SpaceX Lawsuit Aimed at Space Launch Monopoly
PayPal co-inventor, Tesla Motors car maverick and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk says he's suing the Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force.
Musk says his privately-owned rocket launch firm, SpaceX, is not being allowed to bid for lucrative military rocket launches contracts despite a successful track record of launches by hi firm.
When they broke ground on the historic transfer of an iconic Space Launch Complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base to SpaceX back in 2011, it was seen at the time as the beginning of a promising future of privately funded and owned rockets launched in partnership with the Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base that would create hundreds of good-paying jobs.
"Its going to be a great provider of jobs to our valley and the surrounding communities", Lompoc Mayor John Linn said at a press conference for the groundbreaking back in July 2011.
"With an American entrepreneurial spirit", echoed California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at the same July 2011 press conference, "manufacturing here in our great state, creating jobs, 1400 people already employed by Elon (Musk).
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX and its trailblazing owner Elon Musk have aggressively pursued the development of its "Falcon 9" heavy rocket booster as a competing orbital launch vehicle having conducted several successful launches since 2010.
Last Friday Musk told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. he's going to be filing a lawsuit against the Air Force for not allowing SpaceX to bid for the lucrative military satellite launch contracts.
"This is not SpaceX protesting and saying these launches should be awarded to us, we're just protesting and saying these launches should be competed", Musk told reporters, "if we compete and lose, that's fine, but why would they not even compete it, that just doesn't make sense."
Musk claims there are some $70 billion in orbital launch contracts over the next 15-17 years between the Air Force, Pentagon and United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.
Musk says it's a monopoly that's depriving U.S. taxpayers of potentially billions of dollars in cost-savings that could come from competing bids like his for these rocket launch contracts.
Here is a statement and background information released by the United Launch Alliance in response to Elon Musk's planned lawsuit:
"ULA is the only government certified launch provider that meets all of the unique EELV requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe. That is the case today, when the acquisition process started in 2012 and at the time of the contract award in December 2013.
The recent 5-year block buy contract was the result of a best practice acquisition process that enabled the government to negotiate a block of launches in advance that enabled significant operations efficiency and created the needed stability and predictability in the supplier and industrial base, while meeting national security space requirements.
This disciplined approach saved the government and taxpayers approximately $4 billion while keeping our nation’s assured access to deliver critical national security assets safely to space.
Space launch is one of the most risk-intolerant and technologically advanced components of our national security. That is why new entrants must meet rigorous certification criteria of vehicle design, reliability, process maturity and safety systems in order to compete, similar to the process that ULA’s Atlas and Delta products and processes have met.
ULA now provides Atlas and Delta EELV rockets that have complimentary capabilities that assure our customers that their mission needs are met. ULA has purchased a first stage engine built in Russia for the past 20 years for the Atlas rocket and has always maintained contingency capabilities if the supply was interrupted to ensure our customers mission needs are met. ULA maintains a two-year inventory of engines in the U.S., and would be able to transition other mission commitments to our Delta rockets if an emergent need develops.
Since its inception in 2006, ULA has consistently exceeded EELV cost reduction goals. At the same time, we have conducted 81 consecutive launches, achieving 100% mission success.
EELV continues to be the most successful DOD acquisition program of the past few decades. Launches have been delivered on schedule, meeting or exceeding all performance requirements, and exceeding cost reduction goals.”
On April 17, 2014, the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) 2014 Selective Acquisition Report (SAR) on the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) stated that the Block Buy provided more than $4 billion in savings from the President’s FY15 Budget.
The “Block Buy” contract is a commitment of 35 launch vehicle cores to achieve the economy of scale savings. The contract procures the hardware for 35 new cores and the capability to launch those and previous cores procured in prior year contracts (as early as 2002). The missions ULA supports for the U.S. Government and commercial customers have a wide range of capabilities, some of which have three times the lift capability of any of the new entrants advertised performance capability. ULA provides unique ground and orbital insertion capabilities that are included in the contract that are unique to national security missions.
The DOD acquisition strategy enabled new entrants – if certified – to compete for up to 14 missions in the FY’15–17 period. The goal of this element of the acquisition strategy was to demonstrate New Entrants ability to compete, with expectation that full and level competition would be enabled by FY’18.
Defense Department officials have recently stated that cancelling the contract and terminating the block buy – which involves hundreds of suppliers and is enormously complex – would cost billions. Additionally, it could put critical mission schedules at risk that would have impact on operational capabilities and the satellite program costs. ULA is focused on delivering on all of its mission assurance and cost reduction commitments that support its customers.
Since its inception, ULA’s commercially-developed Atlas and Delta rockets have executed an unprecedented 81 consecutive successful launches for the Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office, NASA and commercial customers, a 100 percent mission success standard unmatched in the U.S. launch industry.
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