SpaceX Falcon successfully launched a classified military spy satellite into orbit Monday and landed its rocket booster.
This was SpaceX’s first flight for the Department of Defense (DoD)’s National Reconnaissance Office, a customer long-pursued by the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk. The launch was delayed by one day to resolve a problem with a first-stage engine sensor.
SpaceX’s business rival United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, had previously almost cornered the market for national security-related rocket launches. SpaceX won U.S. Air Force (USAF) certification for national security space missions last year, but this was the company’s first launch.
SpaceX wants to become a major launch service provider to the DoD, which intends to launch up to 13 more military satellite in the next few years.
The DoD has previously stated that it wants ULA to compete directly against SpaceX for military and intelligence launch contracts. SpaceX once sued the USAF in federal court for the right to compete for national security missions, but now says it understands the decision in this particular case.
ULA has been using Russian-built rockets to launch military and civilian payloads into orbit. Although the Russian prototypes have a record of safety and reliability, some in Congress worry that American dependence on Russian equipment may give Russian President Vladimir Putin dangerous leverage over the American military.
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