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SpaceX makes nice with U.S. Air Force, gets shot at black ops launches

Company drops sueball, will be able to shoot spy sats

Private rocket firm SpaceX has settled its feud with the US Air Force over the rights to launch national security payloads.

The company said that it would be able to compete with United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the ability to launch spy satellites.

"Going forward, the Air Force will conduct competitions consistent with the emergence of multiple certified providers," SpaceX said.

"Per the settlement, SpaceX will dismiss its claims relating to the [Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle] block buy contract pending in the United States Court of Federal Claims."

SpaceX had been protesting the EELV program since last April over claims that the process of awarding the contracts was rigged in favor of ULA. The joint Boeing-Lockheed venture had been the only private company cleared to perform launches.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been a vocal critic of the Air Force's deal with ULA, questioning whether the move was driven in large part by hiring favors between ULA and the government.

The deal also means an expansion by SpaceX of its private spaceflight program. Although the company is able to work with NASA on trips to the International Space Station, SpaceX had not previously been able to work in the lucrative black ops market of launching surveillance satellites for Uncle Sam.

Of course, in order to get those satellites up in the air, the company is going to have to get better at landing its vaunted Falcon 9 rockets. The reuseable rocket failed its most recent test to land on a floating barge earlier this month.

Musk poked fun at himself earlier this week, Tweeting that the barge would hence-forth be renamed "Just read the instructions," in a homage to the late British SF author Iain M. Banks. ®

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