Tory Bruno, CEO of Centennial-based ULA, and Gwynneth Shotwell, president of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, were the biggest presences on a panel Thursday closing the Space Symposium, the biggest annual gathering of U.S. military and private-sector space officials.Read more "SpaceX and ULA see the future of space launching very differently"
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, has called the failure “the most difficult and complex” the company has ever had. About a week after the explosion, he pleaded with the public to turn in video or audio recordings of the blast and said that the company has not ruled out sabotage as a factor.
“Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off,” he wrote on Twitter. “May come from rocket or something else.”
Since then, SpaceX, which is leading the investigation with help from the Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, said it is narrowing down on the cause of the explosion, focusing on a breach in a second-stage helium system.
At a conference in Mexico this week, Musk said that finding out what went wrong is the company’s “absolute top priority,” but he said what caused the explosion is still unknown.
“We’ve eliminated all of the obvious possibilities for what occurred there,” he said. “So what remains are the less probable answers.”
He didn’t say what those might be.
The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, which is helping SpaceX with the investigation, declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.Read more "Implication of sabotage adds intrigue to SpaceX investigation"
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.Read more "Lawmakers are fighting a space battle on Capitol Hill over SpaceX and its biggest competitor"
The recent explosion of a SpaceX rocket should raise concerns about going with the lowest bidder on sensitive national security launch contracts, the chief of the United Launch Alliance wrote in a letter to top Pentagon officials this month.
Tory Bruno, ULA’s chief executive, urged the Air Force to postpone the deadline for bids, saying it should take time to explore the impact of SpaceX’s rocket failure while also taking into account both companies’ experience and past performance.
The Pentagon should have particular reservations, Bruno wrote, given that SpaceX has now had two of its Falcon 9 rockets blow up, which he said “serve as a reminder of the complexity and hazards intrinsic to space launch services.”
“This strategy defies both law and logic and puts hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and Warfighter mission needs unnecessarily at risk,” he wrote.
The letter is the latest salvo in one of Washington’s most contentious contractor feuds, one that has pitted a pair of the world’s most powerful defense contractors against a brash billionaire looking to shake up a calcified market by offering launches far more cheaply. And it’s the most glaring example yet of a competitor going after SpaceX for its pair of explosions.Read more "Pointing at SpaceX explosion, ULA says Pentagon contracts shouldn’t just go to lowest bidder"