Air Force certifies SpaceX to bid for military space missions

Making peace with US Air Force and dropping charges against the agency has paid off for SpaceX. Its Falcon 9 rocket has finally been certified, giving the company the right to compete for national security launches. Elon Musk's space corp has passed every requirement set by the Air Force, after a couple of years (and a few months of delay), lots of paperwork and tests. According to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, this certification allows more than one provider to compete for military launches, which is expected to cost the branch $70 billion until 2030, for the first time in around a decade. "Ultimately, leverage of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military's resiliency," she said in a statement.

If you recall, this all started when the armed service awarded an exclusive contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture. The Air Force did make a handful of launches available for bidding, but Elon Musk sued the Air Force for the right to compete for more. He accused ULA of bribing an AF official with a lucrative VP position to get that solo contract and argued that the exclusivity will cost too much taxpayer money.

Now that SpaceX has been certified, it might even take over the the projects originally meant for ULA beyond 2019. See, the US Congress banned the use of Russian engines for national security launches beyond that year due to the country's military actions in the Ukraine. That means the ULA's Atlas 5 rocket, which is equipped with Russian-built RD-180 engines, has to retire in a few years' time. The company doesn't expect its next-gen rocket, the Vulcan, to be certified until 2022, whereas SpaceX is hoping the Falcon Heavy gains certification by 2017. Musk and his team will get the first chance to bid for a national security mission as early as this June, wherein the winner will have to ferry additional Global Positioning System III satellites to space.