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Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), at the unveiling of the Manned Dragon V2 Space Taxi in Hawthorne, California, on May 29, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force suffered from a “stark disconnect in perceptions” over the company’s efforts to win approval to compete for military satellite launches, according to an independent review.

“There is also a lack of common understanding” of “some basic objectives and definitions” spelled out in a 2013 agreement on the steps toward certifying Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., retired Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch said in the review.
While the two sides have become conciliatory and say they expect SpaceX to be certified for launches by June, the report lays out a cultural collision between Musk’s entrepreneurial impatience and the Air Force’s methodical bureaucracy.
It’s also emblematic of the larger difficulties the U.S. defense and intelligence bureaucracies are having developing and adopting new technologies as fast as private entrepreneurs have been doing.
The review was commissioned in January by Air Force Secretary Deborah James after the service failed to meet a December goal to certify SpaceX for satellite launches. They are now handled exclusively by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of the two biggest U.S. defense contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.
Musk campaigned at the Pentagon, before Congress and in the courts against what he called a monopoly. The dispute has cooled since Jan. 23, when Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX agreed to drop a protest against an Air Force contract awarded to the Lockheed-Boeing venture.
In the review, which was sent to Congress on Wednesday and was to be released to the public on Thursday, Welch recommended amendments to the 2013 agreement intended to clarify what was expected of both parties, including delaying the resolution of some issues so they don’t further delay the process.

‘Need to Adjust’

Describing the past conflicts, Welch said the company’s view “is that the Air Force should have confidence in SpaceX capabilities based on its track record of performance,” while the Air Force “has approached certification as a detailed design review.”
“Neither view was the intent of the original certification plan,” which envisioned a “partnership that leveraged the commercial practices and experience of SpaceX and decades of Air Force experience,” Welch said. “Both teams need to adjust.”
Welch cited “evidence from SpaceX and the Air Force of notable progress” recently toward a greater understanding.
Musk said in a statement last week that his company welcomed the Air Force’s “decision to review and revise the process which will govern the certification” of his company and others seeking to compete with the United Launch Alliance.
The Air Force plans for competition on seven of 10 launches planned for 2016 and 2017 and all 14 launches between 2018 to 2020.

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