SpaceX may soon handle some of the US government’s highest-priority satellite missions. Bloombergreports the Space Force has certified SpaceX to launch top secret spy satellites using Falcon Heavy rockets equipped with reusable boosters. The move gives SpaceX more high-profile government missions, of course, but also promises to save federal money by reducing the costs of ferrying these satellites to orbit. The Space Force has already saved over $64 million for GPS missions by using reusable Falcon 9 rockets, Space Systems Command’s Falcon chief Walter Lauderdale said.
The Space Force issued the certification in June, but didn’t disclose the approval until now. SpaceX can carry spy satellites aboard Falcon 9 rockets, but they don’t always have the power needed for heavier payloads. The first Falcon Heavy-based launch is expected sometime between October and December, when SpaceX will deliver a National Reconnaissance Office satellite.
This could represent a significant if temporary blow to rival rocket producers. The Boeing and Lockheed-Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance still hasn’t received similar approval for a version of its Vulcan rocket using Blue Origin motors. Air Force officials are still reviewing the approach to 39 national security launches slated for fiscal 2025 through 2027. SpaceX isn’t guaranteed to win business that would otherwise go to ULA, but its earlier certification could influence any decisions.