Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies has completed a key step in the certification process required to finalize any deal to launch U.S. military satellites.
The Hawthorne, Calif., company said on Friday that the Air Force has concluded that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle has completed the three successful flights necessary for certification.
SpaceX says it’s already allowed to compete for the government’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program missions. But it can’t actually seal a contract until it’s fully certified. The company said Friday it expects that to happen later this year.
Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, has argued forcefully that the government needs to allow greater competition for such launches. In late April, the private space flight company lodged an official complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, protesting a single-source contract awarded to United Launch Alliance.
The joint rocket venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing is currently the only organization certified to bid for the Department of Defense satellite missions.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.