SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has been certified by the U.S. Air Force for national security space missions. SpaceX’s certification ends the monopoly of United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The Elon Musk-led company can now compete for the launch of military and spy satellites.
SpaceX certification to bring down launch costs
The Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that the U.S. military launches are expected to be worth $70 billion until 2030. Increased competition and leverage of the commercial space market would bring down the cost to the taxpayer. In March, SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that the privately-held company plans to launch government satellites for less than $100 million per mission.
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— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 27, 2015
The approval came after two years of intense testing, reviews, discussions, legal disputes, and a few months of delay. The U.S. Air Force said it dedicated more than 150 people and spent close to $60 million on testing and evaluation of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Elon Musk described the certification as “an important step toward bringing competition to national security space launch.”
SpaceX emerging as a dominant force in space sector
SpaceX will get its first opportunity to bid against ULA in June, when the Air Force kicks off a bidding for launches of additional Global Positioning System III satellites. Its approval would also help the United States end their reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines that power the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas-5 rocket. The U.S. government has banned the use of Russian engines in military missions after 2019. That decision came after Russia annexed Crimea last year.
It means SpaceX has the opportunity to become the main launching firm, grabbing projects that were initially meant for ULA after 2019. The ban of Russian engines will force ULA to retire its Atlas-5 rocket in a few years. The Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture does not expect its next-generation rocket Vulcan to be certified until 2022. On the other hand, Elon Musk hopes SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to get certified by 2017.