Why SpaceX Is Critical for U.S. Space Independence

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The geopolitical tensions involving Ukraine and Russia are having a negative effect for an America that is almost entirely reliant on Russian cooperation for its space endeavors.

Enter space travel company SpaceX, which is working to change that, and quickly.

The U.S.'s means of launching rockets that carry satellites into space and its ability to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station need Russian cooperation or are buttressed by Russian technology. That cooperation is in jeopardy if you believe statements released by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who threatened to ban all sales to the U.S. of RD-180 engines that are intended for use in military launches. These are critical rocket components.

SpaceX has executed nine successful flights of its Falcon 9 launch system with 50 missions currently contracted at an approximate value of $5 billion. It has met the U.S. Air Force's certification requirement of three successful launches and expects to achieve full certification by year's end.

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This certification is critical. It would allow SpaceX to compete for involvement in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program (EELV), which is intended to facilitate access to space for the Air Force and Department of Defense, among other government entities. Currently the EELV program is led entirely by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT).

The ULA relies heavily on its Atlas 5 rocket as the primary mover of heavy satellites. These rockets are powered exclusively by Russian RD-180 engines, of which there are only 16 in the U.S. for launch until more can be procured. Not only can SpaceX remedy this problem with its all-American-made Falcon 9 rockets, but can do so at a greatly reduced cost compared with ULA’s monopoly.

As SpaceX founder Elon Musk said at a Senate hearing, SpaceX can facilitate launches for less than $100 million. To give that figure some context: ULA’s average price per launch sits at $380 million, an astoundingly high amount in comparison.

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