Rockets and Due Process

Air Force space officials are intimately following SpaceX’s? investigation, overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, into the explosion of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket back in June, said Space and Missile Systems Center boss Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves. “I have no concern, at all, with the process that is being used by SpaceX to conduct the investigation,” Greaves said, adding that the relationship with company officials is “so good that within 10 minutes” of the mishap they were forwarding the Air Force initial analysis of what went wrong. The Air Force chose not to immediately decertify SpaceX to boost national security payloads because “we don’t know what happened,” he said. SpaceX identified the failure of a structural component—which it plans to discontinue using—as a likely cause, but the Air Force is waiting to see if the full investigation reveals “a one-off sort of problem … or if it’s systemic,” Greaves said speaking at a July 31 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event on Capitol Hill. “They have the benefit of the doubt—18 successful launches ought to mean something,” he said, adding that after such a thorough certification process, “We don’t just jump off the deep end and say they’re not certified.” He dispelled the notion that SpaceX was getting “a pass” on the failure, stressing that they’re being treated “exactly like we treat [United Launch Alliance],” or any other launch provider. “There’s a process we’re following … we are remaining smart on what they are doing so that when we get the chance to make our decision, it’s an informed decision and we’re not starting from square one,” he summed.