Spacex trying to get the Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office and NASA to open up launch competition

Spacex – Today the U.S. Air Force issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NRO and NASA that serves as a joint agreement on the process they will use to allow new companies to compete to provide launch services. The MOU will be followed by detailed guidance for prospective new entrants.

“SpaceX welcomes the opportunity to compete for Air Force launches. We are reviewing the MOU, and we expect to have a far better sense of our task after the detailed requirements are released in the coming weeks,” said Adam Harris, SpaceX Vice President of Government Affairs.

The U.S. Air Force is the largest launch customer in the world, but is currently served by a monopoly provider whose prices have consistently risen. Equitable criteria for new entrants, coupled with meaningful opportunities for competition, would save the American taxpayer billions.

Bloomberg – the U.S. Air Force is projected to spend 54 percent more on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program through fiscal 2016 than was forecasted last year.

The Air Force is proposing to award a bulk buy of 40 launches over five years to United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. that is now the government’s sole provider of medium- and heavy-lift rockets for civilian and military satellites. The Air Force has budgeted about $10 billion for the program during that period. The government opening about 20 percent of its launch needs to competition while reserving the rest for a block buy.

“The money that ULA receives from the Defense Department is slated to be $2.5 billion to $3 billion a year,” Musk said. “For the same number of launches, SpaceX would be under a billion.”

Rye of ULA said the EELV forecast “reflects an increasing launch rate” and does not take into account the proposed improvements in buying practices.

The U.S. Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Oct. 14 their strategy for certifying commercial launch vehicles that could compete for future contracts for space launch missions to include Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, class launches.

The new entrant launch vehicle certification strategy is the latest step in a cooperative effort by the Air Force, NRO and NASA to further enable competition and expand the number of companies who are qualified to launch these missions. The three agencies previously signed a Letter of Intent in October 2010, signaling their collaboration on launch requirements, and a Memorandum of Understanding in March, which outlined their plans for future EELV-class launch vehicle acquisition, including the need to coordinate their strategies for certifying new entrants into the field.

This framework allows each agency to consider both the cost and mission of the payload and its confidence in the launch vehicle. Payloads with higher risk tolerance can be flown on launch vehicles with a higher risk category rating, thus providing an opportunity for new entrant providers to gain experience launching government payloads.

SpaceX is not yet certified to launch military and spy satellites. The Air Force plans to publish a certification guide for aspiring launch providers this month, according to Major Tracy Bunko, a spokeswoman for Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

“The certification process will include the standard or specification the contractor must meet, the documents or data the contractor must provide, and the evaluation process the government will employ,” she said in an Oct. 6 e-mail.

Free and fair competition is how contracts should be decided,” Musk said.

“It shouldn’t be sole-source awards without the opportunity to compete,” he said. “But that is the objective of ULA. ULA has decided that they can’t win a fair fight and they can’t even win an unfair fight, so the only way for them to win is for there to be no fight at all.”

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