In an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, Space Exploration Technologies CEO Elon Musk said the lack of competition for national security satellite launches has inflated the price for the U.S. government.
At this point, only United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is cleared to bid for Department of Defense military satellite missions.
Update: According to his full statement, which SpaceX released here, Musk said:
In [fiscal year 2013] the Air Force paid on average in excess of $380 million for each national security launch, while subsidizing ULA’s fixed costs to the tune of more than $1 billion per year, even if the company never launches a rocket. By contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 price for an [evolved expendable launch vehicle] mission is well under $100 million — at least a $280 million per launch difference, which in many cases could pay for the satellite and launch combined — and SpaceX seeks no subsidies to maintain our business.
SpaceX, the private spaceflight company in Hawthorne, Calif., believes the third successful launch of its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket in January should qualify it to compete for such launches.
Late last month, the Air Force signed off on the first of those launches, on Sept. 29, 2013.
“This flight represents one of many certification requirements jointly agreed to between the Air Force and SpaceX,” said Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Space and Missile Systems Center commander.
The Air Force continues to assess the launches on Dec. 2, 2013, and Jan. 6, 2014, and Musk said on Wednesday that the certification process is proceeding.
But SpaceX isn’t sitting still in the meantime. Last week, Musk tweeted pictures of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket with four landing legs attached. SpaceX plans to test the system in a “splashdown” in the Atlantic Ocean following a flight scheduled for March 16, as it works to develop a reusable launch system that could dramatically lower costs.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV ahead of the Senate appearance, Musk also argued that the United States shouldn’t rely on Russian spacecraft to transport U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.
“We’re being forced to pay over $70 million dollars per seat to the Russians just to go to the Space Station and they have us over a barrel,” he said, according to the publication’s transcript. “Being at Putin’s mercy is not a good place to be, so we want to have restored the American ability to transport astronauts to the Space Station, maybe beyond someday, and do so as soon as possible and it’s going to, I think, be a better product for a lot less money, and it’s just kind of embarrassing that the United States has to thumb rides from the Russians.”
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