A group of U.S. representatives are seeking assurances from top administrators of NASA and the U.S. Air Force that SpaceX still can act as a launch provider for rockets carrying military payloads, such as Air Force communications satellites.
In a letter dated July 30, 14 members of Congress noted a string of recent rocket failures, including a June 28 mishap involving a failed SpaceX rocket mission that was to carry supplies to the multinational International Space Station. It noted that SpaceX is leading the investigation into that mishap.
“We have serious reservations about this approach and are concerned whether the investigation and engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps,” the congressmen wrote in a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Air Force Secretary Deborah James.
The group asked whether or not SpaceX certification as a U.S. launch provider is likely to survive the investigation, which is being conducted in cooperation with NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. It also asked if any rocket tweaks made as a result of the probe would “require a new certification and licensing” by the Air Force.
“If not, why?” the group added.
SpaceX was certified by the Air Force in May to carry military payloads into space. Previously only Centennial, Colo.-based United Launch Alliance held such a certification.
Likely by no coincidence, four of the 14 congressmen are from Colorado and five others are from Alabama, where the ULA has a rocket plant.
SpaceX also holds a NASA contract to begin shuttling astronauts to the International Space Station starting in 2017, as does Boeing.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which was involved in the June 28 mishap, is a two-stage rocket for transporting satellites or other spacecraft into orbit.
The Hawthorne-based company, controlled by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, has said a strut holding a helium tank broke loose soon after the rocket’s launch from Cape Canaveral, likely causing the rocket to disintegrate, along with a cargo capsule intended for docking with the space station.