Elon Musk Says He Lost a Multi-Billion-Dollar Contract When SpaceX Didn’t Hire a Public Official
Turning up the heat, Elon Musk sent out a couple of tweets suggesting corruption in Aerojet Rocketdyne’s decision to hire a government official as soon as the latter left government service. Aerojet-Rocketdyne is the chief supplier of engines for Musk’s competitor, ULA.
The official in question, one Roger Correll, had been instrumental in awarding ULA a gigantic no bid contract for DoD launch services, despite SpaceX’s offer to deliver the same service at a fraction of the cost. ULA is a joint venture of legacy contractors Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. The latter, of course, are historically perhaps the biggest players in the infamous military-industrial complex, while SpaceX is a relative upstart and newcomer.
The legacy contractors have used every possible avenue, including pet politicians, “friendly” media and bloggers, and lists of talking points distributed shotgun-style on the internet, to attack and vilify SpaceX with largely irrelevant half truth, innuendo, and lies by omission. These talking points studiously ignore the very real disparity in costs between their products and those of SpaceX.
One of the legacy contractors’ most insidious strategies is to frame this as “public vs. private enterprise,” with themselves in the “public” role. They somehow conflate themselves with NASA and its achievements and portray SpaceX as a buccaneering profiteer or dabbler undermining a traditional government function for profit.
This is reflected in a favorite legacy talking point: “He’s only doing what NASA did 50 years ago”
In fact, NASA did not build or (for the most part) design the pioneering spacecraft of the 1960s, they bought them from contractors. This is no different from the relationship SpaceX is seeking today. The real difference is that SpaceX can do it, and has done it, at a fraction of the cost those same legacy contractors want to charge today. SpaceX also paid its own initial research and development costs, something for which the legacy contractors have charged the government since the beginning of the Space Age.
We have also seen “allegations” that SpaceX is so cheap because Musk subsidizes his services out of his own deep pockets. These must be amazingly deep because such a subsidy would amount to more than a billion dollars a year now if that is how he is underbidding the legacy gang. If he is, though, so what? Is giving away money a crime? If he is effectively donating a billion dollars a year to the taxpayers, and offering to donate more, why would he keep it a dark secret, rather than trumpeting it from the rooftops? Is it part of some nefarious plot to undermine the military industrial complex? I am tempted to say “more power to him” in that case.
With a dearth of private investment in space and the end of the US space shuttle program, SpaceX has quickly leapt to the fore of aerospace firms with the help of contracts from NASA to provide re-supply missions to the International Space Station and develop a manned spacecraft to fly astronauts there.
He’d like to expand his franchise to the defense department, but his company has faced a more challenging time displacing the incumbents there: In a no-bid process, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, received a bulk contract worth billions of dollars for 36 rocket launches earlier this year, despite plans to introduce more competition and other cost-saving measures.
Musk’s tweets yesterday focused on what happened next: The man who awarded ULA the contract, defense official Roger “Scott” Correll, was hired soon after his retirement to handle government relations at Aerojet Rocketdyne, a company that builds rocket engines for ULA. Musk didn’t mince words online when offering his interpretation of events:
Elon Musk ✔ @elonmusk
V likely AF official Correll was told by ULA/Rocketdyne that a rich VP job was his if he gave them a sole source contract
7:45 PM - 22 May 2014
Elon Musk ✔ @elonmusk
Reason I believe this is likely is that Correll first tried to work at SpaceX, but we turned him down. Our competitor, it seems, did not.
7:52 PM - 22 May 2014