Musk’s SpaceX Drops Lawsuit Against Air Force on Launches

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Billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. agreed to drop its lawsuit challenging U.S. contracts for military satellite launches awarded to a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

An agreement between the company, known as SpaceX, and the Air Force sets a path “that improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national-security space launches,” according to a joint statement on Friday by the company and the Air Force.

Musk had campaigned at the Pentagon, before Congress and in the courts against what he called a monopoly that the Air Force gave the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture, United Launch Alliance. The market for military satellite launches has been estimated at $70 billion through 2030.

The agreement to dismiss the lawsuit came after SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and the Air Force participated in mediation overseen by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, according to a court filing Friday.

“The parties have now settled the matter and stipulated dismissal” of SpaceX’s suit, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Susan Braden wrote in a brief order outlining the treatment of confidential information in the case.

‘Efficient’ Certification

The Air Force will work with Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX to complete its certification for military satellite launches “in an efficient and expedient manner,” according to the statement by the service and the company. The Air Force also agreed to expand the number of “competitive opportunities” for launches while honoring its current contracts with Boeing-Lockheed.

A contract to SpaceX would be the first awarded to a company other than the team of Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed and Chicago-based Boeing, the two biggest U.S. contractors, since the Pentagon opened the launch program in late 2012 to as many as 14 competitive missions.

SpaceX lost the opportunity to be awarded a contract valued at as much as $200 million after the Air Force failed to certify it by a Dec. 31 deadline.

“They will eventually be certified,” Air Force Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski, the service’s top military acquisition officer, said of SpaceX in a December interview.

The case is Space Exploration Technologies Corp. v. U.S., 14-00354, U.S. Court of Federal Claims (Washington).