Musk, Military Seek to Deepen Ties to Commercial Space

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was in San Francisco Tuesday to speak at an Air Force Pitch Day, a new type of event in which small-budget investments are made in various startups in the hopes of speeding up military access to new technologies, CNN reported.

Musk spent a half hour on stage with Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the USAF’s commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, in a discussion that was mostly geared for Musk to give advice to the roughly 60 companies in attendance.

Musk and SpaceX have deep ties to the US government and the Department of Defense. A key part of the company’s business is launching satellites and other defense-related payloads as part of deals worth tens of millions of dollars.

Lt. Gen. Thompson and Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary in charge of Air Force acquisition, appeared to be speaking Silicon Valley’s language at the event. They used their time on stage to discuss how they are hoping to make the military’s acquisition process less bureaucratic and time consuming.

“Gone are the days where all of the innovation, all of the technology comes from the Department of Defense or comes from the federal government,” Thompson said. The USAF is “trying to do things different and experimenting with how we can work closer with the commercial space market.”

Musk fielded questions from Thompson about how SpaceX and Tesla, his electric car company, decide which tasks to outsource and what to do in-house. And he spoke about how he acquires top talent and his approach to corporate leadership, CNN adds.

Musk and the Air Force are not always on the same page. His appearance at the Pitch Day event comes as SpaceX is battling the US government over contracts that USAF has awarded. Specifically, SpaceX is protesting Launch Service Agreement (or LSA) contracts that were announced in October 2018 and included more than $1 billion for three of the company’s competitors: United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman. SpaceX did not receive any money under that batch of awards.

The contracts were not mentioned by Musk or the Air Force officials who spoke on Tuesday. The Pitch Day event is a new type of procurement effort in which the military is giving small investments of less than $1 million each to young space companies developing technologies in which the Air Force is interested, such as satellite propulsion and Earth-imaging devices.

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