Musk’s Toe in Launch Market Draws Lockheed Jab

Photograph by Chris Thompson/SpaceX via Bloomberg

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket takes off in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 18, 2012.

The CEOs of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. are trading jabs over the upstart competitor’s push into the $70 billion military launch market.

A Lockheed-Boeing Co. joint venture has had a lock on the work for six years. SpaceX, which showed twice this year it could get to the International Space Station, is now trying to break into the business of launching U.S. military and spy satellites.

The Lockheed-Boeing venture, United Launch Alliance, has launched “hundreds of billions of dollars” of satellites on 66 consecutive missions, said Robert Stevens, Lockheed’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“I’m hugely pleased with 66 in a row from ULA, and I don’t know the record of SpaceX yet,” Stevens said at a Dec. 14 Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington. “Two in a row?”

“Cost doesn’t matter at all if you don’t put the ball into orbit,” he said. “You can thrift on cost. You can take cost out of a rocket. But I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes.”

All of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 missions have reached orbit and “completed all primary mission objectives,” Musk said in an e-mailed statement. The Air Force last month awarded the Hawthorne, California-based company two trial launch missions.

On the cost issue, Musk said: “The fundamental reason SpaceX’s rockets are lower cost and more powerful is that our technology is significantly more advanced than that of the Lockheed-Boeing rockets, which were designed last century.”

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