SpaceX Sues Safety Expert for Defamation [Courthouse News Service]

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Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is suing Herndon, Va.-based Valador Inc. and its vice president, Joe Fragola, in Fairfax County Court for making  what SpaceX says were defamatory allegations about the safety and reliability of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Courthouse News Service reported June 16.

At the heart of the suit is a June 8 email Fragola allegedly sent to NASA’s chief of safety and mission assurance, Bryan O’ Connor, saying he was trying to verify a rumor that the Falcon 9’s first stage experienced a double engine failure during its December launch and blew up just after separation. SpaceX denied in its complaint that this occurred.

     “‘Early in June 2011, on behalf of Valador Fragola attempted to obtain a consulting contract from SpaceX worth as much as $1 million,’ the  SpaceX 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.”

Fragola, according to his Valador bio, was a member of the NASA Exploration Systems Architecture Study team that in 2005 picked the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets that the agency set out to build under the Constellation program.

See a copy of the court documents here.