SpaceX's Elon Musk chides Senate for paying too much for launches

By Gabrielle Levy  |  March 6, 2014 at 5:27 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- Elon Musk accused Congress of wasting money that could be better spent on innovation by vastly overpaying for each space launch.

Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, said the monopoly held by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that provides all the space launches for the Air Force, has proven expensive and outmoded, and should be replaced by a competitive structure.

"Competition has been stifled," Musk said, speaking to the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense. "And prices have risen to levels that General William Shelton has himself called ‘unsustainable.’”

The U.S. has given a monopoly on launches to the ULA since 2006, and Musk charges ULA with regularly hiking the prices for its launches. Musk said the U.S. government pays as much as $280 million more per launch using ULA than it would with a SpaceX launch, costing taxpayers an extra $11.6 billion.

Neither did Musk shy away from pointing out that some of ULA's technologies are Russian-built, which stings particularly in light of the recent dustup between the Kremlin and the West in Ukraine's Crimea region.

“Our Falcon launch vehicles are truly made in America, designed in California and Texas, with key suppliers spread across the country, and we launch from either Vandenburg Air Force Base or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” said Musk. “This stands in stark contrast to the ULA’s most frequently flown vehicle, the Atlas-V, which uses a Russian main engine and where approximately half the airframe is manufactured overseas."

ULA CEO Michael Gass assured the assembled Senators that the company has a two-year stockpile of the Atlas-V RD-180 engines, as well as the blueprints and specifications, so that they could be manufactured domestically.

Gass questioned whether competition would truly drive down prices, suggesting the duplication of mounting separate systems would drive up costs.

“I believe leveraging the demand from the commercial sector is smart, but relying on commercial demand to enable national security carries huge risks, both to the rocket supplier and to its government customers,” Gass said.

But Musk countered by pointing to SpaceX's $1.6 billion contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station over 12 missions.

“If our rockets are good enough for NASA, why aren’t they good enough for the Air Force?” Musk said. “It makes no sense.”

[SpaceX] [AmericaSpace]

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