After a long period of tests, a court case, and tens of millions of dollars, SpaceX has gained the rights to launch government satellites into space. The private space company, based in California, is owned by the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”
Last year, Musk sued the Air Force for the opportunity to compete with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to send Pentagon satellites into space. The ULA, which is a joint project between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has had a virtually exclusive monopoly on US military satellite launches. That is, until now.
This news hasn't dampened the ULA's spirit. "We welcome today's announcement and look forward to competing with SpaceX and other new entrants," ULA said in a statement.
In order to certify (the Pentagon's cargo is crucial and expensive), SpaceX had to complete an exhaustive list of demonstrations to prove their worth. This included: 3 flight demonstrations of the Falcon 9 rocket, the verification of 160 payload interface requirements, 2,800 individual tasks, and 700 audits. All this certification required more than $60 million from the Air Force. It's paid off for SpaceX, though. It is the only company, other than ULA, to have certification to launch military satellites.
“This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch,” said Musk. “We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well.”
SpaceX's first opportunity to bid for government work will be June 2015. Lockheed have built some GPS satellites and SpaceX might very well be the one to launch them.
[Image via Flickr]