Air Force Space Command aims to certify SpaceX as a second launch provider to boost defense payloads into space “no later than midyear,” Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Las Angeles AFB, Calif., said in a Jan. 7 statement. “Although certification was not awarded as of the end of December” as originally planned, “we recognize SpaceX for its thorough efforts in moving towards an aggressive certification goal,” Greaves added. The company is currently working with the Air Force to certify its Falcon 9 rocket to compete for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contracts, and recently lodged a complaint against the Air Force over its most recent sole-source EELV contract last year. United Launch Alliance—a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing—currently supplies all EELV boosters. “The Air Force is committed to reintroducing competition into the extremely complex [EELV] program and getting new entrants certified as quickly as possible,” said service Secretary Deborah Lee James in the joint statement. James added that she is “directing a review” of the space launch certification process to see if, and how, it can be streamlined and improved in the future.
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.