A memorandum issued by the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of Defense reveals that they will begin a subject evaluation on the US Air Force’s (USAF) certification of SpaceX’s Falcon Launch Vehicle this month.
Review of Falcon Heavy Certification
In a memo [PDF] first reported by Bloomberg, the OIG indicated it was interested in reviewing whether the USAF complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide, though they did not specify what triggered the review.
“We will perform the evaluation at the Space and Missile Systems Center, a subordinate unit of Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. We may identify additional locations during the evaluation,” the memo states.
The USAF certified SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket last year after the company’s successful test flight of the rocket while also announcing that it had awarded the company the contract to carry the USAF Space Command-52 Satellite.
Dwrena Allen, a spokesperson for the Inspector General’s office told Bloomberg, “This was a self-initiated project by the Office of Inspector General. It is one of the key projects in the OIG’s expanding oversight focus on the Department of Defense’s space, missile defense, and nuclear management challenges.”
Competition with Boeing and Lockheed-Martin
SpaceX’s ambitions to carry military payloads puts it in direct competition with United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint operation of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin which had a monopoly on commercial launches of military equipment until SpaceX’s initial 2015 USAF certification allowed them to carry military payloads.
Elon Musk said that breaking up this monopoly was a major goal for SpaceX. SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket was certified to carry military hardware after SpaceX dropped its lawsuit against the USAF over its awarding of contracts to ULA.
No one from SpaceX, USAF, or ULA has commented on the development.
Since then, SpaceX has won six competitive bids against ULA, including carrying the USAF's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle into orbit and launches for the GPS-III satellite, the first of which occurred in December.
Boeing and SpaceX are also in competition for the contract to ferry astronauts into space, with SpaceX’s Dragon Crew capsule scheduled for an unmanned test flight beginning on March 2nd, with the unmanned test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew capsule slated for later this year.