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SpaceX billionaire claims Air Force official 'likely' made job-for-spy-sat-contract deal

Elon Musk tweets about AF procurement official's lucrative VP position

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Elon Musk appears to have taken to his official Twitter account to accuse a former Air Force official of having "likely" accepted a bribe to grant the exclusive black sat launch contract to United Launch Alliance.

Musk, who is campaigning to have his own rocket firm SpaceX considered for the lucrative spy satellite blast-offs, apparently tweeted a link to an article in The National Legal and Policy Centre (NLPC) that reported Roger Correll's appointment to a new job with a ULA supplier.

The NLPC article reported on Correll's time as a procurement official for the Air Force, where he was in charge of getting launch services from private companies. Just before his retirement in January this year, he oversaw the deal that gave ULA, a Boeing and Lockheed joint venture, the contract for 36 future blastoffs. The NLPC article also reported Correll's appointment had now been given the job of veep for government acquisition and policy at Aerojet Rocketdyne, which supplies rocket engines to ULA.

Elon Musk tweeted the article with a few follow-up comments that make it clear he reckons there’s something amiss with that sequence of events:

SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the monopoly contract, arguing that other firms should have been given the chance to bid on the launches. The Air Force says that SpaceX rockets haven’t even been certified for use yet by its officials and denies that the contract with ULA is not getting taxpayers the best value for money.

The situation is complicated by the fact that ULA doesn’t even make its own rockets, it relies a lot on Russian-made RD-180 engines supplied by Rocketdyne through RD Amross, which is half-owned by the American firm. Since the crisis in Ukraine and its attendant US sanctions, questions have been raised about whether ULA can even legally supply the rockets with Russian parts.

SpaceX scored an early win with a preliminary injunction in the case based on the potential infringement of the sanctions, although the Departments of Treasury and Commerce got the ban lifted when they assured the court that the engines aren’t currently contravening the rules.

The Air Force has said that it’s surprised by the lawsuit from SpaceX, given that it’s spending millions of dollars on getting the company certified so that it can compete for future launches. General William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, told reporters on Wednesday that SpaceX should be certified by the end of the year or early next year, but it was impossible to speed it up because of the complex red tape involved, Reuters reported.

However, he said that it was possible SpaceX would still be able to compete on seven or eight launches this year and win contracts that were contingent on its certification.

The Reg has contacted SpaceX for comment, but it had not got back to us at the time of writing. ®

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