Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)

Launch Vehicle Certification Process Poses Significant Challenges for New Entrants

Posted by Doug Messier on February 8, 2013, at 4:21 pm

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

New entrants hoping to break ULA’s monopoly on national security space (NSS) launches face a number of obstacles in getting their launch vehicles certified, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Perhaps the biggest challenge: the U.S. Air Force considers almost everything it launches into space to be its most critical payloads (Class A), requiring the services of proven rockets like ULA’s Atlas V or Delta IV. Military officials have yet to figure out how to re-classify some of these payloads as less critical (Class B, C and D), thus allowing them to be launched on vehicles with fewer flights under their belts.

This lack of opportunity to prove their launch vehicles is a significant issue for the four companies hoping to compete for NSS launches: SpaceX with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets; Orbital Sciences Corporation with Antares; Lockheed Martin with Athena III; and ATK with Liberty II.

The GAO says that Air Force officials are working to address this issue, but major obstacles remain.

Read more: Launch Vehicle Certification Process Poses Significant Challenges for New Entrants | Parabolic Arc.

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