In a letter earlier this month to several members of the state’s Congressional delegation, a group of Alabama aerospace suppliers expressed their support for greater competition in the launch industry, without mentioning the company that could benefit the most from such competition.
“As Alabama-based suppliers to our country’s leading providers of space launch services, we write to encourage your support of expanding America’s industrial aerospace capacity through competition, technology innovation, and new entrant companies who have chosen us as key suppliers for their innovative products,” stated the August 1 letter on the letterhead of Industrial Manufacturing Specialties of Decatur, Alabama. The letter, signed by executives of five other north Alabama aerospace suppliers, was sent to the office of Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), with copies to the state’s two senators, Richard Shelby (R) and Jeff Sessions (R), and to Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL).
“We especially want to emphasize that commercial space transportation and ‘traditional’ aerospace both contribute significantly to suppliers like us,” the letter continues. “We hope you agree with us that competition and a broader overall set of industry players increase our business, as our products see a wider set of buyers.”
The letter does not name any of the “space launch services” companies they work for, although the websites of several mention working for United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the two aerospace companies that co-own the joint venture, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. At least one, Cimarron Composites, mentions several NewSpace companies on its client list, including Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, alongside more traditional aerospace companies like Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
Alabama, of course, is home to the major production facility for ULA, and SpaceX is the biggest of those “new entrant companies” that pose a challenge to ULA’s current position as the major provider of launch services for large spacecraft to the US government. Several members of the Alabama Congressional delegation have been critical, directly or indirectly, of SpaceX. Last month, Rep. Brooks co-signed a letter with two Colorado House members to NASA admininstrator Charles Bolden, asking for details about what they termed an “epidemic of anomalies” with SpaceX missions. Rep. Rogers had made a similar request of NASA and Air Force officials earlier this year. Sen. Shelby took credit for introducing a provision in report language accompanying a Senate appropriations bill that would require certified cost data for commercial crew companies, like SpaceX, which advocates of that program claim would drive up the cost of the program.
A spokesperson representing SpaceX said in an email Monday that the company would not comment on the letter from the Alabama suppliers. The company, as well as ULA, have calmed their rhetorical battles in recent weeks after a judge called on SpaceX and the Air Force to resolve their legal battle over the EELV block buy contract through mediation, and not to comment about that ongoing process in the media.