There’s been a lot of coverage on various space blogs recently about SpaceX’s antitrust lawsuit versus Boeing and Lockheed Martin. I may take some time later to discuss some of my thoughts about the case itself, I just wanted to comment on a common complaint I’ve been hearing in the alt.space community about the lawsuit. In its basic form the complaint goes something like “why is SpaceX wasting so much time and money on a lawsuit when they haven’t even flown their first vehicle yet”, usually followed up or accompanying a statement about how they should “stick to rocket development”. Maybe by rebutting this argument I’m really just knocking down a strawman, but I think there’s an important point to be made here.
The problem with this complaint is that in my opinion, it shows a lot of ignorance about business. Trying to just focus on the technical development, without taking care of the marketting side of the business is a recipe for business failure. The EELV launch business is a decent sized potential market, especially for a company with low overhead like SpaceX. Letting Boeing and Lockheed strongarm them out of that market for the next 6+ years would be rather asinine. What good would it do SpaceX to develop the Falcon IX only to find that one of the main existing customers has been locked into an exclusive contract with their competitor? And taking the case up now, before the merger has been consumated will be substantially easier than trying to break through the monopoly once it is truly a monopoly.
The other silly thing about this argument is thinking that SpaceX isn’t focusing on getting Falcon I flying. It’s not like the ~120 engineers at SpaceX have all abandoned Omelek Island and McGregor Ranch to don wingtips, three-piece suits, and briefcases to take on the big boys. They aren’ the ones doing the legal footwork. They’re still working away testing engines, and getting the Falcon I ready for flight (as well as getting the Falcon IX first stage ready for hold-down testing early next year). Elon hired one of the top lawfirms in the nation to handle the legal issues, explicitly so the engineers could focus on engineering. That’s one of the nice things about being a multimillionaire–you can afford to pay for enough people to work on multiple parts of a project at the same time.
So to me, I really can’t see any good reason why Elon shouldn’t be doing this. He has a lot to lose by not pursuing the case, quite a bit to gain if he wins, and not much to lose for trying. While I’m not sure how I feel about how they’re going about the actual legal approach to this problem (I’m an engineer, not a lawyer), I can at least say that it is probably wise for SpaceX to ignore the peanut gallery and focus on both the vehicle and the market for it.