Tag Archives: United Launch Alliance

Will SpaceX go to Work for the U.S. Air Force?

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Musk has been making some big announcements lately –from the release of Tesla’s electric car model predicted to occur by 2017 to SpaceX going to work for the United States Air Force. SpaceX has confirmed that the U.S. Air Force has certified that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has completed three successful flights that met the Air Force’s qualifications and standards. As a result, SpaceX can now finish the certification process and seek to receive government contracts awarded under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program.

SpaceX’s announcement could be good news for taxpayers. Currently, the government (via taxpayers) is paying United Launch Alliance $1 billion each year just to stand ready to launch satellites into space. If a satellite is actually launched into space, ULA is paid an additional $380 million per launch! SpaceX has claimed it can perform the same work for the bargain price of $100 million per launch. If SpaceX becomes a competitive bidder for the EELV contracts, it could potentially save U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 billion over the next 15 years.

But the news about SpaceX doesn’t end there because the company will soon be launching one of its Dragon spacecrafts to the International Space Station. The crew members on board will consist of 40 mice that are being referred to as “mousetronauts.” The mice will live in the International Space Station for approximately six months.

NASA will study the mice to understand how microgravity could affect the human body in an effort further NASA’s planned manned exploration of Mars and other parts of space. Although astronauts spend up to six months in microgravity on the Space Station, the other planned missions may last two years or more. Since mice only typically live for about two years, spending six months on the Space Station is one-quarter of a mouse’s life span. Thus, understandings how weightlessness impacts the mice, the researchers can extrapolate those effects and apply to years of a human’s lifespan.

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Will SpaceX Lawsuit be Dismissed?

SpaceX filed a complaint with the Court of Federal Claims earlier this year challenging the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract on the basis that it violates fair competition and federal sanction laws due to the sole-source multi-rocket provisions of the contract. The Air Force is seeking to have the court dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that SpaceX was not an actual or prospective bidder on the contract, so SpaceX does not have standing to challenge it. Also, the Air Force has pointed out that SpaceX failed to object to a public request for a proposal issued in March of 2012 for that purchase. The contract was awarded by the Air Force to United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is a joint venture between The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

United Launch Services, a subsidiary of ULA, was awarded the $11 billion contract the end of last year. The contract provides for the acquisition of nearly 36 rocket bodies required to build boosters for a range of military devices, including navigation beacons, spy satellites and communications relay stations.

SpaceX believes its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket should be considered by the military for the same purposes, but the sole-source contract unfairly restricts competition. SpaceX alleges national security launches should be awarded under a competitive basis. The Falcon 9 v1.1 was not certified to carry military payloads at the time the contract was awarded to ULA. To be certified, the rocket must complete three successful flights in a row and pass a detailed engineering and business review. The Falcon 9 v1.1 was still in the certification process at the time contract bidding was taking place.

The Air Force is seeking to have the SpaceX lawsuit dismissed because it knew about the sole-source contract and failed to object or to indicate that it intended to compete for the contract. In other words, by failing to act when the government requested prospective bidders to describe their space-launch capabilities, the Air Force claims SpaceX waived its ability to object to the award of the contract now.

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