Air Force clears way for SpaceX to launch military payloads

Air Force clears way for SpaceX to launch military payloads
© Getty Images

The Air Force cleared a second company to conduct military space launches this week, ending a monopoly held by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint Lockheed Martin and Boeing venture. 

SpaceX became the second provider of launches into space for national security payloads on Tuesday, after a two-year Air Force certification process. 

Air Force officials and lawmakers hailed the move, which they hope will drive down launch prices and end U.S. reliance on Russian-made engines. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement. 

"SpaceX's emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade," she said. "Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military's resiliency.” 

For years, ULA had a monopoly on the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program for launching sensitive payloads into space. 

SpaceX was finally able to end that monopoly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year. 

ULA's Atlas V launch system relied on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, which lawmakers said put U.S. national security at risk.  

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.) hailed the move, calling SpaceX’s certification “a win for competition.”

“Over the last 15 years, as sole-source contracts were awarded, the cost of EELV was quickly becoming unjustifiably high,” he said. 

He added, “I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies.” 

The first opportunity for SpaceX to compete for space launch services is in June, when the Air Force releases a request for GPS III launch services, the Air Force said. 

"This milestone is the culmination of a significant two-year effort on the part of the Air Force and SpaceX to execute the certification process and reintroduce competition into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program," the Air Force said. 

Certification cost more than $60 million and involved more than 150 people. The Air Force cleared a second company to conduct military space launches this week, ending a monopoly held by the United Launch Alliance, a joint Lockheed-Martin and Boeing venture.