The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that they have certified SpaceX to launch the nations critical and highly valuable national security satellites on the firms Falcon 9 rocket, thereby breaking the decade old launch monopoly held by launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a joint venture owned by aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
The Air Force’s goal in approving the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is aimed at drastically cutting the high cost of access to space by introducing competition in the awarding of military mission launch contacts. The prior contract involved a sole source $11 Billion “block buy” bid for 36 rocket cores from ULA in December 2013 which was legally challenged by SpaceX in April 2014, but eventually settled by SpaceX in an agreement with the USAF earlier this year.
Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), announced the long awaited decision on Tuesday, May 26.
The certification milestone came after a grueling two year review process in which the Air Force invested more than million and 150 people to thoroughly review all aspects of the Falcon 9 booster. The review was based on three successful flights by the Falcon 9 v1.1 which first launched in late 2013.
The purpose of certification is to assure that qualified launch providers could meet the challenge of safely, securely and reliably lofting expensive U.S. national security military missions to space and into their intended orbits with full mission capability that are critical for maintaining national defense.
“The SpaceX and SMC teams have worked hard to achieve certification, ” said Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, in a statement.
“And we’re also maintaining our spaceflight worthiness process supporting the National Security Space missions. Our intent is to promote the viability of multiple EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible.”
And the competitive launch races “for award of qualified national security space launch missions” between SpaceX and ULA start very soon, within the next month says the USAF.
In June, the Air Force will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for GPS III launch services. ULA has three GPS launches in its manifest for 2015.
Of course SpaceX was overjoyed on hearing the certification news.
“This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch, said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Lead Designer.
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