The Pentagon is eyeing the successful launch of Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket as a way to erode the monopoly that has held sway over US military space launches for the last dozen years.
五角大楼正将埃隆•马斯克(Elon Musk)的猎鹰重型火箭(Falcon Heavy)成功发射视为削弱过去12年主宰美国军事太空发射的垄断力量的一条途径。
SpaceX, the billionaire tech entrepreneur’s private space company, successfully returned two of three boosters used to fire its rocket into space back to earth on Tuesday, raising the prospect of cost savings that could enable the department of defence to take on riskier, cheaper launches as it seeks to defend space assets.
Deputy defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, who also became the Pentagon’s lead for space last month, hailed the launch as “encouraging” and pointed to it among latest efforts from commercial companies that are disrupting the launch market.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Mr Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, after learning of the boosters’ safe return. A third booster was not safely recovered and crashed into the sea.
“The fact that those capabilities are being delivered creates affordability and affordability spawns new space concepts,” he said.
An official at US Air Force Space Command, which Mr Shanahan visited this week, told the Financial Times that the Air Force “will use data” from Tuesday’s launch as part of its process to certify the Falcon Heavy, which could enable it for use by the US military.
美国空军太空司令部(US Air Force Space Command)的一位官员向英国《金融时报》表示，美国空军“将把周二的发射数据”用作其认证猎鹰重型火箭的过程的一部分，从而可能让它能为美国军方所用。沙纳汗本周走访了美国空军太空司令部。
Both the Pentagon and Nasa, which runs the US civilian space programme, have depended on a joint venture from Boeing and Lockheed Martin for rocket launch services since the pair initiated their United Launch Alliance in 2006.
五角大楼和负责美国民用航天计划的国家航空航天局(NASA)都依靠波音和洛克希德•马丁公司(Lockheed Martin)的一个合资企业提供火箭发射服务，这两家公司在2006年成立联合发射联盟(United Launch Alliance，简称ULA)。
“The real thing is [with] so much innovation going on with space; why would we want to be left out of it? The [Falcon Heavy] launch is a good example,” said Mr Shanahan, who also pointed to growing commercial efforts to launch smaller satellites.
Air Force officials praise SpaceX among smaller new private outfits for introducing competition that is helping to bring down launch prices.
The Pentagon has so far awarded SpaceX two launch contracts with its smaller Falcon 9 launch vehicle. SpaceX is planning to launch a test payload from the Falcon Heavy as it works towards certification.
“It can lift a lot of things; so you can say if you made a really big satellite you can put it on that,” said Mr Shanahan. “It’s good capability to have available.”