After a lengthy dispute between Elon Musk and the U.S. Air Force, SpaceX has finally been certified for military space missions, wedging its way into what had been a tightly held monopoly by a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture.
The Air Force announced the move late Tuesday. The press release notes that the first opportunity for SpaceX to compete to provide launch services will be in June, for the GPS III satellite launch.
“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense," said the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, adding that
"SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider gives the opportunity to compete for launch services for the first time in almost a decade.
Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency."
The Air Force may not have been as enthusiastic as their press release lets on, as SpaceX had to aggressively lobby the agency, and use legal action, to open up the doors. Defense heavyweights Lockheed and Boeing called in lots of favors to see SpaceX kept out of the lucrative launch business.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk even went so far as accusing a former official of bribery.
After the despite had gone on awhile SpaceX announced in January that it had reached an agreement with the USAF for "a path forward for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program that improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches".
SpaceX, under the terms of the settlement, dismissed its claims relating to the EELV block buy contract.
The Air Force, in turn, agreed to work collaboratively with SpaceX to complete the certification process "in an efficient and expedient manner."
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said of the certification "This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch. We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well."