[Via Satellite 07-13-2015] The Institute for Defense Analyses has completed its Broad Area Review (BAR) of the United States Air Force Space Command’s (AFSPC) launch vehicle certification process. The independent review examined the process and provided specific recommendations to apply lessons learned from the unexpectedly lengthy certification of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for medium-weight National Security Space (NSS) missions.
The report recommends the Air Force should adopt a four-phase approach to mission assurance — provider eligibility, launch system qualification, launch system certification, and flight readiness — with the level of launch provider requirements appropriate to the phase. The BAR states that Air Force certification requirements being completed entirely prior to the provider’s ability to compete for a launch award were unnecessarily restrictive and difficult. The Air Force has eased those restrictions by allowing the Certifying Official, usually the Space and Missile System Center (SMC) commander, to determine if a new entrant is qualified to compete for a launch contract based upon the entrant’s ability to complete certification in time to meet the scheduled launch.
Both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have requested certification for new launch vehicles, namely the Falcon Heavy for SpaceX and the Vulcan for ULA. The recommendations are expected to make the certification process smoother for both companies as well as for other potential launch providers. AFSPC will stand up an implementation team to review the report’s recommendations. The team will move toward an implementation phase as part of the normal AFSPC administrative and programing processes for affected mission areas.
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