The Air Force plans on spending $60 million to certify SpaceX for carrying its payloads, but that apparently doesn’t mean the ongoing dispute between Elon Musk’s aerospace startup and the federal government is over. There’s still the matter of several dozen launch contracts that SpaceX believes were awarded to a competitor without a fair bidding process — possibly because of a corrupt Air Force official that Musk has now called out by name.
In April, Musk’s company sued the Air Force for allegedly granting no-bid launch contracts to United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And last night on Twitter, Musk claimed that a specific Air Force official helped ULA obtain the contracts for 36 launches in exchange for employment at a ULA-affiliated company:
V likely AF official Correll was told by ULA/Rocketdyne that a rich VP job was his if he gave them a sole source contract
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2014
Why air such a specific and public accusation in the midst of a lingering and still-unresolved dispute with the Air Force? It’s possible that SpaceX is just really confident that both the political winds and changes in the U.S. aerospace industry are working in its favour.
On April 25, Senator John McCain sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force asking her to clarify testimony related to the launch program. Perhaps more significant, he sent a letter to the Department of Defence’s inspector general asking for an investigation into the bidding process for the launch contracts and saying that “the Air Force’s recent actions in this massive procurement program do not appear to conform to instructions from the Office of the Secretary of Defence or the Air Force’s own public commitment to competition.”
And SpaceX has racked up some high-profile successes lately: It’s launched a reusable rocket and a reusable transport capsule the company built and delivered to orbit arrived on earth from the International Space Station last week. Musk’s accusations could be another sign that the company thinks it’s succeeding in opening up the launch industry — and that it’s equally convinced the federal government will have no choice but to adapt to a changing status quo.
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