Ellon Musk’s SpaceX is soaring higher and higher and has just received the certification that will pave the way for important military contracts. According to an announcement on Tuesday, it has just received a US Air Force certification allowing it to launch satellites for the Pentagon.
SpaceX’s certification was announced by Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves himself. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center commander explained that this new certification now allows SpaceX to be eligible, alongside two other certified launch providers, for the award of national security space launch missions.
The aerospace company can now compete with the joint space venture of Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Lockheed Martin, dubbed United Launch Alliance.
Until recently, the United Launch Alliance had monopolized the EELV program. But SpaceX argued that such a monopoly was unfair and sued the US Air Force last year. Of course, the lawsuit was a risky move, especially since SpaceX’s biggest customer (if the suit would have ended in Musk’s favor) would have been represented by the US Air Force.
Luckily, SpaceX let the lawsuit go in January 2015 when it began its certification process.
As Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force explains, this opportunity is unparalleled for both the Department of Defense and the Air Force. Since SpaceX has entered the battlefield, both the DOD and the Air Force expect significant cost reductions.
“SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade,” she said, while adding that competition will allow the leveraging of commercial space markets to force costs down.
The 13-year-old company that Musk founded has been in and out of courtrooms attempting to obtain this certification from the Pentagon. This announcement only highlights a two-year-long effort on both SpaceX and the Air Force’s part. Both had hoped to finalize the certification process and ensure that honest competition becomes a part of the EELV (evolved expendable launch vehicle) program.
In order to obtain its Pentagon certification, SpaceX had to comply with over 125 certification criteria and to fulfill over 2,800 discrete tasks. Additionally, the aerospace company was also required to conduct 3 distinct certification flight demonstrations as well as perform over 150 payload interface verifications and 700 audits.
In the future, the Air Force will draw from SpaceX’s audits, subsystem reviews and interface requirements so as to be able to establish the technical baseline which deems future flight contenders worthy or unworthy for launch.
These efforts required massive investment on the Air Force’s part as well. In total it had to invest well over $60 million and 150 people in the certification proceedings.
“Our intent is to promote the viability of multiple EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible,” Lieutenant Greaves said.
In the future, other launch service providers (such as SpaceX) will have the opportunity of proving their design, qualification and production capabilities. They will be required to also present and deliver their launch systems as well as provide the support necessary to deliver satellites into orbit.
Image Source: Space Flight Now
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