U.S. Air Force and SpaceX agree on EELV settlement
Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX ) long wait for a decision as to whether-or-not the company’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket can carry out missions on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program – might be drawing to a close. Announced on Jan. 23, 2015 the agreement will see the Hawthorne, California-based firm working with the U.S. Air Force to certify the F9 v1.1 to carry out missions that, until now, had been the sole domain of United Launch Alliance.
Whereas in the past, SpaceX had complained that the DoD had been slow to approve the Falcon 9 to carry classified and military payloads into the black – it now appears that the Air Force will be working to speed up the process. This could be in part due to SpaceX’s competitor announcing that it will be moving from a menu consisting of two boosters – to just one – the Next Generation Launch System or “NGLS.”
SpaceX noted in a statement posted on the company’s website: This collaborative effort will inform the SECAF directed review of the new entrant certification process.
The USAF has stated that it will honor all contracts that it currently has with ULA. This recent announcement appears to suggest that the back-and-forth legal tug of war that has taken place over the course of the last few months.
In April of 2014, SpaceX issued a lawsuit against the USAF for a block-buy carried out with ULA where the USAF purchased 36 booster cores from the company that was formed in 2006 from components of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin. SpaceX issued the suit after Russia’s military actions in the Crimea drew attention to the RD-180 rocket engines used on ULA’s Atlas V family of boosters. SpaceX’s suit saw a temporary injunction against the import of the RD-180, which was eventually overturned.
For its part of SpaceX has agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it issued in the United States Court of Federal Claims under this most recent arrangement. The U.S. Air Force will, in turn, conduct competitive reviews of boosters that have been submitted by multiple launch service providers with certified launch vehicles. It is possible that by 2019, there will be two boosters used to deliver payloads to an array of orbital destinations, ULA’s NGLS – and SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.