The US Air Force's (USAF) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to obtain certification to use a new Vulcan launch vehicle in National Security Space (NSS) missions.

The CRADA will facilitate data exchanges and protects proprietary and export-controlled data, it will be in force until all non-recurring design validation activities for Vulcan are complete, Los Angeles Air Force Base said in a statement.

Under the terms of the agreement, the USAF will carry out Vulcan's evaluation according to the Air Force’s New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG).

SMC and ULA will evaluate flight history, vehicle design, reliability, process maturity, safety systems, manufacturing and operations, systems engineering, risk management and launch facilities.

Space and Missile Systems Center commander lieutenant general Samuel Greaves said: “The certification process provides a path for launch-service providers to demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify, and deliver a new launch system and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver NSS satellites to orbit.

“This process ensures that we continue to have assured access to space.”

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Additionally, SMC will monitor at least two certification flights to meet the flight history requirements set out in the NECG.

ULA will provide the US Government with information about the design and testing of the vehicle during its development.

"This process ensures that we continue to have assured access to space."

Upon completion of portions of the non-recurring validation, the SMC commander may make a determination to grant certification.

SMC said in a statement that it intends to enter into additional CRADAs with SpaceX for their Falcon Heavy rocket and with Orbital-ATK for their next generation launcher.

Currently, ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V, and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Upgrade are the only certified launch vehicles for sending NSS payloads into orbit.

Image: SMC commander lieutenant general Samuel Greaves and ULA president and CEO sign a CRADA for the certification of Vulcan launch system. Photo: courtesy of ULA.