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Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 certified for National Security Space launches

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: SpaceX

The United States Air Force’s Program Executive Officer for Space and Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen Samuel Greaves, has approved the newly-upgraded SpaceX “Full Thrust” Falcon 9 rocket for use on National Security Space (NSS) missions. 

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been repeatedly upgraded since it first took to the skies in June of 2010. The Jan. 25 announcement by the U.S. Air Force address the latest change from the baseline configuration of the rocket to its latest iteration.

“The certification process provides a path for launch-service providers to demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify, and deliver a new launch system and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver NSS satellites to orbit,” Greaves said.  “This gives the Air Force confidence that the national security satellites will safely achieve the intended orbits with full mission capability.”

SpaceX is now eligible to receive contract awards to launch missions on behalf of the NSS. They join Colorado-based United Launch Alliance as certified launch service providers.

U.S. Air Force and SpaceX technical teams will now work together to have the Falcon 9 ferry NSS payloads to orbit.

Lt. Gen. Greaves is the final approving authority in terms of granting certification. The process that culminated with today’s announcement means that the recommendations of the Spring 2015 Independent Review Committee were considered.

Being allowed to launch payloads on behalf of the DoD is a serious subject, one which requires any organization allowed to do so to prove the launch vehicle’s design is able to be reliable and deliver critical spacecraft to orbit. Stringent requirements are in place for all potential LSPs seeking to carry out NSS missions.

Each booster must demonstrate that it has the capability to provide the required payload mass to orbit specifications, the ability to insert payloads into precise orbits – as well as a range of other necessities.

After some legal wrangling, SpaceX, in May of 2015, received approval to move forward and have the Falcon 9 actively compete under contracts through the lucrative Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

“SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency,” said the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James via a release issued at that time.


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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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