SpaceX Seeks To Amend Lawsuit Against Air Force Based on McCain Letter

SpaceX Seeks To Amend Lawsuit Against Air Force Based on McCain Letter

SpaceX is asking permission to amend its lawsuit against the Air Force for awarding a block-buy contract to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in light of statements made in a letter from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to the head of the defense department’s acquisition office.

McCain sent a letter to Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics on June 20 asking about the price the Air Force pays for Russian RD-180 engines that are used in ULA’s Atlas V rocket.  McCain said that he is “aware of claims that the engines have been sold by NPO Energomash to RD Amross at a much lower price than RD Amross charges ULA for them.”   He asked nine detailed questions about RD-Amross including pricing data between Energomash and RD Amross, between RD Amross and ULA, and between ULA and the Air Force.  Energomash manufactures the RD-180 engines.  RD-Amross is a joint venture between Energomash and United Technologies that supplies the engines to ULA.

In its proposed amendment to the lawsuit it filed in April, SpaceX asserts that it learned from McCain’s letter that there are questions about the prices the Air Force pays for RD-180s and whether ULA met the requirement to provide certified cost and pricing information as part of its bid for the contract, which was awarded in 2013.   SpaceX is suing the Air Force because it was a sole-source award, rather than allowing competition. 

“Based on Senator McCain’s letter, it appears that ULA failed to provide certified cost and pricing data for the RD-180 engines and/or the Air Force failed to rationally assess whether it was paying a fair and reasonable price for those engines,” the SpaceX amendment states.  If ULA had provided that data,  the Air Force “would have been forced to confront the fact that at least one of its suppliers is fleecing the United States taxpayer.”

SpaceX wants to be able to compete for national security space launches.  The Air Force requires potential launch providers — “new entrants” — to proceed through a certification process.  SpaceX is still in that process.  ULA therefore insists that SpaceX was not, and is not, certified to compete for the contract that was awarded last year.

SpaceX filed the lawsuit in the U.S Court of Federal Claims.  Yesterday’s filing asks the Court to allow it to amend the filing even though certain deadlines have passed because it only became aware that ULA may not have fulfilled the requirement for providing certified cost and pricing data due to McCain’s letter.

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