There has been quite a heated debate about the whole SpaceX Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle issue recently on twitter and in the press. This article discusses this debate and our views on the situation.
As you may remember SpaceX filed suit last month Elon Musk announced that SpaceX were filing a suit against the US Air Force (USAF) protesting the United Launch Alliance (ULA) block purchase which had been award without any competition.
Since this happened the debate seems to be firmly split into two camps, those who fully support SpaceX’s actions and those who don’t. Having viewed both sides of the debate we can see valid points from both camps.
Should SpaceX have the chance to compete? Yes regardless of whether they have proven to date that they can reliably launch payloads they should have the chance to compete against ULA.
What if they lose anyway? As Elon Musk stated when they filed the suit they just want the chance to compete, if the USAF decide that ULA is still the better option then they would have to accept that and move on. If they were to compete today we believe they would absolutely lose because they just don’t have the track record yet.
What happens if a launch fails? As with any launch provider if they lose a payload due to a launch failure then they would have to investigate to determine what went wrong and then prove that they have addressed the issue before having the chance to launch again. The bigger question is can they survive a launch failure? That is really an unknown at this point, it would really depend on what caused the failure and what would be involved in resolving it.
They don’t have the same launch capacities as ULA so can’t compete? That is correct as of today they can only compete for the smaller payloads, however once the Falcon Heavy rocket is complete and has been flown a few times SpaceX will have the ability to launch larger payloads than any of the ULA rocket combinations currently available.
Why did they sue USAF? To highlight the fact that a large order had been placed without any competition.
What about all the delays? SpaceX are still a young company compared with ULA or any of the other launch providers and therefore have a lot more to lose if something goes wrong as I said before here.
So what is next for SpaceX? This debate is not going to go away anytime soon, personally we believe that SpaceX should just knuckle down and get back on track with the launches they have on the books already. The more flights they complete over the next 18 months and if they can reduce the number of delays we believe they will be in a much better position to compete for the USAF contracts.