The Air Force has received heat recently from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which filed a lawsuit alleging it “wrongly awarded” billions to a few of its competitors, going so far as to write that “by any reasonable measure, SpaceX earned a place in the LSA portfolio.”
Forget for a minute that the Air Force has been more than fair with Musk’s start-up, providing it with a $130 million award just last summer. And forget that in the most recent offering that SpaceX is protesting, the military imposed strict criteria that ultimately resulted in a diverse array of firms, old and new, receiving awards. To understand the baselessness of Musk’s allegations, just follow the news that broke in sync with the release of his lawsuit.
According to a bombshell announcement made by the Department of Justice on May 22—the same day the U.S. Court of Federal Claims publicly released SpaceX’s lawsuit—federal investigators have charged a SpaceX quality assurance engineer with falsifying at least 38 inspection reports for the company’s rockets. These SpaceX rocket parts, which did not pass proper QA inspections, were nevertheless used in seven NASA missions and two Air Force missions. At least 76 uninspected parts slipped through SpaceX’s quality assurance procedures. Needless to say, that’s more than enough to raise some eyebrows.
SpaceX, to their credit, swiftly cut ties with the accused individual, as well as the company for which he worked. They also pointed out that all the missions affected by the falsified inspection reports were successful. However, this isn’t the first time the specter of inadequate quality assurance has haunted SpaceX.
In 2015, after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket cost the government $110 million by exploding just minutes after takeoff, SpaceX essentially washed its hands of the incident, stating that an outside supplier’s faulty steel strut was to blame. While that may have seemed like reasonable justification at the time, three years later, a NASA report detailed that SpaceX’s implementation of that part “was done without adequate screening or testing,” “without regard to the manufacturer’s recommendations for a 4:1 factor of safety,” and “without proper modeling or adequate load testing of the part under predicted flight conditions.” Those lapses of quality assurance are all on SpaceX, and they are certainly much bigger than one faulty steel strut.
Additionally, Musk also had to contend with the fallout from a 2017 Inspector General report, which found that SpaceX “did not perform adequate quality assurance management.” In total, the auditors uncovered 33 major quality violations, as well as 43 minor infractions.
At a May 8 meeting of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, a NASA official revealed that things have not improved with time. Recently, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was deemed to have an unsatisfactory parachute system after the capsule sustained significant damage while impacting the ground. The Crew Dragon shuttle itself also suffered a major malfunction during testing, resulting in the entire capsule erupting into flames. Given the shuttle’s ultimate goal of transporting astronauts to and from Earth, the Crew Dragon’s ineffective parachutes represent legitimate stumbling blocks for both SpaceX and NASA.
It would appear that the Crew Dragon explosion was jarring enough to catch the attention of the United States military, potentially placingSpaceX’s partnership as an aerospace contractor for the U.S. government in jeopardy. That may explain, at least in part, why SpaceX has been such a vocal opponent of moving forward with the government’s Launch Service Agreement—the program Elon is currently suing the Air Force over.
In all likelihood, SpaceX recognizes the importance of the LSA but wants to stall the program to give itself a fighting chance to secure a contract. After all, Musk stated previously that his company “missed the mark” when crafting a proposal. Musk’s delay tactics, though, aren’t serving him well. His strategy to postpone the LSA is only generating increased scrutiny toward SpaceX.
Likewise, Musk’s lawsuit against the Air Force is creating the perception that SpaceX understands national security better than the U.S. military. And with SpaceX’s ongoing, public, and embarrassing QA crisis, SpaceX is not in a position to be dictating terms. Musk would be wise to recognize that the Air Force does indeed know best, and that his public crusade against them isn’t doing his company any favors.
By Red State•
If there was any doubt that SpaceX is working behind the curtain to pull strings on Capitol Hill, it’s all but been erased. The sudden groundswell of support in Washington for SpaceX’s policy objectives essentially confirms the effectiveness of Elon Musk’s lobbying campaign. But through the company’s recent political maneuver—purportedly calling in a favor from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith—SpaceX may have overplayed their hand. If Chairman Smith’s policy positions can be affected by the influence of private firms, is he properly situated as the head of oversight for the Armed Forces?
Over the past few years, Chairman Smith’s cozy relationship with SpaceX has been well documented. In Smith’s 2016 election, SpaceX was the third largest contributor to his campaign, supplying the Representative with an impressive $11,000 in funds. But the gravy train didn’t stop there. The following election cycle, SpaceX stepped up its game, nearly doubling its prior campaign contributions to the soon-to-be Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Throughout the 2018 race, SpaceX contributed a whopping $20,400 to Smith’s campaign. That’s certainly no small fee for Musk’s independent aerospace contracting firm.
There’s solid evidence to suggest that SpaceX’s political expenditures are strategically placed. Out of all the recipients of SpaceX’s 2018 political contributions, Adam Smith ranked as the second-highest beneficiary. SpaceX’s contributions to the future Chairman of the Armed Services Committee were only outpaced by those to Senator Dianne Feinstein, which totaled Continue reading
If the 1986 Challenger disaster taught us anything it was – “Don’t put all your Space Launch eggs in one basket.” After that accident and the other ones that grounded all of America’s older space launch vehicles for about two years, NASA and the Air Force decided to build two sets of rockets under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.
The EELV program has been a success. Both Atlas V and the various Delta rockets, especially Delta Heavy, have been putting America’s important science and military payloads into space for roughly a quarter of a century. Continue reading
We shouldn't repeat past mistakes
The Trump Administration has set a new course for American leadership in space, prioritizing space exploration and innovation — a welcome and necessary change to U.S. policy. Reconstituting the National Space Council was an important first step. The President’s plan to develop a military space presence also deserves praise and thoughtful consideration. Unfortunately, some of the specific proposals put forward so far miss the mark and risk undermining the ambitious goals the President has set.
The Administration’s proposal to move space authorities from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation to a new “Space Administration” within the Department of Commerce, for example, is a monumentally terrible idea. The proposed move creates a massive new bureaucracy at a federal department with a terrible track record on cost overruns and management of programs, and little experience executing the task being contemplated.
For years, the Department of Commerce has mismanaged its limited space programs including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Office of Space Commerce’s commercial remote sensing regulations. Of course, the Department of Commerce has other, more well-known boondoggles to consider including the Census, Economic Development Administration and International Trade Administration. Continue reading
By News Herald•
The highly successful International Space Station (ISS) is in danger of going dark thanks to budget cutters who don’t see the value in maintaining a continually operating, orbital research platform operated in the interests of the public good.
Since the dawn of creation, mankind has been driven by the urge to explore the world around him. The quest for knowledge consumes us. We have to know if we are alone in the universe or if life exists somewhere beyond the big blue marble we call home.
We’ve looked to the heavens for ages, but only recently did we acquire the means to get there. Take the history of man, compress it into a year’s time and you’ll find that everything from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong happened in a relative blink of an eye.
It really is miraculous but somehow, someway the wonder went out of it. The Space Shuttle program, while never living up to the expectations NASA and Congress had for it, nonetheless made space travel seem routine and hardly worth comment unless Continue reading
Earlier this month, President Donald J. Trump signed a space policy directive to “restore American leadership in space.” To the excitement of many, this directive includes sending men back to the Moon and perhaps even Mars. The prospect of making dreams a reality once again is enthralling, something we will do, echoing a previous chief executive, not because it is easy but because it is hard.
To do all this, to optimize performance and ensure a successful, modern-day space program, government appropriators must adhere to a standard set of business protocols. It is essential NASA and the White House have clear goals in mind and ensure the interests of the country are at the heart of every mission. Stating the objective of going to the moon is not enough; bureaucrats need to take the process a step further and iron out precisely what it wants to achieve, how much it will cost to do so, and why the country will be better off as a result.
It is true few companies would turn down a government contract – after all, no one’s checks clear better than Washington’s – but that is not license for decision-makers to issue them carelessly. Every mission must have the clear intent of either advancing national security interests or significantly increasing the country’s scientific progress before the disbursement of taxpayer funds begin. The general rule of thumb should be that if extensive research from private firms has not been conducted on a given topic, it is likely not worth the federal government pursuing.
By Andrew Langer • The Hill
In the Trump era, one of the few things that both sides of the aisle can agree on is distaste for cronyism, especially when it is the government picking winners and losers. Ironically, one of the biggest offenders is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a bipartisan agency that is generally loved by Americans. One big beneficiary of the agency is Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX.
In June 2015, SpaceX cost taxpayers $110 million when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a mission to resupply the International Space Station. The company received all but 20 percent of the payment it would have received for completing the mission successfully. Though two years have since passed, the cause of the rocket’s failure remains unclear.
NASA assured the public that the agency would release a public summary of the results from its investigation by this summer. But just weeks ago, NASA announced that it will no longer to do so. “NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary since it was an FAA licensed flight,” a spokesman claimed. Continue reading
The once great American space program is on life support. We now pay the Russians $65 million per seat to take our astronauts to and from the space station. And the Obama Administration’s unimaginative and amateurish vision for space exploration — even if successful — will not revive the dying program. It merely follows the disturbing pattern of the Solyndra scandal, funneling tax dollars to Obama donors and fundraisers. Continue reading
NASA has been in the news for all the wrong reasons the past twelve months. First, the White House reportedly directed NASA to concentrate on Earth-based projects like researching climate change rather than returning to the moon, reestablishing U.S. space dominance, or exploring Mars. Second, Obama’s NASA administrator Charles Bolden revealed that one of President Obama’s primary missions for NASA was to “reach out to the Muslim world” to help Islamic nations “feel good” about their contributions and accomplishments in the scientific arena. In other words, NASA will become an international feel-good organization. Continue reading