(BREAKING DEFENSE) GEOINT: In news sure to rock the launch industry, the mighty United Launch Alliance today failed to be named as the company launching the X-37B space plane. Instead, Elon Musk’s SpaceX will carry it for the first time, marking what is believed to be the company’s heaviest national security launch to date.
The Air Force announced this evening — after the markets closed — that SpaceX would carry Boeing’s X-37B spaceplane into orbit “later this year.” What’s really interesting about that is that it takes about two years to build a Falcon 9 launcher so the contract was issued some time ago.
An industry source noted that SpaceX is “kicking major butt” with this win, but raised questions about how much risk has increased with the move to SpaceX.
“While SpaceX, and potentially other firms, are bringing competition and lowering the cost of access to space, isn’t our national policy of assured access to Space about more than cost? The Atlas V’s reliability is second-to-none,” the source noted. “SpaceX is kicking major butt but Falcon’s reliability is nowhere near Atlas. The AF decision on X-37 represents a major shift in risk tolerance.”
Pull it apart and this the comment refers to ULA’s remarkable string of 61 succesful Atlas launches, a record SpaceX cannot come close to. As Breaking D readers know, SpaceX had a major failure in September last year when a Falcon 9 undergoing engine testing exploded on the pad at Cape Canaveral.