SpaceX Falcon Heavy created history through its inaugural launch on Tuesday by becoming the world’s most powerful rocket. While the launch was successful and everyone at SpaceX was elated, the next big milestone for the privately held space flights company will be a military clearance that will enable it to bid on and win lucrative U.S. government contracts.
SpaceX has a long way to go before it will garner the much needed certification from the U.S. Air Force and it has already taken its first step towards that goal by gaining a booking for launch of a military test payload. The process for gaining the clearance from the U.S. Air Force is a long one albeit it could take as many as 14 launches before the Falcon Heavy is cleared.
As per the guidelines published by the U.S. Air Force in 2011, there are many variables to consider for rockets such as the Falcon Heavy. According to the process detailed in the United States Air Force Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide, a “risk-based approach” is being followed. There are four certification options based on the maturity of the launch system and as many as 14 flights are required to evaluate all the variables. There are cases wherein just two flights can also suffice for a certification.
The Air Force will undertake technical evaluation as well as detailed analysis of a number of factors including launch vehicle design and a review of the company’s manufacturing and system engineering processes. It also would analyze data from the rocket’s flight history.
Elon Musk said he is no position to predict how many launches it will take before Air Force will certify the Falcon Heavy for military launches.
This vehicle, he said, “opens up a whole new class of payloads” and “it’s up to customers what they want to launch.”
Currently the U.S. government launches expensive spy satellites using United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 rocket, but the Pentagon will definitely welcome a new player so as to reduce costs of each launch. Further, Falcon Heavy is much more capable than the Delta 4 owing to double the thrust that the SpaceX rocket provides and anywhere between fourth to tenth of the cost.