SpaceX Still Awaiting Return to Flight for USAF Missions

Though the SpaceX Falcon 9 upgrade was recently certified for use in national security space launches and the company is still able to be awarded NSS missions, the company has not yet earned “mission assurance return to flight” status following the Falcon 9 rocket explosion in June, according to the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. The upgrade version of the Falcon, which was already in process in June and was not prompted or necessitated by the mission loss, is taller and has additional thrust, increased fuel/oxidizer capacity, enhanced avionics, and structural improvements, an SMC spokeswoman told Air Force Magazine. The mishap did not affect the certification status of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch System, and SpaceX was cleared under “safety return to flight” criteria to launch from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., in December, allowing them to launch a history-making commercial mission Dec. 21, said the spokeswoman. However, the company has not yet earned “mission assurance return to flight” status, which is required for USAF-supported launches. SMC is doing an independent assessment that is slated for completion early this year, at which time a recommendation will be provided to SMC Commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves for approval. SpaceX is one of two launch providers that can be awarded national security space launch missions.