The Air Force is Open to Doing Space Launches the SpaceX Way

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After successfully launching and landing a reused rocket last week, SpaceX is poised to become a major competitor for the United States Air Force’s business. A week after the landing, the head of the Air Force Space Command announced that the military division is open to paying for rides on reused SpaceX rockets.

This week at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, General John “Jay” Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, said he’s interested in using SpaceX’s services.

“I would be comfortable if we were to fly on a reused booster,” Raymond told reporters Thursday. “They’ve proven they can do it. … It’s going to get us to lower cost.”

Reusing rockets has been a long-standing goal for the private spaceflight company. In preparation for the eventual goal, SpaceX has successfully landed its first stage rockets nine times on either ground pads or ocean-based droneships — three and six times, respectively. Experts inside and outside SpaceX say that reusing rockets is a crucial part of making spaceflight cheaper in the long run. And if the company wants to take people to Mars, reusable rockets will need to become routine.

The first part of this goal became a reality on March 30, when SpaceX successfully launched and landed a reused Falcon 9 first stage rocket. The rocket’s previous mission took place in April 2016, when it carried a capsule into orbit to resupply the International Space Station. SpaceX refurbished the rocket for its historic reuse, cutting mission costs considerably and making the launch provider a much more attractive option to military officials.

Up to this point, the U.S. Air Force has primarily employed the Lockheed Martin and Boeing partnership, United Launch Alliance, to put strategic satellites into orbit.

But with recent comments from Major General David Thompson of U.S.A.F. Space Command suggesting that space will soon become a “war fighting domain,” it looks like the military division is seeking out ways to diversify its launch providers and find ways to cut costs for space missions.

At the Space Symposium, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell proclaimed a bright future for the company in light of the recent Falcon 9 reuse.

“I hope you’re all thinking about your tickets to Mars,” Shotwell told the gathered crowd. And with this recent development, the future she predicts might not be far off.