Falcon 9 Receives NASA Category 3 Rating to Carry Most Complex Science Missions

The NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission will measure changes in how mass is redistributed within and among Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and ice sheets, as well as within Earth itself. GRACE-FO is sharing its ride to orbit with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites as part of a commercial rideshare agreement. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has certified as a Category 3 launch vehicle. Category 3 launch vehicles are certified to support NASA’s highest cost and most complex scientific missions. The following statement is from SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell:

“LSP Category 3 certification is a major achievement for the Falcon 9 team and represents another key milestone in our close partnership with NASA. We are honored to have the opportunity to provide cost-effective and reliable launch services to the country’s most critical scientific payloads.’

The process of designating launch vehicles as Category 3 is designed to assure the highest practical probability of success. Falcon 9 has completed over 60 missions, including the NASA LSP missions Jason-3 and TESS.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Congratulations SpaceX!

  • therealdmt

    I find this an interesting situation — NASA took 8 1/2 years after first flight to fully certify (well, almost fully — no RTGs yet) a rocket that they themselves sponsored the development of. Now, considering that 2 payloads were lost completely and another was delivered to an insufficient orbit (due, in part, to nasa’s own conservative safety rules), it can be argued that this amount of time wasn’t entirely unjustified for NASA’s highest value payloads.

    However, the Air Force has been flying missions on Falcon 9s for a few years now (certified since spring of 2015). The Air Force has also already certified the Falcon Heavy and is sponsoring it’s second (or third, depending on launch order) flight to quickly increase flight experience for the rocket.

    Of course, the Falcons wouldn’t even exist without NASA, but, with NASA taking so long to [almost] completely certify the Falcon 9 and having no planned use whatsoever at this point for America’s own Falcon Heavy — the most powerful rocket in the world – , it makes one wonder how long it will take them to embrace BFR.

    I can almost imagine a scene I read described once somewhere of the first Orion/SLS/LOP-G/Lander mission finally returning NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the late 2020s, with the landing and first steps well-recorded by a gaggle of about 50 journalists and cameramen waiting for them on the surface in a BFS…