SpaceX is working with and against its potential customer; Lockheed, Raytheon win big Air Force business


Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, speaks at the Atlantic Council, June 4, 2014. Shotwell talked about SpaceX’s new ventures and the need to rebuild American dominance in the space sector. (Evy Mages/For The Washington Post)

SpaceX is pushing to receive national security launch certification by the end of the year.

The commercial space contractor recently sued the Air Force for the right to compete on launch contracts. However, it is also working with the Air Force to achieve the necessary certification for military launches, said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer.

She was speaking at the Atlantic Council’s “Captains of Industry” event last week.

“There’s mountains of paperwork,” Shotwell said. “This is new territory for the Air Force, too, so we’re paving the way for the next set of new entrants.”

Shotwell also talked about the need to rebuild American dominance in the space sector, pointing out that the United States relies heavily on Russian rocket engines for national security launches.

The issue has been in the spotlight as Russia and the United States spar over sanctions stemming from the turmoil in the Ukraine. A top Kremlin official has threatened to ban the export to the United States of powerful RD-180 engines unless Russia is guaranteed that they won’t be used by the U.S. military.

“We build our own engines and tanks and write our own software,” Shotwell said with reference to SpaceX’s homegrown Merlin engine. “We own our technology.”

SpaceX aims to boost production by eventually launching two rockets a month, up from one every month, she said.

The company is also close to acquiring its own commercial launch pad facility in Brownsville, Tex.

Contract wins for Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop

Lockheed Martin won a highly anticipated Air Force contract last week to build a system that would protect astronauts from a real-life version of the movie “Gravity.”

Lockheed is tasked with building a “space fence,” a high-frequency radar to track nearly every piece of floating rubble that orbits the earth. The new space fence will be more sophisticated at tracking small pieces of debris than the government’s current system.

The $915 million contract was a toss-up between Lockheed and Raytheon, which ended up winning a different competitive contract the same day.

Raytheon beat out Boeing for a $298 million contract to modify the Air Force’s Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals system. Boeing was the original prime contractor for the manufacture of the terminals in 2002. Raytheon is charged with upgrading the terminals, which allow the president and military leaders to communicate securely.

The third major Air Force contract of the week went to Northrop Grumman, which was awarded a $9.9 billion sole-source contract to modernize the B-2 stealth bomber.

Engility signals intent to raise more capital

Engility, the Chantilly-based tech services company, has filed a shelf registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This type of filing allows a company to prepare for a future public stock offering.

Engility said it does not have immediate plans to raise more money. But the contractor’s expansion strategy does involve making more targeted acquisitions. Engility completed a $120 million takeover of IT company Dynamics Research Corp. earlier this year.

Amrita Jayakumar covers federal government contracting for Capital Business, The Post's local business publication.
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