Following another successful rocket launch to refuel the International Space Station, NASA has certified SpaceX for medium risk missions, mostly involving low-orbit satellites and interplanetary probes.
That means SpaceX is one category away from being able to bid on all NASA missions. United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK are currently the only two rocket providers allowed to bid on Category 3, “high risk” missions.
SpaceX has already proven the Falcon 9 rocket to be one of the best and cheapest solutions for Earth missions. This new certification comes just in time for the Jason 3 mission, a co-op between the US and France to measure sea roughness.
The contract was originally won by SpaceX in 2012 for $82 million (£52 million), but ran into some minor delays due to a change on the Falcon 9. SpaceX added Version 1.1, which added Merlin engines amongst other changes to the rocket.
It is the fourth satellite launched by France and the US, in order to map the topography of the ocean. NASA claims that by mapping out the roughness of the ocean it will gain more information about potential collision points for boats and underwater life.
SpaceX is one of the only space companies to not suffer setbacks from NASA’s cargo missions, which were opened up to several companies including Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences.
NASA intends to open more of its missions up to Category 1 and 2 rocket makers, allowing for more competition in bidding for contracts. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has argued due to the monopoly United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK has on the space industry, it makes it hard for competition to grow, even when some of the rockets are cheaper and more advanced than United and Orbital’s own.