[UPDATED with SpaceX comment] WASHINGTON: For the first time in a decade, the Air Force has opened its primary space launch program to competition. That’s something startup rocket company SpaceX and Congress have pushed for vigorously. It’s also a long-anticipated blow for the United Space Alliance — formed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin – which has monopolized the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program since its inception. Now it’s up to SpaceX to convince a skeptical Air Force it should be certified as safe and reliable to launch a costly national security satellite.
Here’s the official Air Force statement from Capt. Erika Yepsen:
“On 15 July 2014, the Air Force released a Request for Proposal (RFP) to industry for the competitive procurement of a National Security Space (NSS) mission to be launched in 2016. This is the first Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) competitive action in over a decade, and a significant milestone in the Air Force’s efforts to bring competition into the EELV program, consistent with Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall’s direction to ‘reintroduce a competitive procurement environment.'”
“Competition among certified launch providers will encourage innovation and continued cost savings, while ensuring the Air Force will continue its focus on mission success. The Air Force looks forward to awarding this contract to a qualified offeror, thus maximizing the efficiencies of Space Launch while working to retain strict adherence to quality and mission assurance standards.”
[UPDATED: SpaceX offered us this exuberant comment:
“Opening up more National Security Space missions to competition is a step in the right direction and SpaceX welcomes this news,” said spokesman John Taylor. “SpaceX and the Air Force expect to complete the certification process later this year. If allowed to compete for EELV business, SpaceX will provide the nation with efficient and highly reliable launch services, while saving taxpayers billions of dollars, a goal that everyone should fully support.”]