During an event today to discuss a successful soft landing of a SpaceX Falcon flight, CEO Elon Musk also revealed that SpaceX has decided to file suit against the U.S. Air Force to get it to open up competition for national security-related rocket launches. Musk said that they were reluctant to file suit, but that the move is the last one available to them after trying to pursue other options, including complying with launch tests ordered by the Air Force before it entered into a sole-source procurement agreement that locks out private companies, which was entered into without justification, according to Musk.
“This really doesn’t seem right to us, and we’ve tried every avenue to try to figure out ‘why is this the case,’ and to try to find other avenues beyond filing a protest,” Musk said. “This contract is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars for no reason, and to add salt to the wound, the primary engine that’s used is a Russian engine.” Musk added that it seemed like the “wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” given the situation in the Ukraine.
“We have the advantage that our rocket was designed and built in the 21st century, whereas [the competition was designed in the 90s, with roots going back to the 70s and 80s,” Musk added, before going into more detail about why they’re more cost-effective (a third as expensive as those currently used under the single-source contract).
The suit was filed in the court of federal claims, Musk said, and he also added that there may be others that join but currently it’s just SpaceX in the complaint. That’s not to say that SpaceX is looking to force the government to use it exclusively for these types of launches; far from it, Musk says.
“We’re just protesting and saying these launches should be competed,” he said. “And if we compete and lose, that’s fine, but why were they not even competed?”
Musk says they informed the Air Force just before the conference of the suit, which it decided to file just a month after it gained awareness of the award and tried first to hold discussions with the Air Force. “It’s not as if we’re battling the whole air force, that’s not the case at all,” he said, in answer to a question about whether this would damage their overall relationship with the U.S. defense agency. “Our concern really relates to a handful of people in the procurement department.”