SpaceX has won certification from Space and Missile Systems Center. This carries enormous import for the international launch industry, for the Pentagon, the Air Force and the Intelligence Community.
It’s not that Musk’s SpaceX is going to win deals tomorrow from the current national security launch monopoly, the United Launch Alliance. It’s that Musk has proven to many of the world’s most demanding acquisition experts and systems engineers that a commercial company can do rocket science to the same standards as ULA’s Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
What are the stakes? National security launches can take billion-dollar payloads that perform crucial military and intelligence work into space. Lose one to an exploding rocket and you not only have lost more than $1.25 billion — including the cost of launch — but you’ve also lost the capability, the time, the money and then you must fork over even more money to replace what was lost.
A Senate Armed Services Committee staffer put it this way, talking about disruptive effects of companies like SpaceX that don’t use the traditional Pentagon acquisition system: “SpaceX is a great case study in how this can work in the future. A non-traditional company can be created from nothing and disrupt an established market.”
The military and national security launch segment is estimated at about $70 billion through 2030 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It is the largest in a market that also includes civilian and commercial contracts, such as work SpaceX does for NASA.
SpaceX plans to launch government satellites for less than $100 million per Falcon 9 mission, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, told a U.S. House of Representatives sub-committee in March.
United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed venture, charges $160 million or more for the comparably sized Atlas V spacecraft, which uses a Russian-made RD-180 engine, said Marco Caceres, director of space studies with Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant.