Private rocket company SpaceX of Hawthorne has moved a giant step closer towards its goal of launching rockets for the U.S. military.

Space Exploration Technology Corp., or SpaceX, announced Friday that it has won U.S. Air Force certification of its Falcon 9 rocket. Certification is the most significant prerequisite for companies seeking to bid on billions of dollars in Air Force launch contracts.

SpaceX must still fulfill more requirements before it gets final clearance to compete for the Air Force launch program; the company said it expects to satisfy those requirements later this year.

Winning the right to bid for Air Force launches is viewed as a major stepping stone to bidding on the most coveted U.S. launch program: the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, which has a federal budget allocation this year of $64 billion. Currently, the only qualified bidder is the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk to commercialize space travel through the launch of rockets and spacecraft.

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