The United States Air Force has cleared SpaceX to conduct military space launches. Previously, only United Launch Alliance (ULA) was certified to perform these types of space missions for the military.
The California based rocket company with offices, development, and launch facilities in Texas will now be able to conduct national security launches for the government, according to a report on The Hill. The certification will likely increase jobs for the company which currently employs more than 3,000 workers.
Air Force officials and congressional leaders are hopeful the new competition will help drive down the cost of launching military payloads. It is also expected the increased launch capabilities will reduce reliance on Russian-manufactured rocket engines.
“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “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. “Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”
Arizona Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called the certification “a win for competition.” As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain noted the rapidly increasing cost of launches due to the monopoly held by ULA and the dependence on Russian engines.
“I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies,” McCain said.
The certification project, which cost $60 million, allowed the Air Force to have choices in launch programs. “This milestone is the culmination of a significant two-year effort on the part of the Air Force and SpaceX to execute the certification process and reintroduce competition into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program,” the Air Force announced in a statement.
SpaceX was founded in 2002. It currently employs more than 3,000 workers in California, Texas, Florida, Virginia and Washington. The rockets and engines are manufactured at the Hawthorne, California facility. The company is already contracting with NASA to fly cargo missions to the International Space Station.
The company recently completed a test of its launch abort system for a manned spacecraft currently under development. On May 6, SpaceX tested their Dragon rocket’s capabilities to safely abort a launch and deliver the astronauts safely back to the abort area. SpaceX demonstrated the launch abort capabilities by igniting eight SuperDraco engines that are designed to lift the manned capsule away from the rocket during a rocket malfunction. All systems performed flawlessly and parachuted delivered the capsule safely back to Earth.
The company currently manufactures three space vehicles: the Dragon, Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9. Dragon is the vehicle designed for manned spaceflight. The company expects to launch its first manned flight in 2-3 years.