled.

Though SpaceX has accomplished what they needed to in order to gain certification to compete, they were not given the chance. "The Air Force said we had to do three launches and we did," Musk said. "Then they told us they'd done an uncompeted award to ULA. That's wrong." The formal protest seeks for the government to rescind that contract and allow competition. “We’re just protesting and saying these launches should be competed,” he explained. “And if we compete and lose, that’s fine, but why were they not even competed?”

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Musk testified before congress in March against the ULA’s monopoly contract for national security launches. He brought up SpaceX’s 12 mission, $1.6 billion contract with NASA. “If our rockets are good enough for NASA, why aren’t they good enough for the Air Force?” Musk asked. “It makes no sense.”


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