Negotiators in Congress are measuring whether the contract awarded by NASA (NASA) to Musk's space company SpaceX poses potential national security risks, given China's financial support for Elon Musk's electric vehicle company Tesla. Thus, Gardner, who also chaired the East Asian Subcommittee on Foreign Relations, proposed two amendments to address this risk.
The first is to have the government accountability office examine the potential links between NASA contractors and China, and the second is to advise NASA leaders to "consider" these connections when awarding contracts. "Many U.S. companies are very concerned about this," Gardner said
Gardner's proposal focuses not only on space companies that have direct links to Chinese funds, but also on "U.S. companies that share ownership with NASA contractors," which widens the scope of the review to ensure that China cannot evade scrutiny by establishing a US "shell company.".
Such legislation could put SpaceX at a disadvantage, given that Musk's Tesla received about $1.4 billion in credit lines from China's state-owned banks in December. According to congressional sources familiar with the process, ula, one of SpaceX's main competitors in contracts to launch U.S. government satellites and spacecraft, has been urging Gardner to put forward the proposal.
Several congressional aides stressed that the legislation was not designed specifically for Musk's companies. An aide to a Republican senator said: "at least seven space companies have been affected to some extent by Chinese investment."
Gardner's team acknowledged receiving the comments from ula, but his aides said: "it's just part of the responsible review. But to say that we are partial to ula and think that this is just a confrontation between ula and SpaceX shows that people lack awareness of the real problem. "
Gardner said he was surprised that the bill, passed unanimously by the committee, has been controversial in recent weeks. "I think these Provisions are common sense protection for our space program and space technology," he said in a recent interview
Despite this, two congressional sources familiar with the legislative process said many lawmakers were concerned that Gardner's initial proposal to let NASA "consider" the Contractor's relationship with China was too vague for the agency to implement.
Negotiators have come up with a compromise to establish a self certification process for businesses to confirm that no Chinese entity is a minority owner. The negotiations are deadlocked on how to implement the process. Gardner's team wants the bill to ban "problem contractors" from contracting with NASA for at least a year, and to give NASA the power to extend the ban by 10 years.
Senator Maria Cantwell (Maria Cantwell) of Washington, the Democratic leader of the Business Council, prefers to rely on existing laws to punish fraud in such cases, partly because existing laws give NASA discretion to give these companies "probation" when necessary.
As lawmakers consider the best way to protect NASA's secrets, the national security debate has provided space industry giants with ammunition to deal with the growing conflict. For example, musk has tried to prevent the Senate funding agency from leaning towards ula, because the rival rocket uses Russian made engines.