Open Issues Need Not Halt Falcon 9 Certification

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket could earn U.S. Air Force certification to launch national security satellites even with several issues outstanding provided the company presents a mutually acceptable plan and schedule for resolving them.

The Air Force announced May 7 that it had amended its Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with SpaceX that lays out a new path to certification. The changes are based on recommendations from an independent expert committee that was tasked to review the certification process, which has taken far longer than anticipated.

Among the major certification issues identified in the panel’s report: SpaceX integrates satellites with its rockets horizontally, but the Air Force prefers vertical integration; SpaceX’s planned addition of GPS-based launch vehicle tracking; information assurance; and secure flight termination.

“The updated CRADA captures important lessons learned along the way about the process and allows the flexibility to certify SpaceX when ready, while maintaining our ‘laser focus on mission success,’” Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said in a May 7 press release.

Certification is still expected by June.