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Sharks welcome SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- The men and women of the 45th Space Wing could soon have a new mission partner working alongside them at Cape Canaveral AFS. 

Air Force Space Command recently approved a five-year agreement with commercial launch provider Space Exporation technologies, known as SpaceX, to allow the company to operate and launch from Space Launch Complex 40. 

"The SpaceX license agreement is a good news story for the Air Force and the Nation," said Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of AFSPC. "These types of agreements will encourage entrepreneurial space achievement which can benefit both the DoD and commercial space industries." 

Unlike government contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, SpaceX will provide other companies, both foreign and domestic, as well as government users such as NASA, with commercial rockets to launch satellites and other equipment into space. 

"We have been getting ready for commercial business for some time," said Rick Blucker, director of plans and programming for the 45th Space Wing. 

"Our national policy requires we (the DoD) facilitate commercial access to space, and SpaceX is the 45th Space Wing's first major commercial launch service provider to be accepted as a range customer," he said.

"If SpaceX is successful with meeting their price, performance, and reliability goals they have the opportunity to significantly improve our nation's capability to access space." 

When finalized, the agreement will allow SpaceX to operate at SLC 40, a former Titan IV pad deactivated since October 2005. However, the government retains the right of allowing other entities to share the pad, said Mr. Blucker. 

SpaceX will also be required to pay for all improvements, construction and maintenance involved with using SLC-40. 

According to Mr. Blucker, the first launch by SpaceX is planned for the end of 2008. Using the SpaceX Falcon 9 medium-lift rocket, their first launch will be the first demonstration fligh of the new experimental Commercial Orbital Transpor-tation System (COTS) for NASA. 

If the tests are successful, it may lead to the demonstration of capabilities NASA needs for future supply missions to the International Space Station. 

The lease will be signed by Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, 45th SW commander. "This will be a monumental agreement," said General Helms. "Existing infrastructure will be reused to provide further benefits for America's access to space."