WASHINGTON — Sunday’s explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket headed to resupply the International Space Station has cast into stark relief one of the challenges facing the Air Force as it moves to a competitive military launch environment — what happens if a military launch fails, and forces a competitive company to pause work?
It is a concern first brought up publicly at April’s National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs by Gen. John Hyten, the head of US Air Force Space Command. Hyten warned that a failed launch is inevitable and argued that the service needs to figure out how to handle the industrial base issues that will come with it.
Hyten pointed out that a military launch failure in the past would cause the provider to be shut down for however long it took to find the issue and make sure it was corrected,
That’s unpleasant but doable when there is only one company providing the launch. After all, the United Launch Alliance could turn towards its Delta IV system if the Atlas V failed, and vice-versa.
But in a competitive market, shutting down a company for a significant period of time could be a major blow to their cash flow, one which could even cause the company to simply close up shop. Imagine if Sunday’s explosion occurred with a military payload on board and SpaceX was then barred from entering the Falcon 9 for military launches for the next 18 months while the investigation unfolds.