Air Force says it doesn’t have concerns about SpaceX’s processes as NASA launches a safety review

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5. An Air Force official said he had no concerns about the company's processes, weeks after NASA ordered a review of SpaceX and Boeing's workplace safety culture.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

A U.S. Air Force official said the service does not have concerns about SpaceX’s procedures, just weeks after NASA said it would conduct a study into the workplace safety culture at SpaceX and Boeing Co.

The Air Force has worked “hand in hand with SpaceX to review all of the design” of the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s launch enterprise systems directorate, during a call with reporters Friday.

The Air Force now relies on both Hawthorne-based SpaceX and a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. to deliver sensitive, national security satellites to orbit. SpaceX will be launching the first next-generation GPS satellite for the service Tuesday.


There are 31 operational GPS satellites currently in orbit, but this new addition will provide signal accuracy for the military that’s three times greater than what’s available now, the Air Force said Friday. It’s intended to replace a satellite that was launched in 1997 and is expected to be operational next year.

The Air Force conducts an “independent mission assurance process” for all of its launches, Bongiovi said. The service has followed development of the Falcon 9 from the earliest version of the rocket to its current upgraded capacity.

“We actually do not have a concern about their processes,” Bongiovi said, responding to a question from a reporter about the NASA safety review and whether the Air Force had similar qualms.

Last month, NASA said it would conduct a “cultural assessment study” at SpaceX and Boeing to ensure the two companies met agency requirements for workplace safety, including the “adherence to a drug-free environment.” The two companies are building capsules to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and expect to launch their first crews next year.

The Washington Post reported that the safety review was spurred by SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk’s pot smoking on a comedian’s podcast in September.


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