SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been certified for launching national security space missions for the U.S. Air Force. Now Elon Musk and his company can compete for those sensitive contracts, ending the de facto monopoly of with United Launch Alliance, the shared Boeing and Lockheed Martin company.
“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James 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. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”
“Driving down cost” is important to note there, as it’s incredibly expensive to launch anything into space. Having to find companies that are also allowed to work on classified military missions makes the process even harder and therefore more expensive.
SpaceX has been fighting what it called an unfair exclusion from Air Force contracts for a while now. The company eventually settled on agreeable terms that would let it compete for the national security contracts with ULA, starting with the two-year, $60 million process of getting the required certification. The approval comes just in time too, as the Air Force said it expects to put out a request for proposals for launch services as soon as next month. The details of what gets launched on these missions are usually secret, but military satellites for communication and surveillance are frequently sent up on missions tagged for national security clearance. James and SpaceX didn’t even hint at the previous legal issues on Twitter.