Elon Musk Challenges Air Force One Contract

Apr 29, 2014 10:47 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Elon Musk's commercial space venture SpaceX has filed a formal complaint against the U.S. Air Force to challenge a multi-billion-dollar contract recently awarded to a joint venture, saying the deal should have been fair game for other bidders.

The contract, which involves building 36 rocket cores for the Air Force, has been given to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, The Associated Press reported.

The joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed, which has worked with the Pentagon for decades, has the only rocket certified for Air Force missions so far. SpaceX isn't expected to receive such certification until later this year.

The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company says it can launch about 60 percent of Air Force missions and should be capable of 100 percent after the planned Falcon Heavy rocket is completed.

"This is not SpaceX protesting and saying that these launches should be awarded to us," Musk, CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, said at a press conference, according to Space.com. "We're just protesting and saying that these launches should be competed."

Besides filing the protest, Musk has called out the Pentagon for continuing to work with Russia in space despite U.S. sanctions.

"How is it that we're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money [on Russian engines] at a time when Russia is the process of invading Ukraine?" said Musk, as quoted by The Washington Post blog. "It would be hard to imagine that [Russian Deputy Prime Minister] Dmitry Rogozin is not benefiting personally from the dollars that are sent there."

According to Musk, the Air Force and taxpayers could be saving $300 million per space mission working with SpaceX, the AP reported.

Switching from the familiar joint venture would be a transition for the Pentagon, which has come to rely on Boeing and Lockheed's rockets.

"It's a good model in that it delivers a very reliable launch vehicle," said James Lewis, a space policy scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as quoted by the Post. "If you just spent a billion dollars on a satellite, it's really painful when it crashes--particularly when it's self-insured so that Uncle Sam has to eat it."

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