Military inspector general to review SpaceX’s launch certification

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The swamp attacks! The inspector general for the Defense Department has begun a review of the process the Air Force used to certify SpaceX as a qualified military launch provider.

“Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” the inspector general said in a memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson sent on Monday.

The only reason I can see for this investigation is that the launch companies that have development contracts with the military — ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin — are applying pressure to get SpaceX eliminated as a competitor. And since there are many in the government aerospace bureaucracy who are in bed with these companies and are also hostile to SpaceX, that pressure has succeeded in getting this investigation started.

SpaceX meanwhile has successfully launched one military payload, and has two more military launches scheduled for 2019. Its prices are so low that these other companies cannot presently compete, not without political help. Worse, it appears these other companies, and the Air Force, do not appear interested in reducing the cost of their next generation rockets to become more competitive. Instead, they apparently have decided to turn the screws on SpaceX and get it eliminated as a competitor.

Meanwhile, SpaceX might be doing its own political push back, behind the scenes. At least, why else did two California lawmakers recently demand a review of the Air Force’s rocket development contracts to all of SpaceX’s competitors, but not SpaceX?

All of this has absolutely nothing to do with picking the best and cheapest launch companies to save the taxpayer money. Instead, the entire way our government operates today is completely uninterested in the needs of the nation. The focus of lawmakers and government officials is to play political games in an effort to take out their opponents. And in this battle the country be damned.



  • Michael

    Makes you wonder if SpaceX is being set up to be the next Kaiser?

    I always felt (and feared) the us government was their weak spot.

  • pzatchok

    Tucker is more like it.

    But since his competitors cannot buy up his contractors and sources they are using the government to slow him down.

  • Michael

    pzatchok: Tucker….right. Remembered incorrectly.

  • Jason Lewis

    Protect the pork. “Pigs In Space” might be a good category for this class of blog topics:

    It’s telling that the other players get billions of our dollars for development.

  • Jason Lewis: In the past I have subtitled many similar posts “Pigs in Space”, referring usually to the desire of elected officials to spend our money for their friends, in large amounts and for no good cause.

  • Edward

    The article is telling:
    years after a legal fight led to a victory for the company founded by Elon Musk.

    Wouldn’t this issue have come up in the legal fight? The other side surely would have argued that Falcons could not be certified until the Air Force complied completely with its own rules. Could SpaceX have had a legal victory if the Air Force hadn’t done so?

    “Years after” is also telling. That this was not an issue right away shows that some circumstance has changed, so this is almost certainly a political move. There is something about the timing of this review. Why now and not then? Why have it at all when a court had the same information to give them good reason to rule against SpaceX?

    Dwrena Allen, a spokesperson for the Pentagon watchdog, said ‘This was a self-initiated project by the Office of Inspector General.’

    Telling us that the Office of the Inspector General is now a political office.

    Since the certification, SpaceX has won several competitions against ULA

    At the time, Musk said he was getting into the business in part to end a monopoly.

    SpaceX and Boeing also compete in the market for non-military space launches.

    Telling us that Robert is probably right, and the article is letting us know how the wind blows at the political Office of the Inspector General, which bends to the pressure of SpaceX competitors.

  • wodun

    Notice that Bezos is positioning BO as a traditional government contractor. Bezos dumps a lot of his own cash in but maybe he views it as a good investment in government capture. His commercial aspirations may or may not happen. Has he said anything about what he thinks the future in space will look like? I suspect it involves a lot of government.

    Bezos could have big plans for commercial work but views government capture as a form of protection, from regulation and competition. He does a lot of work for the government and BO also sunk tendrils into ULA, giving the a lot of leverage with traditional government contractors.

    People say that SpaceX didn’t get subsidies. They did, they got development subsidies. Yes, they were structured as fee for performance and transitioned away from a subsidy into fee for service. Subsidies aren’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on how they are implemented and structured.

    Look at the new development subsidies. They don’t go to new companies to develop new capabilities. They go to the traditional contractors and to Bezos, who wants to be one. The danger here is that subsidies are inflated rather than efficient and that programs lumber on without any accomplishments.

    The COTS style of development is being captured by the traditional contractors. Will they corrupt our most successful development method?

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “they got development subsidies. Yes, they were structured as fee for performance and transitioned away from a subsidy into fee for service.

    A fee for performance is, by definition, not a subsidy.

    The performance was to develop an unmanned spacecraft, which intended for and has only been used for government contracts. Another fee for performance contract is the CCDev (early part of Commercial Crew Program) to develop manned spacecraft for use on government contracts. To suggest that these two are subsidies is to say that all government space-related purchases are subsidies. Maybe even all government purchases, period.

    It is amazing the lengths that people will go to in order to make it look like certain companies have received subsidies. Using wodun’s conditions, then Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and ULA are receiving subsidies in order to develop their next rockets, making it unfair to single out SpaceX and not include Blue Origin:

  • pzatchok

    If the government buying a service or product is a subsidy then…..

    All car companies get subsidies because they are selling directly to the government. In some cases, they are selling vehicles not even available to the civilian market.

    So far Elon has only sold a product or service to the government. The others have obviously taken development cash to the tune of hundreds of millions.

    At the speed BO moves they are 5 to 10 years from getting a similar craft to the Falcon 9. The other companies are not even trying.
    So slowing down SpaceX is a viable solution for them.

    I just thought of a long shot idea for this investigation.
    Trump. Someone might not want the U.S.A.s next manned capsule to be operating just before his re-election. He could use it as a favorable talking point for his administration.
    We all can point to a few Californian politicians who would not want the space industry moving away from California and to Texas. A few that even dislike Trump.

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