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WASHINGTON — SpaceX has reached an agreement with the US Air Force and will drop its lawsuit against the service, the company and Pentagon announced in a joint statement Friday evening.

The two parties have "reached agreement on a path forward for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program that improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches," the statement reads.

"The Air Force also has expanded the number of competitive opportunities for launch services under the EELV program while honoring existing contractual obligations," the statement continued. "Going forward, the Air Force will conduct competitions consistent with the emergence of multiple certified providers. Per the settlement, SpaceX will dismiss its claims relating to the EELV block buy contract pending in the United States Court of Federal Claims."

The lawsuit dates back to April 25, when Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, announced his company was filing a protest against the Air Force for its decision to award a block-buy contract for 36 launches to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the only company currently certified to launch under the EELV program.

Musk decried the sole-source deal as wasteful for taxpayers and, over the past eight months, has publicly slammed the Air Force as being too close to the legacy launch company.

Friday's statement indicates that ULA's block buy contract will remain. Given how forceful SpaceX had been that the block buy was unfair, that qualifies as a win for both the legacy launch provider and the Air Force.

At the same time, the mention of "expanded" competitive opportunities and the statement that the Air Force will conduct future competitions "consistent with the emergence of multiple certified providers," it becomes clear that SpaceX got its message across: ULA can no longer count on having a monopoly on the EELV program.

The statement also said SpaceX will "work collaboratively" with a new panel, set up by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, that will review the certification process and look for ways to improve it.

In a follow-on statement, James said she was "extremely pleased" at the agreement.

"I have always been a huge proponent of competition and believe this is an important step in that direction," James said. "The Air Force is dedicated to ensuring we have the world's finest national security space architecture and a robust launch capability is at the heart of making that possible."

A spokesman for SpaceX referred queries to the joint statement. Reached for comment, a ULA spokeswoman did the same.

SpaceX expected certification to be complete before the end of 2014, but that now appears more likely to happen by midyear. James has expressed confidence the company will eventually be certified, which would allow them to launch sensitive military equipment into orbit.

Musk recently announced that his company will begin producing satellites.

Updated 1/23/15: This story has been updated with a statement from Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

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