A long-simmering dispute between rocketbuilder SpaceX and the
At issue was a sole source, no-compete contract awarded to
"Essentially what we feel is that this is not right. That the national security launches should be put up for competition and they should not be awarded on a sole source, uncompeted basis," Musk said. SpaceX is asking that the contract be canceled and not awarded until its Falcon 9 rocket is certified by the
In the press conference, Musk accused the
"This contract is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars more for no reason," Musk said.
The last decade has seen many changes in the U.S. launch industry.
It began in the 1990s as the
The long-term goal was to reduce the high cost of sending payloads into orbit, and, more importantly, to create more dependable rockets after a string of high-profile failures.
The service wanted two competitors in hopes that they would bid against each other and reduce costs. The result was
These new rockets had their inaugural launches in 2002.
The same year, Musk, who had recently sold his first company PayPal to
Less than four years later, Musk launched his first Falcon 1 rocket. It crashed into the ocean after less than a minute. On the fourth try, the rocket succeeded in placing a payload into orbit in 2008.
The company moved on to its Falcon 9 rocket in 2010 and began to sign up government and commercial customers, which included
Companies such as SpaceX and
Orbital Science's Antares rocket is lifting medium-sized payloads of around 11,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. It has had three successful missions so far. Falcon 9 can send about 29,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit, and 10,600 pounds to geostationary orbit. _
As per-launch prices grew, ULA and some officials in the government began advocating for block buys of engine cores. The company said contracting for several launches in advance would allow it to purchase long-lead items in bulk, and cut down on contracting expenses, which would in turn reduce costs.
As SpaceX became a more formidable competitor, those agencies plus
The ULA executive touted the company's perfect record, and said competition would not necessarily be good for the nation.
"Over the past 17 years the [EELV] program has continued to deliver. Meeting the needs of our nation effectively and efficiently - delivering capabilities on time, on budget and while delivering on all of the programs original requirements," he said.
"I believe there are substantive questions about how EELV competitions will be structured to ensure the competition is fair and open and whether it will actually deliver savings to our nation. Ultimately, the central question is whether savings from competition will be sufficient to offset the cost of duplicating existing capabilities," Gass testified.
"We went from two competing teams with redundant and underutilized infrastructure to one team that has delivered the expected savings of this consolidation," he continued.
Musk countered that the
"The impacts of relying on a monopoly provider since 2006 were predictable, and they have been borne out. Space launch innovation has stagnated. Competition has been stifled," he said. He asserted that had SpaceX been awarded the missions ULA received under its recent non-competed 36 rocket core block buy, it would have saved taxpayers
Gass said: "We are investing in new technology and concepts to make our products better and more affordable. We are investing internal funds to develop a capability to launch two GPS satellites at a time, which will cut launch costs almost in half ULA, along with our government customers, is reviewing every requirement and every process to eliminate any unnecessary or inefficient elements."
Musk noted at the hearing that SpaceX had to meet a number of requirements that were never demanded of ULA's rockets. It was required to successfully launch three Falcon 9 flights, which was achieved with consecutive successful flights in September, December and January without any government support. Under the certification agreement, SpaceX had delivered more than 30,000 data items to the
'We are hopeful that the
By the April press conference, that hope had evaporated.
The lawsuit, filed in the
The Falcon 9 had supported
"It should be qualified to launch something quite simple like a GPS satellite. This really doesn't seem right to us. We have tried every avenue to figure out why this is case," he said.
Furthermore, the lawsuit questioned the legality of using the RD-180 first stage rocket engine, which is produced by NPO Energomash of
"Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing 'assured access to space' for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin's permission," Musk said.
The court dismissed this part of the lawsuit on the grounds that there was no proof that money was going to those on the sanctions list. A ruling on other parts of the lawsuit is pending.
ULA during the Space Symposium held in
It distributed a fact sheet to reporters, "Dispelling Myths About the Cost of
It cited a 2014
Musk at the press conference said ULA's rockets are "insanely expensive."
SpaceX launches commercial satellites for
ULA per-launch costs have been cited as high as
ULA said the
McCain's letter also referred to the
The block buy contract stated that if there weren't enough demand for 36 launches, the
McCain referred to testimony before the
The ULA fact sheet repeated Gass' remark at the hearing that there isn't enough business to support another entrant in the launch market.
"The rÉintroduction of competitors to the current marketplace, coupled with the requirement to maintain multiple launch systems to ensure 'assured access to space,' may be more costly than simply maintaining a single launch provider. Competition may return the launch industry to the same market dynamics that led to ULA's creation eight years ago," it said.
He reiterated his belief that competition would be beneficial.
"Our overriding objective here is to get national security payloads to space reliably. So that has to be front and center of anything we do. But by the same token we know it's costing a lot to get assets to space and we need to drive the price down," he said.
He said he was surprised by the SpaceX lawsuit.
"They can't compete, cannot compete, will not compete, until they are certified. And the fact that they have, that SpaceX has completed three certification launches, that's just openers," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of analysis that needs to be completed and it's in cooperation with SpaceX. This is a certification process that they willingly signed up to, and we will continue to work that certification process."
The first of the three Falcon 9 launches has been deemed acceptable, but the
"It's very difficult to pick up the pace on [all] that," Shelton said.
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