Last week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration officially "certified" SpaceX as one of its preferred contractors, allowing the upstart space launch company to bid against the United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Boeing and Lockheed Martin on almost every kind of space mission in NASA's inventory. As reported on SpaceflightNow.com, SpaceX will from here on out be able to bid on "medium-risk" missions, including the launching of "most" Earth observation satellites and "many" interplanetary probes aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 lift vehicles.
SpaceX's new "Category 2" certification does not, however, allow the company to bid on any "multibillion-dollar interplanetary flagship missions." (Yet.) For the time being, only ULA, with its Atlas V and Delta II rockets, and Orbital ATK, which flies the Pegasus XL rocket, are allowed to bid on such "Category 3" projects.
What's next for SpaceX?
You might expect the answer to this question to be "Category 3, of course!" But in fact, SpaceX has one more trophy to collect before seeking Cat-3 certification from NASA. This one will come from the U.S. Air Force - and it could be worth even more than NASA's Cat-3 stamp of approval.
As confirmed by the Air Force Times earlier this month, SpaceX is entering the final lap in its race to win Air Force certification to launch some of America's most sensitive spy satellites into orbit. Testifying before Congress last month, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James confirmed she is confident that SpaceX's Falcon 9 will win certification by June - in time to compete against ULA for at least two Air Force space launches this year, and more in years to come.
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