SpaceX Awaits Certification Decision from Air Force

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WASHINGTON — Rocket maker SpaceX has turned over to the U.S. Air Force the last of the information needed for certification to launch national security missions, the service’s top space officer said Dec. 16.

Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said that the final word on certification now rests with Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

“He’ll make that decision when he’s ready,” Hyten said in an interview with SpaceNews. “All of the information has come to him now. He has to walk through and decide where he’s going to go and what he’s going to do.

“I would imagine there would be an announcement this month sometime. I think we need to make a public announcement some time because it is December and that’s the month we’ve been shooting for,” Hyten continued. “I don’t know where he’s going to come out but I can tell you SpaceX and the 150 Air Force personnel who have been working that issue have been working it night and day to try to get there. I think we’re close.”

Air Force officials have repeatedly said they want to certify Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 in time to allow SpaceX to compete for a mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation’s spy satellites. Bids for the NRO launch were due in August.

SpaceX must earn certification before it can win any Air Force launch contracts, Hyten said. But Air Force officials have long said they expect SpaceX to gain that credential.

As part of its plan to reduce its satellite launching costs and mollify critics of United Launch Alliance’s current monopoly in the national security launch market, the Air Force in 2012 ordered a large batch of rockets on a sole-source basis from ULA while setting aside an additional seven to eight missions for competition.

SpaceX is challenging ULA’s  $11 billion, sole-source contract in a lawsuit filed in federal court in April.

SpaceX already has completed three launches, submitted the required data and finished a series of 19 engineering review boards as part of the certification process, Air Force officials have said.