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Report: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket certified to fly NASA missions
by Doug G. Ware
Washington (UPI) May 16, 2015

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

After three years of waiting, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has finally been certified to fly medium-level NASA missions into space, reports said Saturday.

The space administration formally signed off on the firm's Falcon 9 rocket as a Category 2 launch vehicle to carry "medium risk" payloads, like satellites and less expensive probes, the reports said.

On Saturday NASA spokesperson George Diller told SpaceFlightNow the administration's Launch Services Program signed off on the certification earlier this week.

The certification means the Falcon 9 rocket can carry any NASA science mission into space, except the agency's most expensive robotic missions, which require Category 3 certification. The first launch is scheduled for July at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA has not yet announced the rocket's certification.

The July launch will reportedly put a joint U.S.-French oceanography satellite, called the Jason 3, into orbit to measure ocean roughness.

It has taken NASA three years to certify the Falcon 9 as a Category 2 vehicle. In 2012, SpaceX -- short for Space Exploration Technologies -- won an $82 million contract to deliver the jointly-funded project to space.

NASA requires a launch vehicle to reach Category 3 certification -- like the the Atlas 5 and Delta 2 from United Launch Alliance and the Pegasus XL from Orbital ATK.

The NASA certification clears the way for the Falcon 9 rocket to win more NASA contracts, although just one other mission is currently scheduled for SpaceX -- a 2017 Florida launch of a planet-searching satellite called TESS.

The U.S. Air Force may also complete certification as early as June for the Falcon 9 to launch national security satellites.

SpaceX and NASA have some common goals in the exploration of Mars. The firm's CEO, Elon Musk, has previously expressed ideas for the colonization of the Red Planet and said last year it hopes to fly humans there by 2026 -- 10 years sooner than NASA's expectation of doing so.

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