Raising issues about SpaceX, its launch failures and anomalies, and its relationship with the US government is not a first for Coffman.
The senator faces a tough 2016 reelection campaign in his district — the home base of ULA.
In the 2016 election cycle, SpaceX contributed money to at least half of the 24 signers of the congressional letter that responded to (and contested) Coffman’s. Flores himself has taken at least $2,000, and cosigner Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) accepted at least $7,000 from SpaceX.
Flores also presides over district 17 in Texas, which is home to SpaceX’s 4,000-acre rocket development facility in the town of McGregor.
Samanthan Masunaga, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, captured the relationship well in a story published in May 2016:
“Traditional launch providers see their market being threatened by nontraditional entrants,” said Loren Thompson, aerospace analyst with the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank. “Basically, this is competition between launch providers over market share and money that in the political process gets related to local interests.”
Business Insider contacted Rep. Coffman’s press secretary as well as ULA, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin about campaign funding and other issues related to this story, but we did not immediately receive a response. Representatives from Rep. Flores’ office and SpaceX also did not immediately provide a comment.
Despite the apparent turf-based lobbying war, Coffman and his colleagues are not alone in their critique of how government agencies permit SpaceX to internally lead their own mishap investigations — and, by extension, other rocket companies like Orbital ATK and ULA. (Both have chosen to lead their own investigations in recent years.)
In fact, a June 2016 audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) argues that internally led probes don’t meet the bar for being independent.