SpaceX thinks it can help the United States government save $1 billion annually on national security space launches, but it's not getting the chance thanks to a longstanding "monopoly" over such launches. CEO Elon Musk just announced that SpaceX is filing an official protest complaining about the ULA's (United Launch Alliance) unfair grip on national security launches. More than anything else, he wants current deals reexamined. SpaceX will issue a filing with the US Court of Federal Claims over the Air Force's contracting procedures, which Musk believes are unfair.
"Let’s shine some sunlight on this," he said during a conference call. "As I’ve said, sunlight is the best disinfectant. If everything’s fine, then I guess that’s great. But that seems unlikely to me." Musk said it would be "in the best interest of the American public" for the Air Force to cancel the 36-core contract that the ULA successfully bid on, wait until SpaceX receives its formal certification, and then conduct a legitimate competition to see which company truly deserves the deal. That's obviously a rosy scenario for Musk and his SpaceX colleagues, but one Boeing and Lockheed will quickly object to.
Musk says if SpaceX is good enough for NASA, it's good enough to handle national security
The ULA — which was formed when Boeing and Lockheed combined their government launch efforts — currently pulls in up to $3.5 billion in annual funding from the government, according to a handout distributed at a SpaceX media event today. Musk seems confident SpaceX can do much better — and for less. "What we feel is that this is not right. That the national security launches should be put up for competition," Musk said. SpaceX is perfectly capable of launching NASA satellites and "every satellite you can imagine," so there's no logical reason why it shouldn't be able to handle putting sensitive GPS satellites in orbit.
"With SpaceX, the government could generate at least $1B in savings annually, even under the most conservative estimates," the company said today. SpaceX is also trying to highlight just how far that money can go: it could fund an entire year's worth of operations for 12 F-16 squadrons, for example.
This has been a project that Musk has been working on for some time. In March, he testified before the US Senate against the ULA. "We are restoring America’s competitiveness" in spaceflight, he said then. During the hearing, he even played to the current US/Russia rift by pointing out that ULA utilizes some components from Russia.
About to testify before Senate against ULA (Lockheed and Boeing) monopoly contract for national security launches— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 5, 2014
Update: The article has been updated to include SpaceX's filing with the US Court of Federal Claims.