The “Renaissance” in Private Space Launch for Defense

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SpaceX launched the classified National Reconnaissance Office NROL-76 satellite into orbit before successfully landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center May 1. This not only marks SpaceX’s first major national security launch after brokering a deal with the U.S. Air Force to receive certification for the Falcon 9, it also heralds a historic turning point in the economics of national security space launches.

The cost of access to space has for decades been the greatest constraint for military, civilian, and commercial space missions. In recent years, new entrants into the U.S. space launch market – such as SpaceX and Blue Origin – have begun to disrupt the cost equation of civilian and commercial launches. Now, though, that disruption is entering the national security market. This “space renaissance,” as former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James calls it, could revolutionize the capabilities of U.S. military assets in space, but it will also present new threats.

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