Enlarge / One of the pivotal moments in the rocket wars came in 2014, when the CEO of United Launch Alliance, Mike Gass, squared off against SpaceX's Elon Musk before a Senate committee. (credit: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It began as so many tiffs have in 2017—on Twitter. SpaceX had just completed a near-perfect first half of the year. Ten launches. Two re-flights. Zero accidents. Speaking to his 11 million followers, Elon Musk couldn’t resist taking a dig at his long-time rival in the US launch industry, United Launch Alliance.

“Worth noting that Boeing/Lockheed get a billion dollar annual subsidy even if they launch nothing. SpaceX does not,” Musk tweeted. Comparatively, this may not seem too incendiary for the social media platform. But within the stately rocket world, Musk had just trash-talked ULA, the joint launch venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Subsidy is a trigger word brandished often by Musk in this fight, implying that ULA cannot compete without government help. So it didn’t take long for ULA’s chief executive, Tory Bruno, to reply with his own tweet: “Sorry. That is simply not true. There is no ‘billion dollar subsidy’. Amazing that this myth persists.” (This myth may persist because it is, at least in part, true.)

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