Pentagon launches probe into certification of SpaceX rockets

Posted Feb 12, 2019 by Karen Graham
The Pentagon’s inspector general said it will begin an evaluation of the Air Force’s certification of SpaceX’s primary launch vehicles, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with certain guidelines.
Falcon 9 and 10 @IridiumComm NEXT satellites are vertical on SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in ...
Falcon 9 and 10 @IridiumComm NEXT satellites are vertical on SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The price for a launch is $62 million.
In April 2016, SpaceX got its first U.S. Air Force contract to deliver its GPS III satellite into space after its Falcon 9 rocket was certified for military space contracts. Many people might remember that the only competitor for the nearly $83 million contract was United Launch Alliance (ULA), which had pulled out of the competition.
ULA is a joint venture between top defense contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. and up until SpaceX was able to compete against them, was the sole source of launch vehicles for the military.
Under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch systems program, which began in the 1990s, the USAF is responsible for issuing contracts for military launch vehicles. At the time SpaceX broke into the military launch program, ULA was the big cat on the street.
In December 2012, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced a re-opening of the EELV-class launch vehicle market to competition beginning in 2015. "Under the new plan, the Air Force is authorized to proceed with a block buy of "up to" 36 launch cores from current monopoly vendor United Launch Alliance, while at the same time opening up another 14 cores to be purchased competitively. The new era will begin in 2015 with initial launches to be performed in 2017."
Apparently, the Air Force went ahead and certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to carry military satellites after a bitter feud between Musk and the service. After the certification of the Falcon 9, SpaceX agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging U.S. contracts for military satellite launches awarded to the ULA joint venture.
Certification now being questioned
Exactly what prompted the Pentagon to initiate a review of the SpaceX launch vehicles is not known. But here is what Michael Roark, deputy inspector general for intelligence and special program assessments, wrote in a memo addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson:
“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."
Whatever the reasons for the review, it will begin this month, the memo said and will be undertaken at the Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, California.