But there's at least two rubs. The first is one a good one as far as SpaceX is concerned. Elon Musk has sold out spots on his rocket for a while. But the other side of this is that rapid and relatively cheap launch, long held up as the Holy Grail of space development because the cost per pound to launch into orbit was so high, is no longer the main goal of ORS. Now the goal is developing satellites that can be built quickly and reconfigured easily.
Here's what Peter Wegner, director of the joint office for Operationally Responsive Space, had to say in response to an email I sent asking if they would reconsider their relationship with SpaceX after the third failure to achieve orbit. He points out that the next two national security payloads for smaller launchers are going up on Minotaurs, which are modified Minuteman 2 rockets built by Orbital Sciences Corp.
"We don't have another launch scheduled with Space-X, but that is mostly due to the fact they have a full manifest and it would take quite a bit of time to get on their manifest again. Our next two launches (TacSat-3 and TacSat-4) have been manifest on Minotaur-1 and Minotaur-IV over a year now. We support the idea of entrepreneurs working to reduce the cost of space access and will eagerly contract services with them as they are available," Wegner writes.
But he makes clear that not much of the approximately $110 million currently budgeted for ORS is being spent on launch systems "since several studies have shown that is not the first problem that ORS needs to solve." First, he points out, the industry or Air Force needs to come up with satellites that can be reconfigured or built quickly: "Several launch systems have the potential to enable rapid call-up to launch; but we do not currently have satellites that can be rapidly reconfigured to meet the mission needs, integrated, launched and operated. So ORS is focusing first on solving that problem."