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January 6, 2015

USAF nears certification of new satellite launch provider

The US Air Force (USAF) is reportedly close to certifying a second company to conduct military and intelligence satellite launches into the orbit.

The US Air Force (USAF) is reportedly close to certifying a second company to conduct military and intelligence satellite launches into orbit.

US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Centre commander lieutenant general Samuel Greaves was quoted by Reuters as saying that USAF has failed to meet a December 2014 deadline for the process, but is close to certifying a new entrant.

In addition, the service announced a review of the process that is used to vet new entrants.

While Greaves withheld the name of the company, an Air Force’s top military acquisition official told the news agency in 2014 that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) would be certified.

The USAF had earlier announced plans to complete certification in December so as to enable the California-based SpaceX to compete for a National Reconnaissance Office satellite launch contract that was expected to be awarded by month-end.

USAF spokeswoman Ann Stefanek refused to disclose the expected timeframe of the announcement or the name of the company that will launch the satellite.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is currently the only certified company to launch large US military and intelligence satellites.

According to the news agency, the USAF also announced its intent to re-examine its certification process that has resulted in 79 successful launches without any failures since 1999.

"The USAF has vowed to reintroduce competition into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle programme."

USAF secretary Deborah Lee James said: "I am directing a review of our new entrant certification process by an independent team to capture the lessons learned so we can enhance competition for launch services."

Meanwhile, SpaceX did not make an immediate comment on the report.

The US Air Force said on Tuesday it was close to certifying a second company to launch military and intelligence satellites into space, and announced a review of the process used to vet new entrants.

Currently, the United Launch Alliance , a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, is the only company certified to launch large military and intelligence satellites.

Lieutenant general Samuel Greaves, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said in a statement late on Tuesday that the Air Force had missed a December deadline for certification, but added that "a new entrant is close."

Greaves did not name the company, but the Air Force’s top military acquisition official said last year she was optimistic privately held Space Exploration Technologies , or SpaceX, would be certified to carry out launches.

The Air Force previously said it hoped to complete certification in December so SpaceX could be eligible to compete for the launch of a National Reconnaissance Office satellite, a contract that was due to be awarded by Dec. 31.

No announcement has been made on which company will launch that satellite and Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek declined comment on when it will be made.

The Air Force also said it planned to re-examine its certification process, developed in response to major failures and which has resulted in 79 successful launches with no failures since 1999.

Ms James said the service was committed to reintroducing competition into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, and seek ways to streamline the process.

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