The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, as part of the company’s effort to certify its Falcon 9 v1.1 Launch System for National Security Space (NSS) missions. This cooperative agreement facilitates data exchanges and protects proprietary and export-controlled data. The CRADA will be in effect until all certification activities are complete.
A CRADA enables the Air Force to evaluate the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch system according to the Air Force’s New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG). As part of the evaluation, SMC and SpaceX will look at the Falcon 9 v1.1′s flight history, vehicle design, reliability, process maturity, safety systems, manufacturing and operations, systems engineering, risk management and launch facilities.
SMC will monitor at least three certification flights to meet the flight history requirements outlined in the NECG. Once the evaluation process is complete, the SMC commander will make the final determination whether SpaceX has the capability to successfully launch NSS missions using the Falcon 9 v1.1. SMC anticipates entering into additional CRADAs with SpaceX to evaluate its Falcon Heavy rocket and with Orbital Sciences for its Antares launch vehicle.
“Certifying Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle’s for new entrants is in keeping with the Air Force strategic intent to promote the viability of multiple domestic EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible,” said Col. William Hodgkiss, Launch Systems director.
Currently, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV and Atlas V are the only certified launch vehicles capable of lifting NSS payloads — such as the GPS satellites — into orbit. The addition of multiple certified launch vehicle providers bolsters assured access to space by providing more options for the warfighter to place needed capabilities on orbit. While certification does not guarantee a contract award, it does enable a company to compete for launch contracts. Those contracts could be awarded as early as Fiscal Year 2015 with launch services provided as early as Fiscal Year 2017.