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Fri Nov 9, 2018, 09:27 PM

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Certified to Launch NASA's Most Precious Science Missions


By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer | November 9, 2018 07:15am ET

"LSP Category 3 certification is a major achievement for the Falcon 9 team and represents another key milestone in our close partnership with NASA," SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. "We are honored to have the opportunity to provide cost-effective and reliable launch services to the country’s most critical scientific payloads." [See the Evolution of SpaceX's Rockets in Pictures]

The LSP certification ladder only goes up to Category 3, which is reserved for the most dependable launchers. These rockets are expected to have a demonstrated reliability of 90 to 95 percent, according to LSP officials.

For comparison, Category 2 vehicles — the level attained by the Falcon 9 in 2015 — are expected to ace their missions 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Only Category 3 rockets can launch the priciest, most important, most complex NASA missions — projects like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars rover Curiosity and the James Webb Space Telescope. (Hubble launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April of 1990, Curiosity flew atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in November of 2011 and Webb will ride an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket in March 2021.)

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