SpaceX Suing to Stop EELV Block Buy

Well, it wasn’t about Mars Colonial Transport, or even the official reveal of Dragon 2.0. Instead today’s SpaceX press conference held at the National Press Club, and delivered by Elon Musk, was primarily to announce the fact that SpaceX is filing a lawsuit in the US Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to halt the “block buy” of 36 EELV rocket cores from United Launch Alliance.

The main point of contention, according to Musk, is that even though SpaceX has completed four flights of the Falcon 9 V1.1, and nine of the booster in total, all of which successfully performed their primary missions, the Air Force went ahead and signed off on the block buy.  A more reasonable alternative he suggested, is that the Air Force could have waited a few more months and openly competed launches where more than one vendor is capable of meeting the requirements.

Looking genuinely perplexed as to why the DOD is so eager to go ahead,  Musk stressed that SpaceX has “done what the Air Force asked.” and is not suing win a particular launch, only for the right to compete. He also pointed out the fact that thus far, the Air Force review of SpaceX data has resulted in “zero changes” to the Falcon 9. Considering that on average, ULA boosters cost the taxpayer a total of more than four times the price of equivalent SpaceX flights, Musk summed up the rationale for the suit thusly “This is not right.”

Focusing on US dependence on Russia, the SpaceX founder also pointed out that one of the few people to actually be sanctioned by the Obama Administration over the invasion of Crimea is the head of Russia’s space program Dmitri Rogozin. It is not unreasonable to assume Musk argued, that Rogozin  is materially benefiting from ULA’s ongoing purchase of Russian engines for the Atlas V.

One of the key background issues driving the decision to file suit is the fact that after previously stating it would make as many as 14 launches available for open competition, the Air Force recently cut that number in half, citing slowdowns in the purchase of GPS-III satellites, one of the payloads considered to be among the earliest to be competed.

This is not the first time SpaceX has sued over the EELV program.  Well before it demonstrated a successful launch of the Falcon 1 booster, in 2005 SpaceX filed an anti-trust lawsuit in an attempt to block the Boeing and Lockheed Martin merger to form United Launce Alliance. In its complaint SpaceX alleged that the two companies “acted unlawfully to use their market power and engaged in an unlawful conspiracy to monopolize and ultimately eliminate competition in the sale of medium to heavy satellite launch services.”

The suit case was eventually dismissed on a ruling that without an EELV class rocket flying, SpaceX lacked standing to sue.  It is worth pointing out that SpaceX was arguably correct even at that time. The ULA merger resulted in an exclusive buying strategy which didn’t just influence 2006,  it lasted all the way up until the current block buy was signed, and is still in place. SpaceX has been flying the Falcon 9 since June of 2010.

More to come

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