The Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee (SAC-D) has scheduled a hearing next week on “National Security Space Launch Programs” featuring the top executives of two key companies. The hearing, scheduled for 10 am Wednesday, March 5, will include as witnesses United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Michael Gass and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, along with Christina Chaplin of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute.
The hearing comes as there’s increased pressure on the DOD to reduce launch costs. The Air Force recently reached a deal with ULA on a “block buy” of 36 rocket cores for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehcle (EELV) program, which currently includes only ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. The block buy promises to save billions of dollars, although some are skeptical of that accounting.
SpaceX, meanwhile, is seeking to win business from the EELV program with its Falcon 9 and upcoming Falcon Heavy rockets, which offer much lower prices than Atlas and Delta vehicles. Earlier this week, the Air Force announced that SpaceX’s inaugural Falcon 9 v1.1 launch last September will count towards its EELV certification, despite a problem with the relight of the rocket’s second stage after it released all its satellite payloads. The Air Force is still assessing the following two Falcon 9 v1.1 launches, which took place in December and January, but both of those appeared to take place without incident. Those launches, plus other reviews, will allow the Air Force to certify the Falcon 9 v1.1 for EELV-class launches.