Claiming his company, SpaceX, could potentially save the U.S. government hundreds of millions dollars if given the chance to bid on contracts, Elon Musk has filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
LOS ANGELES — Tesla Motors founder and private space exploration entrepreneur Elon Musk is taking on the military-industrial complex, alleging in a lawsuit that the federal government unfairly awarded a $9.5 billion contract for rocket launch services to a joint venture of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has not yet been officially certified by the U.S. Air Force for launching satellites into space but that didn’t stop him from challenging a contract award that his lawyers called “dangerous, fiscally irresponsible, and offensive to American values of open competition and fairness.”
“SpaceX seeks no advantage, but merely the opportunity to compete” with the United Launch Alliance joint venture, the company said in a bid protest filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
According to the filing, the Air Force must, on average, budget $400 million for a ULA rocket launch while SpaceX could provide the same service for around $100 million.
The complaint also criticized ULA for using Russian-made engines in some of its rockets, “especially at a time when the [Obama] Administration has sanctioned individuals associated with the same military industrial complex over the Ukraine annexation.”
ULA said in a statement that it is “the only government certified launch provider that meets all of the unique . . . requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe.”
A rigorous acquisitions process “saved the government and taxpayers approximately $4 billion while keeping our nation’s assured access to deliver critical national security assets safely to space,” the joint venture said.
But Musk won an initial victory April 30 when Judge Susan G. Braden ordered a halt to any further ULA rocket purchases from Russian manufacturer NPO Energomash, citing the inclusion of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in the U.S. sanctions list.
Rogozin “is the head of the Russian defense industry and, in particular, the Russian space program,” the judge noted in her order.
SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002 to manufacture and launch advanced rockets and spacecraft, has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly resupply missions to the international space station. Musk also has his eye on the business of launching defense payloads, such as satellites, into space — by 2030, the Pentagon expects to spend almost $70 billion on the program.
The five-year contract to ULA for 36 rockets was awarded in December.
“How is it that we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money [on Russian engines] at a time when Russia is the process of invading Ukraine?” Musk asked at a news conference. “It would be hard to imagine that Dmitry Rogozin is not benefiting personally from the dollars that are sent there.”
SpaceX’s bid protest seeks an injunction directing the Air Force to conduct full and open competition for all launch rockets not yet ordered and cancel the ULA contract as it relates to any rocket that will not be launched over the next two years.
“If we compete and lose, that’s fine,” Musk said. “But why would they not even compete it? That doesn’t make sense.”