Spaceport Cornwall team up with US Aerospace firm overshadowed by corruption allegations11th Jun 2021
In a week when world leaders are descending upon Cornwall for the G7 Summit, a fairly concerning development has emerged that may have serious implications for the UK’s space industry. At the very least it will see another stain on the industry’s integrity.
In April of this year, the US defence contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation, created a spin-off company, Sierra Space. This spin-off was given the existing space business of SNC including its Dream Chaser aircraft and any existing contracts already secured by this arm of the business including the supply of goods to the International Space Station.
So, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with US President Joe Biden, it is highly likely they will discuss any joint interests in the space sector. This is more likely given that Sierra Space have very recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Spaceport Cornwall to use the facility for take off and landing.
Cornwall we have a problem
All of this sounds fine on the face of it, although we remain very uncomfortable about the large US military corporations slowly creeping into the UK space industry. We have covered Lockheed Martin at length (who have secured the launch calendar at the proposed Shetland Space Centre), as well as Boeing, who themselves have a rather chequered past. However, the Sierra Nevada Corporation are not without their controversies. In fact, the US defense giant’s history is mired in controversy including accusations of bribery and questionable payments made to politicians. With that sort of background they are likely to fit in nicely with the current UK government, given their own accusations of illegality currently hanging over them.
As recently as 2017, Sierra Nevada Corporation were forced to settle a lawsuit brought about by the US Justice Department amid accusations that the company had overcharged the US government in federal contracts between 2007 and 2011. They paid a $14.9m settlement without accepting liability.
In 2004 a US politician, Jim Gibbons was actively promoting SNC to receive a $4m helicopter technology contract. During the same timeframe it was unveiled by the Wall Street Journal that SNC had been making payments to Gibbons’ wife, Dawn.
Further scandals hit the company in 2009 when their lobbying firm, PMA Group (now defunct) was caught up in a huge bribery scandal.
Now, we are sure Spaceport Cornwall and the UK government have performed comprehensive due diligence on the company before getting into bed with them. However, as we have seen in the dealings with Lockheed Martin, we suspect the reverse to be true.