U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) is unmoved by Air Force assurances that it is keeping close tabs on SpaceX’s rocket failure investigation. Credit: Coffman's office.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said Sept. 2 that despite assurances from the Air Force that it is keeping close tabs on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket failure investigation, he remains “extremely concerned” by what he characterized as the service’s “hands-off” approach.

“The U.S. Air Force has declined to assume any independent role in the investigation of the SpaceX failure,” Coffman said in a press release. “I remain extremely concerned that the lack of a thorough investigation will lead to future military launch mishaps.”

Coffman’s concerns echo those voiced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who has complained that NASA appears to be treating SpaceX with kid gloves following the June 28 failure, which destroyed a load of cargo bound for the International Station. NASA has denied that SpaceX is being let off easy.

Coffman, a member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, the primary House oversight committee for military space programs, has asked for an independent review of the failure.

“While the SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded on an unmanned resupply mission, many in Congress are concerned that a similar failure may occur while carrying a national security payload,” Coffman said. “Such a failure could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and seriously jeopardize our national security and warfighting ability for years.”

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX launched the June 28 mission as part its Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. As is typical for commercial missions licensed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, SpaceX is in charge of the mishap investigation.

In an Aug. 28 letter to Coffman, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the service is “closely monitoring the SpaceX anomaly resolution process to ensure we are moving forward through a rigorous and systematic process to clear Falcon 9 to flight.”

SpaceX is expected identify root causes for the failure and make the appropriate corrections this fall, she said.

The failure will not cost SpaceX its certification, earned in June, to launch U.S. national security missions, James said. “A failed mission does not automatically drive a revisit to a certification decision or a revocation of certification,” she said.

The certification officially established SpaceX as a competitor to Denver-based United Launch Alliance in the national security launch market. Many of SpaceX’s congressional critics hail from states where ULA has a presence.

Officials at Air Force Space Command and at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center have dedicated staff to the failure investigation, but because the service was not a customer in the launch it is not leading the investigation. Service officials have stressed, however, that they are closely involved.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.