US private space company SpaceX has been certified by the Pentagon Space Force to launch top-secret spy satellites on a Falcon Heavy rocket. This will allow Elon Musk's company to gain a temporary advantage over the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture, which had a monopoly on launching US Department of Defense satellites.
The United States Air Force is considering certification from the United Launch Alliance, which proposes that the Pentagon launch satellites on a Vulcan rocket with a new engine made by Blue Origin. ULA plans to conduct a test launch in December. The new engine will replace the RD-180, which has proven its reliability but has already caused controversy in the United States against the backdrop of hostilities in Ukraine.
The SpaceX certification allows the recyclable first-stage side boosters to be used in critical national security launches. Delivering Department of Defense satellites requires significant capacity that exceeds the capabilities of the Falcon 9.
The Space Force notes that the recovery, repair and launch of SpaceX rockets is a well-established process.
The first classified mission to launch a national security spacecraft using a Falcon Heavy is scheduled for October to December. During the launch, a device will be delivered into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, which develops and controls spy satellites.
To date, SpaceX has flown more than 100 Falcon 9 missions with reusable first stages.
Falcon Heavy is a super-heavy launch vehicle with reusable first stage and side boosters. With a mass of more than 1.42 million kg and a height of 70 m, the rocket has a carrying capacity of 63.8 thousand kg.