The president of SpaceX said the U.S. domestic space launch market has “changed dramatically” in the last two weeks as a result of an Air Force decision to award the upstart company its first military contracts. Gwynn Shotwell also said SpaceX plans to grow its nascent military launch business.
After calling the market for commercial space launches “incredibly stable, if not growing,” Shotwell said her company was not worried about how sequestration could impact the industry.
“Frankly, I think it probably helps us with the Air Force,” Shotwell said. The cost efficiencies her company has achieved for commercial launches make them a “little bit safer in the world of sequestration.”
While generally positive on the state of commercial launches, Shotwell warned that the U.S. runs the risk of falling behind international competitors.
“The U.S. has definitely been complacent, I think, on launch,” Shotwell said, specifically mentioning that China is investing heavily in space technology. “I think it’s critically important not to write the Chinese off. I think they will be the fiercest competitor here in the next five to 10 years.”
On Dec. 6, SpaceX became the first competitor to ULA to gain certification by the Air Force for EELV launches. The two launches will support the DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) and STP-2 (Space Test Program 2) missions in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Both missions plan to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk of PayPal and Tesla Motors fame, gained certification for launches under the Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-3, which is designed to bring in new companies to the EELV world.