The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center confirmed on Feb. 25 that a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 launch from September 2013 will count as one of three required flights in the company's path to compete in future Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-Class missions.
Under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between the service and SpaceX, the company must perform at least three successful flights of a common launch vehicle configuration and complete a series of other technical reviews, audits, and verification tests to validate the Falcon 9's ground systems and manufacturing processes. The service is still completing analysis of two additional launches from December of last year and January of this year to determine if they meet requirements.
SpaceX is the only company with an approved plan as part of the Air Force's new-entrant process, which was designed to introduce competition into a launch market currently dominated by the United Launch Alliance. Orbital Sciences has requested that the service consider its Antares launcher, but its certification plan has not yet been approved.
The Air Force expects SpaceX to be certified to compete for launch contracts in fiscal year 2015.