SpaceX Launch Certification to Get Review by Pentagon Watchdog
(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon’s inspector general said it will begin an evaluation of the Air Force’s certification of SpaceX’s primary launch vehicles, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, years after a legal fight led to a victory for the company founded by Elon Musk.
“Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” the inspector general said in a memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson sent on Monday.
The Air Force’s certification of SpaceX in 2015 allowed the company take on military payloads, bringing competition to military space launches that were being handled solely by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between top defense contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. At the time, Musk said he was getting into the business in part to end a monopoly.
The review will begin this month, the memo said, and will be undertaken at the Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, California.
The memo to Wilson was signed by Michael Roark, deputy for intelligence and special program assessments. It didn’t give a reason for what prompted the evaluation.
Dwrena Allen, a spokesperson for the Pentagon watchdog, said “This was a self-initiated project by the Office of Inspector General. It is one of the key projects in the OIG’s expanding oversight focus on the Department of Defense’s space, missile defense, and nuclear management challenges."
SpaceX officials declined to comment. Air Force spokesman Brigadier General Edward Thomas said the service didn’t have an immediate comment.
The Air Force certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to carry military satellites after a bitter feud between Musk and the service. As a result, SpaceX agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging U.S. contracts for military satellite launches awarded to the ULA joint venture.
Since the certification, SpaceX has won several competitions against ULA, including jobs to launch some of the nation’s next-generation GPS III satellites, the first of which occurred in December.
SpaceX and Boeing also compete in the market for non-military space launches. Both companies have contracts with NASA to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station. A key test for SpaceX in that effort -- the maiden flight of its Crew Dragon vehicle, without any astronauts on board -- is slated for March 2.
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