Space Exploration Technologies Corporation and the U.S. Air Force reached an agreement June 7 that will allow the company to compete for national security space payload contracts after it completes a certification process that will be led, at Vandenberg, by the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron.
"I'm proud of the 1 ASTS team for the role they played in pioneering this new process," said Col. Shahnaz Punjani, 30th Launch Group commander. "They helped design the roadmap to certification, and I'm confident that, as they lead related activities here at Vandenberg, they'll continue to represent Air Force space launch trailblazing at its best."
While the official agreement signing ceremony was held at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the 1 ASTS and Vandenberg SpaceX team held a local event at Space Launch Complex 4 to mark the start of the certification process.
The SLC-4 ceremony included remarks by 1 ASTS commander Lt. Col. Joseph Imwalle and 1st Lt. Jonathan Denton, 1 ASTS certification mission manager, and a tour of the new 1 ASTS administrative office in Building 730.
The inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket is scheduled to launch this year from Vandenberg. 1 ASTS will lead all launch site certification activities at the base under the authority of the Space and Missile Systems Center.
"This is an exciting time to be in the launch business," Denton said. "Commercial launch service providers like SpaceX promise to invigorate U.S. spacelift operations. This influx of fresh talent and enthusiasm should challenge the status quo and unleash greater potential for assured access to space."
The squadron will evaluate SpaceX launch systems, processes and procedures with technical oversight and approval by the 30 LCG Technical Director, Tom Stevens. Locally, SpaceX and 1 ASTS have been interacting during SpaceX launch site activation work for months in anticipation of the formal agreement being signed.
The end result of this Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle New Entrant certification process will be a formal flight worthiness determination by the SMC commander as to the capability of SpaceX to successfully launch EELV-class missions using the Falcon 9 v1.1.
Once certified, SpaceX will be permitted to compete for EELV launches and potentially help drive down the cost of space lift for the Department of Defense.