SpaceX launch certification faces Pentagon review

Guidelines for the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch designs are under scrutiny.

The Pentagon is planning to initiate an investigation into the certification provided for Elon Musk's SpaceX launch to see if the US Air Force complied with the correct guidelines when awarding the certificate.

According to a memo posted on Monday (.PDF) and signed off by Michael Roark, Deputy Inspector General for Intelligence and Special Program Assessments, US officials will begin investigating the US Air Force's certification of the SpaceX Falcon launch vehicle family in February.

"Our objective is to determine whether the US Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles," Roark said.

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The evaluation will be performed at the Space and Missile Systems Center, located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo.

SpaceX, owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk, was awarded the certification required to launch military satellites in 2015.

The Falcon 9 rocket was granted the certificate after two years of discussion between the parties, and once permission was achieved, this made the company a viable alternative to the dominant player in the market, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing called the United Launch Alliance.

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A mission undertaken on the behalf of the Air Force was launched in December 2018. SpaceX successfully launched the Air Force's first Global Positioning System III space vehicle (SV) from Cape Canaveral. The satellite reached its intended orbit in just under two hours.

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An investigation into the certificate granted to SpaceX is just another problem on the company's plate. In January, SpaceX revealed what it called a "necessary cutback" by eradicating 10 percent of its workforce. The layoffs were considered a step required to meet "extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead."

ZDNet has reached out to SpaceX and will update if we hear back. 

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