DOD to Review Air Force Certification of SpaceX Falcon Launch Vehicles

The Department of Defense has announced a review of the SpaceX Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class certification
A Falcon 9 booster touches down on the Of Course I Still Love You drone-ship on November 15, 2018 | Image credit: SpaceX

The Departement of Defense Inspector General has announced it plans to review the Air Force’s decision to award the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Heavy vehicles with the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class (EELV) certification. The review aims to determine whether the Air Force complied with the Launch Servies New Entrant Certification Guide when awarding the SpaceX vehicles with the Air Force’s highest certification.

The announcement of the review was revealed in a memorandum dated February 11, 2019, from Michael J Roark, the Deputy Inspector General of Intelligence and Special Program Assessments at the DOD. The memorandum was addressed to the Secretary of the Air Force, Commander of the Air Force Space Command, and the Auditor General of the Air Force. It is unclear if SpaceX were informed of the review prior to it being made public.

In the memorandum, Roark outlines the review stating, “Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.”

Although the timeline of the review is not yet clear, the memorandum did state that it would be performed at the Air Force’s Space and Missle Centre at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. However, the memorandum also states that additional locations may be identified during the review.

The exact intent or nature of the review is also not yet known. The review may be housekeeping to ensure the certification process is as streamlined as possible in order to better facilitate future reviews. This could be beneficial for the likely upcoming certification applications for the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan and Blue Origin’s New Glenn vehicles.

Prior to both SpaceX vehicles receiving the EELV certification, only two other companies had been awarded it: Boeing and Lockheed Martin. In 2006, the two companies consolidated their hold over the launch market forming the joint venture United Launch Alliance. The new company had an absolute monopoly on governmental contracts until SpaceX sued for the right to compete in 2014.

In January 2015, SpaceX dropped their lawsuit and received certification for its Falcon 9 rocket that same year. It stands to reason, that SpaceX dropped the lawsuit in favour of a speedy path to EELV certification. Since the then, the California-based launch provider has won six EELV contracts with $130 million in total.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.