Congressmen Want Answers on Falcon 9 Certification

A bi-partisan group of 14 Congressmen has sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James raises questions about the certification of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in the wake of the launch failure last month.

The representatives questioned whether it made sense for SpaceX to lead the investigation of its own accident, which resulted in a loss of a Dragon cargo ship headed for the International Space Station. The FAA is providing oversight of the investigation.

“We have serious reservations about this approach and are concerned whether the investigation and engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps,” the legislators wrote.

In the letter, the representatives also posed the following questions:

In light of the recent launch failure, will the Falcon 9 be decertified for military launch and if not, what external formal reviews, methodologies. and requirements will SpaceX have to meet to return the Falcon 9 to flight? Please ensure you list the specific roles and oversight responsibilities of NASA and the Air Force. Will this investigation be held to the same standards as a failure during a military launch?

Given the continual evolution and uncertified upgrades to the Falcon 9 rocket configuration to date, as well as the potential courses of action to ?x the anomaly which caused the failure, will any future changes made to the Falcon 9 rocket require a new certification and licensing? If not, why?

Nine of the 14 sigers comes from two states where SpaceX rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has a strong presence. The letter was signed by Colorado’s four Republican congressmen — Ken Buck, Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton — and five representatives from Alabama: Robert Aderholt (R), Mo Brooks (R), Bradley Byrne (R), Martha Roby (R) and Terry Sewell (D). ULA is headquartered in Colorado and builds rockets in Alabama.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) also signed the letter. SpaceX rival Orbital ATK has a major presence in both states.

The letter was also signed by Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA).