EL SEGUNDO, Calif., June 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. have signed a cooperative research and development agreement for a new launch system.
Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is attempting to obtain certification of its Falcon 9 v1.1 launch system for national security space missions and the cooperative agreement with the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center will facilitate data exchanges while protecting proprietary and export-controlled data.
"Certifying Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles for new entrants is in keeping with the Air Force strategic intent to promote the viability of multiple domestic EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible," said Air Force Col. William Hodgkiss, launch systems director.
United Launch Alliance's Delta IV and Atlas V are the only certified launch vehicles at present capable of lifting NSS payloads into orbit.
Under the agreement, the Air Force will evaluate the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch system according to the Air Force's new entrant certification guide and also monitor at least three certification flights. Once the evaluation process is complete, the SMC commander will make the final determination whether SpaceX has the capability to successfully launch NSS missions using the Falcon 9 v1.1.
Obtaining certification, however, does not guarantee Space X will obtain launch contracts.