Commercial Firm SpaceX Wins Right To Bid On Launches For US Spy, Military Satellites


Commercial launch company SpaceX says its Falcon 9 rocket has been certified by the U.S. Air Force as qualified to launch U.S. military and spy satellites.

Until now, launches of satellites for national security space missions has been a monopoly held by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of defense contractors Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.

SpaceX, founded by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, already holds contracts with NASA for launching cargo and eventually, crews, to the International Space Station.

"We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well," Musk, who also owns the Tesla car company, said.

"This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch," he said.

SpaceX has been pursuing the chance of a role in launching military satellites for years, even going to court to push the Air Force into considering certification.

On May 26, the Air Force announced that military and national security satellites could indeed be launched safely atop Falcon 9 rockets.

"SpaceX's emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade," Air Force Secretary Deborah James said in a statement.

SpaceX's first chance to bid on a military launch will come in June, when the Air Force is expected to open bidding on a contract to launch military GPS satellites.

Until now, all recent U.S. military launches have been conducted by ULA using the Atlas 5 rocket, which uses Russian-built engines.

However, Congress has ruled that those engines cannot be used past 2019 for launches that involve national security.

Certifying the Falcon 9 for launches gives the military other options ahead of the ban going into effect, officials said.

"Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military's resiliency," says James.

SpaceX has said it can put government and military satellites into orbit for less than $100 million per launch, compared with the approximately $160 million the Lockheed-Boeing venture reportedly charges.

United Launch Alliance was quick to respond to the announcement of the Falcon 9 certification.

"We welcome today's announcement and look forward to competing with SpaceX and other new entrants," the alliance said in a statement. "We could not be more passionate and proud of our work, our people and our record of success."

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