NASA greenlights SpaceX's Falcon 9 for less risky missions

It may have so far failed at the promise of a reusable space rocket, but things are still looking good for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. While it won't be carrying humans any time soon, it has at least been certified by NASA for Category 2 space missions. These missions are described as "medium risk", as they only involve carrying satellites and less critical and less expensive cargo. It may not be the Category 3 that SpaceX ultimately wants, but it's still a big step forward in boosting credibility and clout.

It has always been SpaceX's stated and ambitious goal to make space travel more economical by developing rockets that don't just simply crash and burn on each use. So far, the Falcon 9's landing tests have exactly been that: crashy. They aren't miserable failures, except for the first sea landing and each one is getting closer to the dream.

Given how far it is from that dream, however, it might not be surprising that NASA hasn't yet granted it the coveted Category 3 certification, which would have allowed it to ferry humans across the stars. For now, SpaceX has to settle for this. Especially after it took three long years to get certified at all. In 2012, it bagged a contract to carry a Jason 3 satellite, a joint project with the between the US and France.

The project, which cost a total of $358 million, will finally see its completion on July 22, when the Jason 3-carrying Falcon 9 launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The satellite will be used for measuring wave heights, sea levels, and other data critical for weather research by bouncing off signals from an orbital height of 830 miles above.