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SpaceX Files Suit Against US Air Force 176

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
Today Elon Musk announced that SpaceX has decided to challenge the U.S. Air Force's restrictions on rocket launches related to national security. Such launches are done with a Russian rocket right now, and that contract is not up for competition with other rocket makers, like SpaceX. Musk says the company has exhausted other options to become part of the bidding process. "We're just protesting and saying these launches should be competed. And if we compete and lose, that's fine, but why were they not even competed?" He also said it's the "wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin," referencing events in the Ukraine.

At the same press conference, Musk announced that SpaceX's recent attempt to soft-land a rocket booster stage was successful. It landed and was in "healthy condition" immediately afterward. Unfortunately, they weren't able to recover it because it landed in the middle of a rough storm, which eventually destroyed the stage. The storm was rough enough that the Coast Guard wouldn't even send a boat out to help recover it. Musk said, "We'll get much bigger boats next time." SpaceX also plans on landing the stage on shore at some point, which makes recovery easier. Musk made this prediction: "I expect we will be able to land a stage back at Cape Canaveral by the end of the year."
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SpaceX Files Suit Against US Air Force

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  • Russian Engine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:18PM (#46843601) Homepage

    "Such launches are done with a Russian rocket right now"

    more correctly, the launches are done with an American rocket, using a Russian engine (RD-180).

    see: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lo... [forbes.com]
    http://www.parabolicarc.com/20... [parabolicarc.com]

    (the article [techcrunch.com] has it right; the summary is inaccurate).

    • I could be wrong on this, but I thought Pratt was going to be building the RD Amross (which is the american version of the RD-180) starting a couple of years ago. If that's the case then the RD-180's being used on the Atlas V are completely domestic.

      With that all said, no bid contracts are shit. The price delta between SpaceX and ULA are large enough that provided SpaceX can demonstrate the same reliability as the the Atlas 5 (so far it has) and the same capabilities (it has) then why not go with the chea
      • Re:Russian Engine (Score:4, Informative)

        by adamgundy (836997) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:46PM (#46843829)

        I could be wrong on this, but I thought Pratt was going to be building the RD Amross (which is the american version of the RD-180) starting a couple of years ago. If that's the case then the RD-180's being used on the Atlas V are completely domestic.

        no. they spent a small fortune on 'investigating the possibility' of building the engines in the US, which culminated in building one small part of an engine. then concluded that it was too expensive (a billion dollars to start production, and the US engines would also be twice the price).

        RD-180s are built in Russia. they have a two year stockpile here in the US.. but ULA have just been awarded a five year block buy.

        • For anyone who's interested, Musk's announcement at the Nat'l Press Club is up on YouTube. [youtube.com] It's 32 minutes long, and the lawsuit issue comes around 15:30. (The first 15m is about reusable rockets.)

  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:20PM (#46843611) Homepage Journal

    Translation: some Air Force brass are getting board seats in some corporation X after retirement, so of course they don't want to open the bidding and allow SpaceX to take the contract.

    • by alen (225700)

      wasn't Apollo and almost every other space program the same way? the aerospace companies created a joint company that got the work and divided up the profits

      • by dlenmn (145080)

        In what way is one company getting the work like a job being split up among many companies? According to the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), over 20,000 different companies and universities worked on the Apollo program.

        In short, the answer to your question is no.

        https://www.asme.org/engineeri... [asme.org]

    • More like 10 years ago the company that designed and built the rocket, at great expense, did so because of a no-compete contract they signed with the government. Everyone likes to rail on these agreements but they are rarely signed just for shits and giggles.

      • by Loki_1929 (550940) on Friday April 25, 2014 @04:28PM (#46844137) Journal

        Are you saying that if they put out contracts for competition, nobody would build anything? Seems absurd on its face. Sure, there's no reason not to build the thing if you have a guaranteed payday, but there's plenty of reason to do it without the guarantee. I'd even be okay with the government footing a small portion of the bill for a handful of serious designs in competition with one another just to get more companies interested. But to simply hand the whole thing over to someone with a fat check and an unlimited credit card for the overages? Ridiculous.

        • by DMJC (682799)
          Welcome to the JSF: Why make two companies compete for funding when you can just pay them both, and end up with a shittier version of two planes to choose from!
        • The USAF did that. They even demanded to have two suppliers. Lockheed Martin and Boeing won the EELV contest. However they decided to do a 'joint-venture' i.e. a monopoly afterwards claiming it was uneconomic to have two suppliers. Since then US government launch prices went up believe it or not...

        • by fractoid (1076465)
          It depends on the investment required. If you're going to spend $X billion developing a specific product to a single customer's specifications, you're going to want some kind of commitment that that customer is going to buy enough of them to at least pay off your investment.
      • Just because you supply something do the government, it doesn't mean they should be guaranteed a profit.
        Federal procurement rules would require a competition once there are two suppliers to compete for it.
        ULA was the only game in town, not anymore, hence the requirement that DoD payloads that the already fully operational SpaceX F9R rocket can handle to be competed on.
        Elon is very clear that he isn't contesting payloads that he can't handle yet (need Falcon Heavy ready). He's only contesting payloads that h

    • by tomhath (637240)

      Real translation: They have something that works.

      Developing and testing a heavy lift rocket takes years and piles of money. Once they have one they use it. Competing the procurement means anyone can come in with a low bid and provide some paperwork "proving" they have the expertise and resources to build the rocket. So now the government has to go through years of project management and cost overruns before finding out the contractor is incompetent. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

      • Competing the procurement means anyone can come in with a low bid and provide some paperwork "proving" they have the expertise and resources to build the rocket.

        SpaceX has a bit more than paperwork.

      • by AK Marc (707885)

        So now the government has to go through years of project management and cost overruns before finding out the contractor is incompetent. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

        Yes. That's better than the current situation. Just hold the contractors responsible. In China, defrauding the government for billions will get you shot. In the US, you get a no-bid contract and guaranteed profits for life.

        It's sad when the Chinese government is so much more efficient than the US.

        • by lgw (121541)

          Only if you believe China actually works that way. Certainly people are shot by the government for any number of reasons. And I'm sure from time to time the actual reasons are the stated reasons. But you can be sure that if a CEO gets killed for "defrauding the government" the truth includes "and the right guy didn't get his cut".

        • Correction: people get shot in China when their fraud embarrasses the government.

          What's with the hard-on that some right-wingers have for autocratic governments? Wait - don't answer that. It'll be depressing.

      • You fix that by having more than one supplier.

        • by tomhath (637240)

          You fix that by having more than one supplier.

          That pretty much doubles the price of the contract right from the start. Good luck getting funding for that.

    • Maybe I've misread the summary, but "Corporation X" here seems to be the Russian government and I don't think a whole lot of retired US military types end up working for them...

    • by tsotha (720379)

      Less cynically, Air Force brass have been burned over and over again by companies who lowballs bids and can't deliver. It's human nature to try to steer contracts to companies that have made good on promises in the past.

      My was in the Air Force and worked on big contracted projects. You would not believe how often the AF has to deal with companies taking progress payments and then declaring bankruptcy.

      Of course the really big contracting decisions are all made on Capitol Hill *cough*F-35*cough*.

  • by Scot Seese (137975) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:32PM (#46843729)

    I suspect the current arrangement with the Russians providing lift tickets to the ISS performs a similar function to the intelligence treaties we signed in the 90s allowing the U.S. and Russia to perform overflights of each others' countries to verify ICBM numbers and troop movements, plus the CIAs fanatical attention to assist the Russians in tracking and controlling any and all nuclear materials to keep it from wandering off in the hands of men like Viktor Bout, "Lord of War" arms dealer.

    By subsidising the Russian space program with this sweetheart no-bid contract, we, the U.S., help ensure that dozens of very highly skilled engineers and scientists with the ability to lead a team interested in designing and building short, medium, or long-range rockets - for whatever purpose - are kept "on payroll" and reasonably content safely and securely inside Russia. Exactly where we want them. Instead of helping a potential aggressor nation like Iran, North Korea, or theocratic / military dictatorship Du Jour develop accurate, long range weapons for suitcases full of cash, women, mansions and national hero-worship.

    The current deal also forces a certain level of cooperation between the space agencies, governments, and builds political good will on both sides. Good Will that Putin is destroying at the moment, but will return providing he doesn't go all Poland '39 on the remainder of Ukraine.

    • by Loki_1929 (550940)

      By subsidising the Russian space program with this sweetheart no-bid contract, we, the U.S., help ensure that dozens of very highly skilled engineers and scientists with the ability to lead a team interested in designing and building short, medium, or long-range rockets - for whatever purpose - are kept "on payroll" and reasonably content safely and securely inside Russia. Exactly where we want them. Instead of helping a potential aggressor nation like Iran, North Korea, or theocratic / military dictatorship Du Jour develop accurate, long range weapons for suitcases full of cash, women, mansions and national hero-worship.

      It would be an order of magnitude cheaper if we flew those guys to the US, handed them suitcases full of cash, and bought them all houses in southern California. If we really wanted to get fancy, we could even offer them jobs.

      Or we can pay their government tons more money to build a rocket engine we don't need.

      • by cbhacking (979169)

        Too bad there are no southern Californian companies employing rocket scientists these days... OH WAIT!

        (Yes, that was probably the joke.)

      • It certainly worked on the German rocket program after WWII. As Tom Lehrer put it so brilliantly in in the 1950's: "That's not my department", says Werner von Braun.

                                https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • In other words, the US and Russia are engaged in the kind of keep-the-workers-from-moving deal that the US just dinged Apple, Google, etc. over. B-)

      • That's cute - you think rules apply to the government?

        "National Security."

        Just utter those two words, and brush everything aside. "In The Interest / Not In The Interest of __National Security___. "

        I have a friend - who is quite possibly reading this, Hi, Beavis - who has Top Secret security clearance and a tidy officers' rank in the U.S. military. Many years ago, while undergoing the personal reference interview portion of his background check, I had a man from the Department of Defense come to my house.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:50PM (#46843849)

    Musk said, "We'll get much bigger boats next time."

    Is he retrieving a booster or a shark [urbandictionary.com]?

  • by photonic (584757) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:57PM (#46843891)
    It is about time that the FTC steps in and allows SpaceX to sell their rockets directly to the Air Force. Blame the rich local rocket dealerships, we corrupted their local politicians to create laws that are only designed to maintain their business model of selling old fashioned rockets. What people in the street want is to buy a next generation rocket, directly from the Internet, without having to talk to one of those sleazy rocket salesman. I am getting confused, you were saying Elon?
    • ROFL!

      Wish I had mod points just now.

  • by bigpat (158134) on Friday April 25, 2014 @04:12PM (#46844029)

    As a taxpayer, I wouldn't usually care about these corporate tiffs, but SpaceX can probably save the government hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars which could be used towards additional capabilities in space... so using SpaceX for launches could allow the Air Force to double its launch capacity at the same cost. Forget about sending money to Russia using ULA rockets, using SpaceX could double or more than double US space capabilities which translates to more communications satellites, more surveillance satellites and more R&D payloads.

    It is boggles the mind that the procurement folks at the air force would sign long term contracts with ULA just a few months before SpaceX has finished jumping through all the Air Force hoops for certification. Seems like a pretty blatant multi billion dollar gift (going out of business gift?) to the United Launch Alliance and is a bad deal for the Pentagon.

    Given the likelihood of certification for SpaceX, at the very least the Air Force procurers should have limited the contract to nearer term launches and not so many.

    • by Loki_1929 (550940)

      As a taxpayer, I wouldn't usually care about these corporate tiffs, but SpaceX can probably save the government hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars

      It's not just the US government, it's the US military. Start in the billions and work your way up from there.

      The way military contracting usually works, you may as well fold up some paper into a paper airplane and throw it across a room, then tell the Air Force your design does everything they want for $1. Then spend the next 20 years learning about aeronautical engineering and how to build jet fighters while sending the Air Force bills for $5 Billion a year (don't worry, they'll direct deposit immediately)

    • ... SpaceX can probably save the government hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars which could be used towards additional capabilities in space...

      Or left in the taxpayer's pockets for THEM to use as they see fit - which would probably do a LOT more for them and the economy - including private space missions.

    • I'm all for saving billions, just don't think that saving a billion is enough to buy a lot of classified spy or big DoD comm satellites, those cost over a billion a piece.
      Perhaps that should be the next step in Elon's endeavours, applying his SpaceX formula to DoD satellites. The he could save tens of billions of USA money over a decade.
      On the other hand, US$ 2 billion would pay for the production and launch costs of 12 GPS satellites (using SpaceX booster).

    • As a taxpayer, I wouldn't usually care about these corporate tiffs, but SpaceX can probably save the government hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars which could be used towards additional capabilities in space...

      Probably not. Even as expensive as launches are, they're still only a fraction of the total cost of developing and delivering an operational payload on orbit, and a *very* small portion of the total budget including operations costs.

      It is boggles the mind that the procurement fo

      • by bigpat (158134)

        Probably not. Even as expensive as launches are, they're still only a fraction of the total cost of developing and delivering an operational payload on orbit, and a *very* small portion of the total budget including operations costs.

        Do the math on this. With 36 launches costing about 450 million each that would be over $16 Billion. So, using SpaceX could save over $10 Billion over those 36 launches. Even if you go with a satellite that costs $1B to get to the launch pad that would mean you could launch an extra 5 to 10 satellites just by going with the Falcons instead of the Deltas. That is a significant enough difference. Heck you could toss in a couple hundred cubesat experiments on top of that with all that savings and extra l

        • Probably not. Even as expensive as launches are, they're still only a fraction of the total cost of developing and delivering an operational payload on orbit, and a *very* small portion of the total budget including operations costs.

          Do the math on this.

          What makes you think I didn't? You don't seem to grasp my point, so I'll repeat it more plainly: Saving money on launches does not mean more money is available for procurement and operations. Goverment budgeting doesn't work that way.

          Not really, no

  • by Loki_1929 (550940) on Friday April 25, 2014 @04:24PM (#46844105) Journal

    Musk said, "We'll get much bigger boats next time."

    Knowing Musk, that means he's going to build a flotilla of fully autonomous fusion powered Nimitz class aircraft carriers constructed entirely from carbon fiber. They'll probably haul the booster up with carbon nanotube wires and preserve it in amber, then transform into robots and fly back to fucking Cybertron.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Pull Musk's geek card. The correct line is, "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

    • Knowing Musk, that means he's going to build a flotilla of fully autonomous fusion powered Nimitz class aircraft carriers constructed entirely from carbon fiber. They'll probably haul the booster up with carbon nanotube wires and preserve it in amber, then transform into robots and fly back to fucking Cybertron.

      Actually I COULD see Musk building a carbon fiber hulled, wind driven,Knowing Musk, that means he's going to build a flotilla of fully autonomous fusion powered Nimitz class aircraft carriers constru

    • by ultranova (717540)

      transform into robots and fly back to fucking Cybertron.

      Hmm... I don't think I've seen any references of Unicron engaging in food play before. A cauldron of human creativity, this site is.

    • Funny score 10
      Reality score 0
      Musk wouldn't build anything useless
      He already said next launch will land much closer to land.
      Next payload is 8 pretty small orbcomm satellites, it will use in the order of 50% of F9R payload capacity for the target orbit.
      It expect him to land no further than 50 miles from land, perhaps as little as 10-20 miles.
      The demand on the next launch as far as recovery will be much easier. The plan will likely be to tow the stage instead of placing it onboard.

      One idea that has been persis

  • Seriously, SpaceX should sue the republicans for being the traitors that they are. If trash like shelby, wolf, Hatch, Coffman, etc were sued PERSONALLY, it would no doubt go through multiple courts, BUT, with information brought out, it would cause citizens to re-evaluate what is happening.
  • It's bad for business to sue your customers.
    • US Government contracting is insane paperwork wise, and bureaucrats have thrown every roadblock they can at SpaceX. When it looked like they couldn't stop them from competing with ULA they then went ahead and signed a huge multi-year sole source contract with ULA. The timing is pretty suspicious in and of itself. It reeks of corruption and kickbacks.

      If SpaceX wins the lawsuit, then the bureaucrats will have to justify going with the more expensive option that uses Russian made engines. They'll probably

  • So let's see if I understand the situation -- I don't live in your country, so this is damned confusing.

    Not so long ago, you had a huge military enemy. They were bigger than you. They were scary. Many lives were lost on both sides. Then there were decades of espionage. Movies, history books, and even comic book super-villians were written about your relationship.

    Then, you finally became allies, working together against many things. Once again, movies, history books, and even comic book super-heroes we

  • I missed what happened to it after the report of a successful soft landing.

    "Unfortunately, they weren't able to recover it because it landed in the middle of a rough storm, which eventually destroyed the stage."

    Well, if it's so damned smart and clever and capable and all, why didn't they tell it to land somewhere else?

    Land at sea in the middle of a bloody storm, you get what you deserve!

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