This January satellite launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., was the required third flight in SpaceX’s bid to qualify its Falcon 9 rocket for U.S. Air Force launches.
Feeling stymied in its efforts to freely compete for U.S. national security launches, SpaceX has filed suit in federal court to protest the award, without bidding, of at least 22 flights during the next five years to a rival rocket maker.
Access to the Pentagon’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program could mean billions of dollars more in business for SpaceX, and a heavier flow of rockets sent to the company’s McGregor development site for testing.
The company also is complaining about the use of Russian engines on one of the rival rockets, at a time when tensions between the United States and Russia are rising.
The suit was filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington.
SpaceX said in a Monday statement that the filing was precipitated not just by the block-buy single-source purchase in December 2013 from the United Launch Alliance consortium but by the cutting of at least half of the 14 launches that were supposed to remain available for SpaceX to bid on.
“This exclusive deal unnecessarily costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and defers meaningful free competition for years to come,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in announcing the lawsuit Friday. “We are simply asking that SpaceX and any other qualified domestic launch providers be allowed to compete in the EELV program for any and all missions that they could launch.”
Begun in 1995, the EELV program led to the development of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V and Boeing’s Delta IV rockets.
The two companies competed against each other until 2006, when in an effort to reduce government costs they joined their rocket businesses into the United Launch Alliance. Since then, ULA has been the sole provider of rockets for the Pentagon and agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office.
A 2012 Department of Defense directive called for opening the EELV program to competition, and SpaceX has been vying for DOD launches since then, putting its next-generation Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket — which first launched in September 2013 — through the qualification process.
SpaceX asserts that the ULA’s flights cost the government more rather than less, while its own Falcon 9 rockets could fly for a quarter of the cost — saving about $300 million a launch.
ULA disputes those figures and points to its record of reliability.
“EELV continues to be the most successful DOD acquisition program of the past few decades,” the consortium said in a statement responding to the lawsuit. “Launches have been delivered on schedule, meeting or exceeding all performance requirements, and exceeding cost reduction goals.”
At issue is a block buy in December 2013 locking in the purchase from ULA of 36 engine cores — each core a rocket first stage, with heavier payloads requiring three engine cores at once. These launches, more than 20 all told, would take place through fiscal year 2019 or later.
The stated purpose was to save money, but it came less than three weeks before SpaceX’s third and final EELV qualification flight, launching a Thai communications satellite.
While the Air Force has yet to complete its examination of data from the launch to deem the Falcon 9 qualified, under a Pentagon directive seeking to hasten competition the fact that SpaceX submitted that data is supposed to open the bidding process for future EELV launches to the company.
Fourteen launches are supposed to remain available for SpaceX to bid on — a figure cited by ULA in its statement — but SpaceX said in its statement that those have been vanishing, cut down to seven and possibly to just one, as the Air Force said they fall under the block-buy contract instead.
Whether those launches do fall under the contract is difficult to say because its text has not been made public, with SpaceX saying in its statement that it received no response to its request for the contract’s terms under the Freedom of Information Act.
Another point of contention is the Atlas V’s use of the RD-180 rocket engine, built by a company whose majority owner is the Russian government. Deputy prime minister Dimitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia’s space industry, is among those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin who are under U.S. financial sanction after Russia sent troops to reclaim the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” Musk said Friday. “Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”
The ULA has said it has a two-year supply of RD-180 engines and could start production of an American version if needed.
The fight between the two rocket makers has been waged in Congress for some time, with Musk and ULA CEO Mike Gass trading barbs at a March 5 Senate hearing. SpaceX said it learned a day later of the cutback in launches available to it.
On the same day as Musk’s announcement, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released letters that he had written to Deborah James, the civilian head of the Air Force, seeking further information about the block buy and the reduction in launches available for competition, and to Defense Department Inspector General Jon Rymer requesting an investigation into the process.
SpaceX said in Monday’s filing that it is only challenging sole-source awarding of launches with single cores. Its potential entrant for larger launches, the three-core Falcon Heavy, is still in development.
Quelle: Waco Tribune
Air Force Barred From Using Russian-Made Rocket Engines
In light of recent sanctions against Russia, SpaceX won its bid to block Boeing and Lockheed Martin from buying any more Russian rocket engines for the U.S. Air Force.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a preliminary injunction barring the Air Force and the United Launch Alliance - a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin - from buying rocket engines built by NPO Energomash, a corporation owned and operated by the Russian government.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, the California-based company co-founded by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, filed a complaint last week protesting the Air Force's "exclusive deal" with Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
SpaceX said the contract "funnels hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Russia's military-industrial base," despite recent sanctions.
Calling the deal "dangerous, fiscally irresponsible, and offensive to American values of open competition and fairness," SpaceX asked the federal claims court to force the Air Force "to conduct full and open competition" for all future rocket orders.
Judge Susan Braden agreed that the Air Force's use of Russian-made rocket engines violates U.S. sanctions on certain Russian officials, specifically Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia's space program.
Last month the Obama administration also banned the export of "any high technology defense articles or services" in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
Braden's order, issued Wednesday, bars the United States and a United Launch Alliance subsidiary from "making any purchases from or payment of money to NPO Engeromash or any entity ... that is subject to the control of Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin."
"[I]n this court's judgment, the public interest and national defense and security concerns that underlie [the] Executive Order ... warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction in this case," Braden wrote.
Her order excludes existing purchase orders and money already paid to NPO Energomash.
The government's deal with United Launch Services is part of the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the fourth-largest program in the defense budget, estimated to cost $70 billion through 2030.
Quelle: Courthouse News Service