Friday, April 25, 2014

Elon Presses His Advantage

Click the arrow to watch the media event. Video source: National Press Club YouTube channel.

At a hastily called press conference, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced two historic events that for now are unrelated, but could be linked in the future.

Musk formally confirmed what he'd tweeted earlier in the week — the legged first stage of the April 18 Falcon 9 launch had successfully soft-landed in the Atlantic Ocean, proving the potential ability to land at a Cape Canaveral pad later this year.

The stage landed in stormy seas, so only a few pieces of debris were recovered. SpaceX has some raw video of the landing, and intends to appeal to video experts via the Internet to improve its quality.

Musk said that SpaceX is working with the Eastern Range to identify potential landing sites at the Cape. He didn't name them, but sites I've heard rumored include Launch Complexes 36 and 46, as well as the former Shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Center.

Responding to questions, Musk said the goal is to be able to refuel and use a first stage the same day if possible, potentially reducing the cost of a launch up to 70%.

Musk then announced that SpaceX had filed a lawsuit protesting the recent award by the Defense Department of a 36-launch bulk buy to United Launch Alliance. He said he wants to compete for launches that SpaceX is capable of handling.

SpaceX filed a lawsuit in October 2005 when the government granted a legal launch monopoly to ULA, but the lawsuit was dismissed in May 2006, one reason being SpaceX had yet to demonstrate it could successfully launch a vehicle.

That's no longer an issue, and Musk is in a much stronger position now to argue he can provide the same services as ULA for far cheaper — especially if he can demonstrate reliable and reusable boosters.

Media reports of today's events:

BBC News “SpaceX Rocket Stage in 'Soft Landing'”

Bloomberg News “Musk’s SpaceX to Sue Over Lockheed-Boeing Launch Monopoly ”

CBS News “SpaceX Challenges Air Force Launch Contracts”

CNN “Elon Musk's SpaceX Will Sue U.S. Over Rocket Contract”

Forbes “SpaceX Files Protest Against Air Force Over National Security Launches”

Fox News “SpaceX to File Official Protest Against US Air Force over Military-Related Launches”

Los Angeles Times “SpaceX Gets Closer to Making a Reusable Rocket, Sues Air Force”

NBC News “Elon Musk's SpaceX Sues Government to Protest Military Launch Monopoly”

NPR “Space X To Protest No-Bid National Security Contracts”

PC Magazine “SpaceX Predicts Reusable Rocket Landing by Year's End” “SpaceX Formally Protests US Air Force's Rocket Launch Block Buy Contracts”

Time “SpaceX: Controlled Falcon 9 Soft Landing a Success”

USA Today “SpaceX Sues to Block Contract Award for Military Satellite Launches&rdquo:

Washington Post “Why Elon Musk is Throwing His Biggest Potential Customer Under the Bus”

UPDATE April 29, 2014SpaceRef Business has published the SpaceX bid protest.

SpaceX has promised to activate a web site on April 28, but the day came and went. Now it simply says, “Launching Soon.” The site does have a link to a SpaceX statement about the bid protest filing.

SpaceRef Business also posted ULA's response to the bid protest.

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