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SpaceX can now launch military and spy satellites with its Falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX can now launch military and spy satellites with its Falcon 9 rocket

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The US Air Force has certified SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to launch military and spy satellites, according to Reuters. Currently, the control of those launches is dominated by the United Launch Alliance, a Boeing and Lockheed Martin consortium.

Elon Musk and SpaceX spent two years and more than $60 million to acquire the certification. The company will now compete for about one-third of these launches, as it apparently won't be able to launch the largest satellites until its bigger rocket — the Falcon Heavy — is built, tested, and certified on its own.

The heated battle between SpaceX and the ULA gets hotter

The battle between SpaceX and the ULA was heated long before today's certification. Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president, criticized the cost of the ULA's launches in front of Congress in March. "I don’t know how to build a $400 million rocket," she said. "Rather than [ask] how am I less expensive than ULA, I don’t understand how ULA is as expensive as they are." In January, SpaceX settled a lawsuit against the Air Force that argued the ULA held a monopoly on the market.

Another criticism SpaceX has parroted is that the ULA typically relies on Russian-sourced engines for its rockets, something that Congress says it won't allow past 2019. SpaceX, on the other hand, builds almost all of its Falcon 9 from scratch in the United States.

The two companies are also essentially competing for the next International Space Station resupply contract that will be awarded in September, though Boeing and Lockheed Martin have submitted separate proposals. SpaceX and Boeing are also racing to complete the tests of their crewed spacecraft after they were awarded a split of NASA's "commercial crew" contract last year. One of the two companies will be the first to bring astronauts to space in an American spacecraft since the shuttle was retired in 2011.