When the SpaceX Falcon 9 boosting the NASA CRS-7 payload exploded in the air over Cape Canaveral on June 28th, one of the first sympathetic tweets came from United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno. It seemed sincere enough, and a refreshing moment of class in what has otherwise been a bitter battle between ULA and SpaceX. Given the risks which accompany every rocket launch, and haunt those responsible for its outcome, one can only assume that the gesture was indeed heartfelt and genuine.
At the same time however, given that background, one would have to be woefully naive to believe that ULA, as well as its parent companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin, would not seek to gain from the SpaceX mishap. For what it is worth, had the roles been reversed, the same would no doubt apply. That would be true in any competitive situation, no matter how nobly individuals might respond in the moment.
What has made the SpaceX/ULA battle so noteworthy however, is the fact that it is one which has been waged more often in Washington D.C. than in the boardrooms of commercial satellite companies as has been the case for the equally intense struggle between SpaceX and Arianespace for commercial contracts. In that light, it was only a matter of time before the political long knives would come out for the former in the halls of Congress. As the Denver Post reports, a group of 14 Representatives, 9 of whom come from ULA districts in Colorado and Alabama, have sent a letter to the Air Force and NASA wanting to know “if the Falcon 9 launch system will be decertified for military launches. If it is not, they want details about the process that will be required to return it to service.”
The letter is here, and tellingly, even though it begins by referencing recent launch failures by both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, the questions only concern SpaceX.