SpaceX gets Air Force launch certification

LOS ANGELES — Rocket company SpaceX has reached a major milestone toward its goal to launch the U.S. government’s most sophisticated national security satellites.

The upstart firm, based in Hawthorne, Calif., announced Friday that the Air Force certified its Falcon 9 rocket after poring through data from three of the rocket’s successful flights that took place over the last year.

SpaceX still has more requirements to meet before it can formally compete for the multibillion-dollar program, but qualifying the three launches was the company’s biggest hurdle. It expects to satisfy the remaining requirements later this year.

Now the groundwork has been laid for SpaceX to vie for one of the world’s most lucrative space programs, called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. Previously, the Air Force had only one company that was certified for missions to launch the military’s most precious satellites into orbit.

For eight years, the Pentagon has paid Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. — operating jointly as United Launch Alliance — to launch the government’s pricey spy satellites without seeking competitive bids.

In recent months, the arrangement has been embroiled in controversy on Capitol Hill over escalating costs and the cozy partnership. A bipartisan group of seven senators also wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking for more scrutiny.

It came to a head in April when SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technology Corp., filed a bid protest in the U.S. Federal Claims Court to challenge the Air Force’s contract with United Launch Alliance. The U.S. government has recently filed a motion to dismiss the suit.

At issue is a long-term contract, which guaranteed the Air Force’s purchase of 36 rocket cores from United Launch Alliance to be used in national security launches without the possibility of competition. According to the Air Force, this bulk-buy strategy will save $4.4 billion in the long run.

SpaceX called it an “egregious” contract that will “needlessly cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”

More in Local News

Bicycle tour raises money for dialysis patients

Volunteers also shared health information and put together care packages for homeless women.

Elderly couple escape serious injuries in crash with train

The driver drove down tracks instead of a road, hitting a slow-moving train near Stanwood.

Boeing reaches out to schools

Company employees helped Everett students at recent reading and Manufacturing Day events.

5-vehicle collision sends school bus into ditch; no injuries

No students were hurt when a school bus crashed into… Continue reading

Fire crew returns early from wildfires in Northern California

Four Everett firefighters returned from battling California wildfires late Thursday… Continue reading

Theft lands former insurance salesman 50 days in jail

A former insurance salesman is expected to report to jail… Continue reading

Officials ID man shot and killed in apparent Everett robbery

Police believe the victim may have known the shooter, who drove away before the officers arrived.

Man, 60, in critical condition after Bothell crash

Police believe the driver may have been speeding when he hit a rock wall.

Missing Marysville woman found safe out of state

A Marysville senior who was reported missing in March has… Continue reading

Most Read