Falcon 9 Certification Delayed Due to Government Shutdown

Falcon 9 lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s efforts to get its Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle certified to carry U.S. military payloads is being delayed due to the government shutdown, Aviation Week reports.

The Aerospace Corporation, which handles much of the technical analysis for the U.S. Air Force that is required for the certification, has furloughed 2,000 of their 3,500 employees due to the budget impasse. The company is analyzing data from the Sept. 29 launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SpaceX is required to perform three successful launches of the Falcon 9 v1.1 with its new Merlin 1D engine — two of which must be consecutive – before the Air Force will consider it for certification to fly “Class A” government payloads; these are the most critical satellites that conduct missions such as missile warning and protected communications. The company must also submit to various technical reviews and audits to become certified to compete against its rival, United Launch Alliance, for government work.

Cook notes that the post-flight data review could take “several months” because of the shutdown.

Meanwhile, SpaceX asserts that despite an anomaly in restarting the upper-stage engine, the mission was a success and will be the first of the three needed for Air Force certification.

SpaceX’s certification pathway includes three successful flights of the upgraded Falcon 9 vehicle with a payload fairing, two of which must be flown consecutively, says company spokeswoman Emily Shanklin. “Our successful launch on Sept. 29 marked the first of these three flights. Second stage reignition was not part of the criteria for success because it was an internal test objective only, not a mission objective.”

It might not have been part of the criteria for success, but it no doubt gave military officials deep cause for concern. Many defense satellites are in medium to geosynchronous orbits that require second stage restarts to reach.

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