SpaceX Challenges Old Guard for Future of Space Travel

DENNIS OLIVE/NASA

A deal that would have placed 36 military space launches into the hands of Elon Musk’s SpaceX has gone sour after Air Force official Roger Scott Correll awarded the deal to a long-entrenched defense contractor, United Launch Alliance. Now Correll is facing accusations from Musk himself that the deal was shafted through a “revolving door”.

It all started when Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced on May 13th that the country would no longer help Americans reach the International Space Station after 2020. Their government banned the United States from purchasing Russian RD-180 rocket engines. These are used by the United Launch Alliance since they don’t make their own rocket engines. The ULA works with NASA in providing the Atlas V and Antares expendable spacecraft, which, yep, you guessed it, is propelled by the Russian-made rocket.

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With no rocket engines to take ships into space, and a limited amount of them left in their cache, only one American company has tried-and-tested rockets: SpaceX.

SpaceX was formed in 2002 by Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors. In 2006, the company’s Falcon 1 became the first privately-funded, liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit. It has also docked with the International Space Station.

Earlier this month, SpaceX won an injunction against the Air Force that forced a block of the purchase of rockets made by Russia. A week after, Judge Susan Branden lifted the injunction but now that Russia has implemented their own sanctions, refusing to sell to the US, the deal between the Air Force and SpaceX would seem a lot more realistic.

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But thats not the case.

Last week, Roger S.Correll, the Air Force’s Program Executive Officer of Space Launch, awarded the ULA with a contract for 36 launches into space. Immediately after, Correll “retired” and took a job as Vice President at Aerojet Rocketdyne, which provides the ULA with leftover modified Russian AJ26 rocket engines from the 70s. Musk took to Twitter and fired a set of tweets accusing Correll of taking the lucrative job offer to cut a deal. He also revealed that Correll had gone to SpaceX asking for a job, and that they had turned him down.

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On Thursday, one of these AJ26 rockets nearly exploded in a reportedly test anomaly conducted by Aerojet.

ULA argues that their “bulk-buy” plans for their rocket engines are a better deal than SpaceX’s, and more bang for the U.S. taxpayer’s buck. Musk disputes this. The ULA also SAID that they have enough rockets left to fulfill the 36 launch request. It was reported that there are 16 RD-180s left on US soil. They say that if things remain sour with Russia, they’ll switch over to their Delta IV rockets, which still use rocket engines from the 60s.

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Last night, SpaceX revealed their latest spaceship, the Dragon V2.

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The space launch market is speculated to be a $70 billion industry.

Julian Reyes is a VR Producer for Fusion.

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