Pentagon: Rocket explosion shows need for space launch options

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The Pentagon said on Monday that the explosion of a rocket launched by SpaceX over the weekend demonstrated the Pentagon’s need for two companies with the capability to launch national security payloads into space. 

“It think it underscores the reason that we’ve been adamant about maintaining assured access to space through the use of two independent launch capabilities,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters at a briefing. 

{mosads}The Falcon 9 rocket, which was carrying a spacecraft filled with 4,000 pounds of supplies and a new docking part to the International Space Station, exploded about two minutes after liftoff from Florida on Sunday. 

SpaceX recently became certified to compete for military space launches along with United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint Lockheed-Martin and Boeing venture which uses rockets with Russian-made engines. 

Congress passed legislation last year — outlined in Section 1608 of the the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act — to prohibit the Pentagon from awarding contracts involving Russian-made engines, following Moscow’s invasion of Crimea.

The Pentagon argues that if “strictly applied,” the law would curtail its access to the engines and ULA rockets, creating a multi-year gap in its ability to launch the bulk of its payloads into space. 

The Pentagon has submitted a request to amend the law, to allow contractors to use the Russian rocket engines when performing launches if the contractor had fully paid for the engines or entered into a contract before Feb. 1, 2014. 

“We believe that section 1608 of the NDAA needs to be amended,” Warren added. 

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and a former space shuttle crew member, planned to meet with SpaceX and NASA officials on Monday. 

“We would be remiss to underestimate the gravity of the situation right now,” he said in a statement before the meeting. 

Nelson noted that SpaceX has made seven previous successful flights to the International Space Station for NASA. 

The statement accompanying Nelson’s quotes noted that the failure came after two previous failed shipments to the space station. In April, a Russian cargo ship was lost during reentry, and in October, another supply ship was destroyed after liftoff. 

“Are we nearing a cliff where the safety of astronauts aboard the International Space Station could be jeopardized by a lack of supplies?” the statement said. 

“What caused a SpaceX resupply rocket to explode yesterday shortly after takeoff? And how long will it be before America can once again safely launch astronauts into space?” it said. 

Tags Bill Nelson Boeing Lockheed Martin Rocket launch SpaceX United Launch Alliance

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