After expressing an interest in the market two years ago, SpaceX has finally been approved to tender for lucrative contracts to launch US military satellites into orbit.
The US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Centre announced on May 27 it had approved Space X’s involvement in its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will provide an alternative rocket provider as it goes head-to-head with United Launch Alliance (a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture), who for the past decade has dominated the national security space launch market.
The SpaceX approval concluded a two-year certification process which involved three flight demonstrations of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The first satellite up for competition between ULA and SpaceX is a next-generation GPS 3 navigation spacecraft. The Air Force plans to release a request for proposals for the launch in June.
Several launch missions will also be available from 2016 to 2017.
US Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James welcomed the long-awaited injection of competition provided by SpaceX.
“Space X’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.
James also added that competition will ultimately drive down launch costs and improve military resiliency.
SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk also praised the injection of competition created by being awarded the launching contract.
“This is an important step toward bringing competition to national security space launch,” he said.
“We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well.”
The approval comes two years after Space X first announced that it was interested in launching the military satellites, but was initially rejected due to a lack of certification for its Falcon 9 launch vehicle.