ULA Responds to SpaceX Lawsuit

ULA Responds to SpaceX Lawsuit

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) responded to a lawsuit filed by SpaceX today over the Air Force’s award of a block buy contract for launch vehicles and services to ULA in December.  ULA defends its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets and the process by which the Air Force awarded the contract.

ULA said the contract, signed in December 2013, was the result of a “best practice acquisition process” to create stability and predictability in the industrial base and save “approximately $4 billion.”  It also defended its use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas V, reasserting that it has a two-year supply of the engines to guard against any deterioration in U.S.-Russian relationships and could shift satellites to the Delta IV rocket (which uses U.S.-built engines) if necessary.  

SpaceX announced on Friday that is filing suit against the Air Force for the December contract because it was awarded on a sole source basis.  SpaceX is trying to compete for launches of national security space satellites, which are currently conducted almost exclusively by ULA.

ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that was formed in 2006 to provide launch services to the government using Boeing’s Delta IV and Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V.   Both rockets are “Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles” (EELVs) developed through public-private partnerships with the government in the late 1990s where the companies and the government each invested in building updated versions of the Delta and Atlas rockets, which date back to the beginning of the Space Age.

The companies originally planned to compete with each other for government and commercial launches, but the commercial market did not materialize as expected.  The joint venture was created in 2006 in a deal with the government to keep the companies in the launch services business, upon which DOD and NASA rely to get their satellites into space.

SpaceX is a “new entrant” in the launch services business and wants to break into national security space launch market and is filing suit because it believes it is unfairly being excluded from competition.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is at least one member of Congress who agrees with SpaceX and is calling for an investigation of the contract award.

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