Reusable Rockets Are in the Air Force’s Future

Colorado Springs, Colo.—The Air Force is confident it will eventually employ reusable rockets for national security space missions, Gen. Jay Raymond said Thursday at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I would be comfortable with flying with a reused booster,” said Raymond, chief of Air Force Space Command, at a press briefing. “They’ve proven they can do it,” he said, referring to SpaceX’s history-making March 30 relaunch of a recovered Falcon 9 booster rocket. “We’d make sure that we can do it safely,” Raymond added, “but I’m pretty [sure] we’ll get comfortable with doing that.” When asked if recycled rockets could be used for launches as soon as the current phase 1A of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, Raymond was unwilling to commit to a timetable but said “I’m open to it.” The primary reason for the shift is making launches more affordable. SpaceX said this week that it saved more than half the cost of a new rocket by refurbishing its recovered Falcon 9 booster. “It’s going to get us to lower cost,” Raymond confirmed. “The industry is going to go this way,” he said, and “I don’t think we can say we won’t follow suit.” Source selection for the next EELV launch contract is due in June, with draft RFPs for 12 more launches due out in two batches before the end of the year.