Policy: Technology

Elon Musk's SpaceX to challenge launch-vehicle contract awarded to Lockheed-Boeing venture

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Entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO of the spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX, said Friday that his company would file a lawsuit to protest a satellite launch contract the Air Force awarded to a joint Lockheed Martin and Boeing venture.

Earlier this year, the Air Force awarded a lucrative contract to the joint venture, United Launch Alliance, which SpaceX believes it should be allowed to compete for. The contract is for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, which ensures that the U.S. government is able to launch payloads into space. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the program will cost between $3 billion and $3.5 billion a year.

"This is not right," Musk said, announcing that the company is filing the protest in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. "National security launches should be put up for competition."

Musk said that SpaceX could generate at least $1 billion in savings for the U.S. government annually, and that United Launch Alliance costs are more expensive than his company's by more than a factor of four.

"This contract is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars for no reason," he said.

SpaceX does not currently have formal certification to compete for the EELV contract, and wants the current contract to be nullified so a competition can be done after SpaceX receives one.

The technology entrepreneur also argued that the United Launch Alliance's primary engine is Russian-made, and he raised questions about whether U.S. sanctions might be violated.

"It seems pretty strange -- how is it that we're sending hundreds of millions in U.S. taxpayer money at a time when Russia is in the process of invading the Ukraine. … On the surface of it, it appears that [there is the] probability of some sanctions violation as well. We think this deserves to have a spotlight on it," he said. "This seems to be wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin."

During his press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Musk also announced that a reusable Falcon 9 booster rocket SpaceX is testing was able to make a "soft landing" over water as designed, but was destroyed by waves before it could be recovered. The company hopes to safely land the rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla., during future testing later this year.

Reached for comment Friday evening, a United Launch Alliance spokeswoman said officials were "reviewing the transcript" from the Musk press conference and that the Pentagon's "robust acquisition and oversight process" helped the joint venture create $4 billion in savings compared with previous acquisitions approaches.
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