Despite winning contract, SpaceX sticks with lawsuit against feds and rocket rivals

Falcon Heavy launch
An automated camera documents the Falcon Heavy rocket’s first ascent from Kennedy Space Center in February 2018 with SpaceX’s hangar in the foreground. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX says it will keep pursuing its lawsuit against the federal government as well as its rivals in the launch industry, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, even though it’s been cleared for billions of dollars in contracts for national security space missions.

Both sides in the long-running dispute laid out their positions in a notice filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Aug. 14, a week after the U.S. Space Force announced that United Launch Alliance and SpaceX were the winners in a competition for future launches.

Leading up to that decision, the Air Force provided hundreds of millions of dollars in development funding for ULA as well as Blue Origin and Orbital Sciences Corp. (now part of Northrop Grumman). SpaceX was left out but protested the awards.

In this month’s filing, SpaceX said the funding gave ULA an “unwarranted advantage” and called for the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center to “rectify” its errors, presumably by providing more funding for SpaceX.

Lawyers for the federal government and ULA said the competition for development funding was decided fairly. They said no rectification was warranted, especially considering that SpaceX proposed its Starship super-rocket for development funding but ended up offering a different launch vehicle  — a modified Falcon Heavy rocket — for the Space Force’s future heavy-lift launches.

This month’s award decision calls for ULA to handle 60% of the Space Force’s launch manifest in the 2022-2026 time frame, and for SpaceX to get the remaining 40%. Three classified launches have already been awarded: ULA received two contracts worth $337 million, and SpaceX received one contract worth $316 million.

In the nearly two weeks since the awards, the two companies’ CEOs have both registered spicy comments on Twitter. Last week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that “it will become obvious over time that ULA is a complete waste of money.” Meanwhile, in response to claims that ULA’s launches cost more than SpaceX’s, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno wrote, “You might want to check the prices in that competition. The identity of the lowest price provider might surprise you…”

The Space Force’s decision means that further development funding for Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket will be cut off. Northrop Grumman’s lawyers said the decision rendered SpaceX’s protest moot. We’ve reached out to Blue Origin for comment and will update this report with anything we hear back.

Read the full filing in SpaceX v. USA v. Blue Origin et al.

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