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Weapons

Pentagon OIG evaluating US Air Force certification of SpaceX Falcon launch vehicles

13 February 2019

Key Points

  • The Pentagon's Office of Inspector General is evaluating whether the US Air Force followed a critical guide for certifying SpaceX rockets
  • This guide was to serve as a process for qualifying new rockets for Pentagon use

The Pentagon Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announced on 11 February that it is evaluating whether the US Air Force (USAF) complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying Space Exploration Technology Corp's (SpaceX's) Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets for military use.The Pentagon inspector general is investigating the process that went into the US Air Force certifying SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for national security launches. (SpaceX)The Pentagon inspector general is investigating the process that went into the US Air Force certifying SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for national security launches. (SpaceX)

The OIG said it will perform the evaluation at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (AFSMC), the service's space acquisition branch, and may identify additional locations during the evaluation. New entrants are working toward certifying their launch vehicle capabilities so that they may be allowed to compete for future Pentagon launches.

In the early 2010s, when the guide was developed, Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) was the only provider of Pentagon Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions. These are the Pentagon's largest missions.

USAF spokesman Major William Russell on 12 February deferred a request for comment to the OIG. SpaceX did not return a request for comment.

Pentagon OIG spokesperson Dwrena Allen said on 12 February that this evaluation is a self-initiated project by the office. It is one of the major project's in the OIG's expanding oversight focus on the Pentagon's space, missile defence, and nuclear management challenges. Allen said self-initiated means that the OIG's subject matter experts decided to conduct the evaluation based on the experience of its subject matter experts.

In 2011 the USAF, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) implemented a co-ordinated strategy to certify new entrants to provide launch capability on the Pentagon's EELV-class rockets. To execute this strategy, the USAF developed this guide to serve as a risk-based approach that AFSMC could use to certify the launch vehicle capabilities of potential new entrant providers.

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