The Air Force is working closely with the company, also known as
SpaceX, to satisfy a series of requirements that would allow it to
compete to launch costly and sensitive U.S. military and
Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski told reporters she could not
provide a detailed comment on the SpaceX certification process since
a competition for one of those launches is already under way. A
contract award for the launch is due in December.
SpaceX was permitted to submit a bid for that specific launch, even
before it was certified, but it must meet the Air Force's
requirements to win the contract.
Pawlikowski said the Air Force is continuing to evaluate its options
for ending U.S. reliance on the Russian-built RD-180 engine that
powers one of two rockets built by a joint venture of Lockheed
Martin Corp and Boeing Co.Those two rockets, the Atlas 5 and Delta
4, are the only ones approved to launch U.S. national security
satellites, but Pawlikowski said the SpaceX rocket, which is powered
by U.S.-built engines, is part of the larger evaluation under way.
She said the outcome of the review would be announced when the
Pentagon unveils its fiscal 2016 budget early next year.
Pawlikowski said she was "pretty optimistic" that SpaceX would
eventually be certified, noting that the Air Force had already
signed a contract with SpaceX to use its Falcon 9 Heavy rocket to
launch a less sensitive satellite under the Air Force's
Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) program.
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If the company's Falcon 9 rocket is certified, it would be able to
execute the whole manifest of launches required under the Evolved
Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, she said.
SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell told a defense
conference on Saturday that her company is working closely with the
Air Force to complete certification.
"It's a very tough business. There's ton of hurdles to get through,
but we're plugging along and (the Air Force) team is plugging along
with us," she told the conference, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library in California.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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