SpaceX, the private space corporation founded by Elon Musk, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force. The company claims the military has illegally shut SpaceX out of contracts to launch military satellites into orbit.
The Defense Department awarded a monopoly on the work to a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) space delivery system uses rocket engines produced in Russia.
This agreement "funnels hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Russia's military industrial base, including monies that may flow to individuals on the U.S. sanctions list," SpaceX officials wrote in a complaint, filed with the court.
The U.S. military is expected to spend around $70 billion through 2030 launching satellites to space, so competition for the contracts is fierce. Musk and his organization estimates - allowing competition for those launch contracts - that it could save taxpayers as much as one billion dollars.
After the latest invasion of the Crimean Peninsula by Russian forces, the United States has engaged in a steadily-increasing series of mutual sanctions with Moscow. Administrators from the ULA told the press that the company has a two-year supply of the Russian engines if supplies are interrupted by sanctions.
SpaceX asked the court to cancel any contract made between the military and the ULA more than two years in the future. If the court finds in the favor of the plaintiffs, the Defense Department will need to explain any contract awarded to the ULA. Future contracts would also need to be open to competition from SpaceX and other developers.
The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program (EELV) program will launch a series of satellites related to military missions.
"The 2011 EELV acquisition strategy advocated a steady launch vehicle production rate that would yield both economic benefits to the government through larger lot buys of vehicles, and a predictable production tempo over time to help stabilize the launch industrial base," the Government Accounting Office wrote on their website.
SpaceX officials claim the program does not allow the Air Force to guarantee pricing or track total expenses. Military leaders have asked Air Force planners to estimate the benefit the Russian military could receive from the launches.
Elon Musk became a multibillionaire developing PayPal and is currently also CEO of auto manufacturer Tesla Motors.
The lawsuit was filed in the Court of Federal Claims, following a series of attempts by the company to bid for the launches.
Announcement of the lawsuit coincided with the successful launch of a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 booster rocket used during the mission later completed a controlled landing at sea. The resupply mission brought more than two tons of equipment to the space station, including legs for an android, the Robonaut 2.