NASA Certifies Falcon 9 for Science Missions

Falcon 9 lifts off on CRS-6 mission.
Falcon 9 lifts off on CRS-6 mission.

Some good news for SpaceX, which will now be able to bid to launch NASA science missions:

NASA has formally certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch all but the agency’s most costly robotic science missions. The first mission for SpaceX will be the launch of a United States and France oceanography satellite that is scheduled for liftoff from California in July.

According to George Diller, a spokesperson from NASA, the space agency’s Launch Services Program, which manages the agency’s rocket procurements for research missions, concluded the multi-year certification on Tuesday.

This new milestone now clears the Falcon 9 to launch what NASA calls “medium-risk” science missions, a classification that includes most of the agency’s Earth observation satellites and many of its interplanetary probes.  The Falcon 9 is now certified by NASA as a “Category 2” launch vehicle.

In order to launch the most valuable spacecraft, such as the multibillion-dollar interplanetary flagship missions, NASA requires a Category 3 certification.  The Atlas 5, Delta 2 and Pegasus XL rockets operated by SpaceX rivals United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK currently meet the stringent requirements for Category 3 certification.

The certification clears the way for SpaceX to launch NASA’s Jason 3 ocean altimetry spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launch is scheduled for July 22.

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