The US Air Force has announced that SpaceX is now certified to launch military and spy satellites. That means that the United Launch Alliance, a joint effort between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, no longer holds the monopoly on national security space missions.
The news, announced late yesterday, comes after two long years of negotiations between SpaceX and the US military. Over that time the company has managed to soundly demonstrate its abilities to put things in space — something the Air Force has now recognised. "SpaceX's emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement.
This is something we can all be happy about too, because the breaking of a monopoly means competition — and that means saving tax-payer money. "Ultimately, leverage of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military's resiliency," added Deborah Lee James in her statement. For some perspective, Bloomberg reports that SpaceX plans to launch government satellites for around $US100 million aboard its Falcon 9 craft, while United Launch Alliance charges $US160 million or more for the same service using its Atlas V rocket.
In other words, contracts seems to SpaceX's for the taking. And we can perhaps expect to see the company taking on these kinds of missions soon: the Air Force will be issuing a request for GPS III launch services as early as June. SpaceX will no doubt clamour to lend a hand, but it will probably be a while before it's actually putting the satellites into space. [Bloomberg, Reuters, US Air Force]