Lawmakers Seek Review of U.S. Air Force Decision Not to Award Funding to SpaceX

BFR in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.

At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.

In October, the U.S. Air Force awarded contracts worth more than $2.2 billion for launch vehicle development to United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

ULA of Centennial, Colo., will receive $967 million
for the development of a launch system prototype of the Vulcan-Centaur booster. 

The agreement includes shared cost investment by ULA. The work is expected to be completed by March 31, 2025. 

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Northrop Gumman was awarded a contract worth $791,601,015 for development of the OmegA launch system. The company expects to to complete the work by Dec. 31, 2024. 

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin has been awarded a $500 million contract for the development of the New Glenn launch system. The booster will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The work is expected to be completed by July 31, 2024.

  • duheagle

    No, he’s not using public money, he’s using money he made launching payloads for both commercial and government customers – the money you and RGO seem to think doesn’t exist.

  • duheagle

    There’s no public money in SH-Starship or Starlink. That seems to be the nature of the complaint being made by the Congresscritters in their letter, Doug’s post about which was the hook upon which this whole mostly OT thread hangs.

    My suspicion, by the way, is that said Congresscritters are actually upset because SpaceX not only didn’t take any LSA money, it didn’t ask for any in the first place. Congresscritters like companies that ask for government money, it gives them something to use as leverage when hitting those same companies up for campaign cash. Musk really doesn’t spend very much on lobbying and campaign contributions by historical standards and that seems, finally, to be getting some of the Swamp Creatures spooky.

  • duheagle

    I entirely endorse Musk’s eschewal of government funds for SH-Starship. Requesting and getting same would be a Faustian bargain of a sort Musk has already seen the downside of. The letter from Di-Fi and the other Swamp Creatures is less about getting some unrequested and unwanted money for SpaceX and more about getting money for themselves.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Yes I think Musk is leading Space X to ruin, and yes it’s frustrating to watch. And yes they’ll be allowed to die and the primes never will, and that’s frustrating. Why do I double down in arguing with people? Because they pass themselves off as being analytical but act like a bunch of fanboys.

  • Robert G. Oler

    no one does, but I dont hire a plumber who doesnt have the tools to do the job I want…

    and or

    and have him/her come in and say “I would use this or that pipe, but if you wait X years they are developing a pipe that will make this one obsolete and is far cheaper, last longer and blah blah blah”…particularly when the claims he or she have had about this have been flawed in the past

  • Robert G. Oler

    thats not correct. there were questions of GPS working…but the USAF was the lead agency on the Timation series which proved it did

  • Robert G. Oler

    well if a supplier says “I will come up with a product that will do what you want five to ten years from now” I probably would not take them seriously as trying to be a supplier to my business today

  • ThomasLMatula

    But isn’t that the very same promise NASA has been making the America taxpayers, their customers, for decades? At least Elon Musk is risky his own money on Starship. But they you would be probably advising Mr. Ford to get a horse and stop promising folks they will own a horseless carriage if you lived in that era.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The TAxpayers are not NASA customers. The taxpayers are at “best” (and I really hate this analogy) the “bank” for NASA and the entirety of the federal government. if the taxpayers were customers they would in fact be trying on an individual or collective venue use the shuttle or station or whatever services themselves

    What Musk seemed to be trying to do with the USAF in his “BFR or whatever it is called bid” is to get the USAF to buy into his project and bankroll it..and the consensus of the USAF from the Sec to the stars who are making the calls is that Musk has not demonstrated that he can as you put it get into the elastic part of the pricing spectrum. ie make the project a financial success

  • Robert G. Oler

    The C-141 was a great aircraft. And a huge improvement on what came before it.

    has nothing to do with what we are talking about. the C141 was as are all USAF heavy lifters a compromise that is compared to standard cargo aircraft in efficient.

    it and all USAF lifters have high wings for one reason…they must also jump paratroopers…that makes them slower and heavy then say a B747 or B777 F version

  • ReSpaceAge

    Musk is now saying he may be able to build starship and super heavies cheaper than Falcon 9s. Less special systems. Stainless is cheap!

    I’m guessing SpaceX may build super heavies outside with a tower crane. Having a horizontal beam, a tower crane could hold a scaffolding ring. Eliminating the use of standard scaffolding too.

    Who says you can’t bolt Raptors onto a stain steel “water” tower

    Using stainless makes the idea of building rockets outside possible.

    Got to factor in rain delays though! Lol

  • Robert G. Oler

    the 299 actually was flying and of course the 247 (which it comes from) was as you would put it “in the elastic part of the price curve” 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    arship after he was forced by NASA micromanagement to abandon propulsive
    landing on the Dragon2 killing any commercial applications for it…

    he wasnt forced to abandon it…he could have paid for the test…something that would be required before any paying passengers rode on it

  • Robert G. Oler

    tuned in…not holding my breath though..

  • Robert G. Oler

    is that what you are doing

  • Robert G. Oler

    ok so where is crossfeed on the FH?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Actually the customer is not always right .. heck .. a lot of times
    the customer is so set in the ways of the past they can not see the an
    innovation staring them in the face.

    “ya but we always did it this way in the past”
    “we don’t need no new fangled XYZ”

    its not my experience that most successful companies that buy products perform that way. its not my experience either working for a major airplane manufactor or running two successful small business

    what appears to outsiders as “no new fangled” things most of the time is a complete lack of understanding of the internal infrastructure of a company that drives most product purchasing decisions

    there is a reason 1) Boeing still makes and sales in record numbers the B737 today, 2) has tried to replace it now three times and the airlines wont and 3) probably will replace it in about 10 years.

    and its not “no new fangled things”

  • Robert G. Oler

    The Mosquito came out of nowhere, a bomber as nimble as a fighter made
    from wood, something the aircraft manufacturers said was nuts.

    No airplanes in that era had been made of wood for structure and fabric for covering for sometime.

  • Robert G. Oler

    no. part of my angst with Musk is that while the 9 is a vvery capable launch system in terms of cost and reusability it has not lived up to what it was sold as

  • Robert G. Oler

    the USAF is one of the leaders in the uncertainty of the reusability of the first stage compared to its cost

  • Robert G. Oler

    MAN you sound like you are just aching for that to happen .. you say it like you TRUELY do not want it to happen

    since words on the page are written without inflection it is hard to determine “how one is saying it” past the simple statements that the words make

    “? One day you are singing the praises of SpaceX and over night it is anti spacex and name dropping boeing in post after post ..”

    it was not an overnight shift, it has been about a two year evolution, as I have watched the actual performance of the vehicle. I do sing the praises of Boeing commercial airplane…they are the worlds leading ac manufactor. I dont know that I have sung any praises really of Vulcan.

    not sure your point

  • Robert G. Oler

    . Why no comparable hanky-twisting anent ULA and Vulcan –

    there are no “super claims” being made about Vulcan…its not going to go to Mars in 2024 or 26 or whatever the date is now, its not going to make seats 50,000 dollars to space (or what is the BFS number now)

    I dont think you will find anything where I sing any real praises of Vulcan (and SLS I am completely against). I dont think Vulcan has much of a future outside of a military lifter and that is pretty narrow if NG works

    “That can’t be true of RGO, though, as, according to him, SpaceX has never done anything noteworthy.”

    that is your assumption I’ve never said that

  • Robert G. Oler

    . If SpaceX goes under I fully expect Falcon to land in the hands of ULA

    it all depends on BO and NG

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’m not saying this would happen, but it could … If the government orders ULA to take it over, they will. LockMart and Boeing are private branches of the government and have government policy as their own. I don’t think they’d take it as a superior commercial product, however it might just be, but given how much it drives the launch industry and how responsive it is, I don’t think the gov ignores it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    You need to study the history of jet tankers

    LOL having cut my test pilot teeth on the KC 135R and had a significant role in the KC 46 well to mimic Yoda “an expert I am”

    there never was a lockheed design that got off paper. the L 193 was a joke

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Way to bait and switch, the timeline will be situation dependent and has nothing to do with the fundamental point of customers not always being right. New Glenn was officially announced in 2016 with initial customers orders and won’t fly earlier than 2020 and probably not until 2021. So basically you are full of crap.

  • duheagle

    The Starship will soon be flying too. Think of 2019 and Starship as being like 1934 and the Model 299.

  • duheagle

    Mooted by serial improvements in the Merlin 1-D.

  • Robert G. Oler

    sure any day now 🙂 Mars in 2024 or 26 or 30 or whenever

  • duheagle

    I tol’ Wilbur ‘n I tol’ Orvile ‘n now I’m a tellin’ you – that thing’ll never fly!

  • duheagle

    Timation, as with GPS and all earlier versions of satellite-based navigation in general, were Navy projects, not USAF. That, doubtless, accounts for the very considerable aversion to GPS within USAF up until the Gulf War when the freakin’ Army, fer crissakes, used it to ram a hot poker up Saddam’s arse.

  • duheagle

    What you’re describing goes back all the way to the Wright brothers and even earlier. The Mosquito’s structure and skin were a plywood monocoque, not a fabric-covered wooden frame.

  • duheagle

    Mr. Maezawa, for one.

  • duheagle

    “like all musk things in space it wont”

    How else would you recommend we interpret that?

  • duheagle

    “the primes never will”

    The legacy primes are the old Soviet Union and it’s getting pretty close to 1989-91 out there in the larger world. As the late Herb Simon said, “Things that can’t continue, don’t.”

  • duheagle


  • duheagle

    When you’re deep inside Boeing, the whole world tends to look Boeing-ish I guess. But I’m not going to take any history lessons from someone who thinks USAF invented GPS.

  • Robert G. Oler

    that is why the USN did timation…to convince all the “math worked”

  • Robert G. Oler

    by reading the words. it says nothing about my view on Vulcan which was your point

  • Robert G. Oler

    I did not say the USAF invented GPS

    why do you need to attribute words to me that I did not say?

    a little Trumpy

  • windbourne

    huh. Let me guess.
    You think that any money spent on SpaceX should instead go to Russia/Italy, or to ULA or to Boeing’s SLS.

  • windbourne

    You know what is funny in all these comments?
    It is the fact that even with SX being around for less than 15 years, and having the world’s biggest rocket, and the cheapest, and increasingly, one of the safest, we still see ppl running down SX, and saying that they can not accomplish anything.

    It just amazes me how much hatred some of you have as opposed to simple logic and intelligence.

  • Robert G. Oler

    you would guess wrong. you should read my space news piece

    I would certainly cancel both SLS and Orion its just wasted money…there is no technological benefit, no programming benefit and worst of all it creates no real private infrastructure that can evolve and be used in other ways

    I think that the USAF Sec has about the right plan. I would spend federal dollars to encourage private enterprise to develop lift for near term applications which will 1) fund their development and 2) allow them to make incremental improvements on products 3) gaining flight experience andknowledge until 4) they are able to develop new products

    this is the real lesson of the DC 1-3 and the Boeing 299

    Federal dollars (airmail contract and several procurement buys) kept the lines open so both manufactors could improve incrementally and gain knowledge as they built a product.

    I am really surprised that Musk did not take the hint and develop a Raptor upper stage for Falcon which is what the USAF wanted what he is trying to do is build a B29 when they barely have the B17 flying

  • publiusr

    Instead of Old Space vs New Space–how about we all agree to kill F-35 and give its budget to BFR.

    We can all get behind that.

  • ReSpaceAge

    I wasn’t Joking!!!

    Watching this giant rocket get built outside this Year is going to be a gas!!!!


    I guess the Starship part will launch from Texas for its Leo tests and Super Heavy may do launch and return test from Texas as well.
    Elon is proving that bigger doesn’t necessarily have to be much more expensive.
    I supervised the construction of many commercial buildings in my day, never any highrises.
    Watching “simple commerical building techniques used to build a cheap Saturn class rocket is a lot of fun for me.

    2019 and 2020 are going to be one hell of exciting years.