'Astronaut Ferry' Firm Says it Was Defamed

    FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) - Spaceship builder SpaceX claims its NASA contract to ferry cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station was compromised by a spacecraft safety company's defamatory allegations of mechanical failures and explosions, and it says the allegations were spurred by its refusal to give the defendant a $1 million consulting contract.
     SpaceX - Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - sued Valador and its vice president Joseph Fragola in Fairfax County Court. SpaceX claims Fragola contacted U.S. officials "to make disparaging remarks about SpaceX, which have created the very 'perception' that he claimed SpaceX needed his help to rectify."
     SpaceX builds the Falcon 9-Dragon, a rocket-spacecraft.
     "The Falcon 9 rocket has launched twice - both times successfully, having two nearly perfect flights in its first two attempts. Both launches were broadcast live on the Internet, and received worldwide acclaim for their successes," SpaceX says in its complaint. On the second launch of the Falcon 9, SpaceX says, the rocket "successfully placed the Dragon spacecraft into orbit."
     Valador, which provides consulting to SpaceX's main commercial space launch competitors, tried but failed to get a $1 million consulting contract from the company this year, SpaceX says.
     "Early in June 2011, on behalf of Valador, Fragola attempted to obtain a consulting contract from SpaceX worth as much as $1 million," the complaint states. "He claimed that SpaceX needed an 'independent' analysis of its rocket to bolster its reputation with NASA based on what he called an unfair 'perception' about SpaceX. SpaceX did not respond favorably to Fragola's offer.
     "SpaceX subsequently learned that Fragola - within the scope of his employment at Valador, and by using his email account at Valador - has been contacting officials in the United States Government to make disparaging remarks about SpaceX, which have created the very 'perception' that he claimed SpaceX needed his help to rectify."
     SpaceX then quotes an email that it claims Fragola sent to a NASA official in NASA's Washington headquarters, on June 8: "I have just heard a rumor, and I am trying now to check its veracity, that the Falcon 9 experienced a double engine failure in the first stage and that the entire stage blew up just after the first stage separated. I also heard that this information was being held from NASA until SpaceX can 'verify' it."
     SpaceX adds: "Fragola's statements are blatantly false, and as a purported 'expert' in the industry, he should have known that the statements were false". SpaceX says "there was not 'double-engine' failure, nor even a single engine failure," and that Fragosa knew and expected that his statements to NASA would be forwarded within the Government to other persons and entities, including the Aerospace Advisory Panel ('ASAP'), which among other things investigates safety and design issues of rockets."
     Furthermore, SpaceX says, "The launch was broadcast by a camera on the Dragon spacecraft, which vividly showed the separation of the first stage - and no explosion occurred."
     SpaceX says Fragola's false allegations "have generated adverse reaction within the government" and have damaged its reputation. It seeks $1 million fro defamation.
     SpaceX is represented by Douglas Lobel with the Cooley law firm of Reston, Va.