spacex falcon 9
July 13, 2014

SpaceX Gains USAF Certification, FAA Approval For Texas Launch Site

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

SpaceX, the California-based rocket company established by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, announced on Friday that its Falcon 9 launch system had been certified by the US Air Force as having completed three successful flights.

In a statement, the company said that the certification was “a prerequisite for companies seeking to win business from the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program” and that meeting successful flight criteria was “a key milestone in the certification process,” the remaining requirements of which they expect to complete prior to the end of the year.

According to re/code’s James Temple, SpaceX said that it is already allowed to compete for EELV missions but is unable to sign an official contract until it is fully USAF certified. He added that Musk has pushed the government for increased competition for these types of launches, even filing an official complaint in April over a single-source contract awarded to the joint Lockheed Martin and Boeing venture United Launch Alliance.

Los Angeles Times reporter W.J. Hennigan called the milestone “a move that could shake up the spaceflight business.” He added that while SpaceX still had work to do “before it can formally compete for the multibillion-dollar contracts,” completing the three qualifying launched was “considered to be a major hurdle” in the Hawthorne, California-based firm’s efforts to throw its hat into the EELV program, which he referred to as “one of the world's most lucrative space programs.”

Hennigan also noted that even if SpaceX is able to fulfill all of the US government’s certification requirements, there is “no guarantee” they would be awarded any federal contracts. In fact, Lexington Institute aerospace policy analyst Dr. Loren Thompson told the Times that the company was “not a shoo-in” because he believed that there still “some people in the Air Force who are worried about the reliability of the Falcon 9 going forward.”

In June, a scheduled Falcon 9 launch carrying a payload of six Orbcomm commercial communications satellites had to be pushed back several times, including once due to a possible issue with its upper-stage engine and once due to technical issues discovered during pre-flight checks.

In related news, Drew Prindle of Digital Trends reported Friday that SpaceX had received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to go ahead with the construction of a 56.5 acre spaceport in Cameron County, Texas.

“While the company will still need approvals from local agencies before it can begin construction, the FAA’s decision is a monumental step forward on the path to making the long-planned spaceport a reality,” Prindle added. “This is major win for SpaceX, since the proposed spaceport will allow the company to launch from private property, rather than from Air Force facilities it currently uses for rocket tests and missions to the International Space Station.”


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