SpaceX has been officially certified by NASA to launch medium-risk science missions through the company's Falcon 9 rocket, starting with an oceanography satellite to be deployed in July.

According to NASA spokesperson George Diller, the agency's Launch Services Program finished its multiyear certification clearing the Falcon 9 rocket to launch all but NASA's most expensive science missions. With the certification, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket earns a "Category 2" rating, leaving it in charge of most of NASA's interplanetary probes and Earth observation satellites. For flagship missions, a rocket will need Category 3 certification.

The process of certifying the Falcon 9 began in 2012 when SpaceX landed an $82-million contract for launching the Jason 3 mission, a joint project between France and the United States with the aim of measuring roughness out at sea. The company had originally bid to use an older Falcon 9 rocket but switched to an upgraded version. This delayed certification for a bit for SpaceX as engineers were forced to redo parts of paperwork, including engineering, process and management audits of the company.

Set to launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 22, the Jason 3 mission will be using a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket to deploy its 1,124-pound spacecraft 830 miles above the planet and into orbit. Once in position, the satellite will be activating a radar altimeter, bouncing signals off oceans to determine sea level rise, wave height, and other measures necessary for forecasting weather and aiding climate change research and oceanography.

This will be the second time that a Falcon 9 rocket will be launching from Vandenberg, where satellites are usually deployed from. The first one was in September 2013.

After Jason 3, Space X and its Falcon 9 rocket will be launching the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, from Cape Canaveral in August 2017. TESS will be exploring space hunting worlds around other stars in the universe.

Aside from deploying satellites, SpaceX has successfully carried out resupply missions to the International Space Station, although the company won its contract through the space station program, not the usual certifications for science missions.

After NASA, the U.S. Air Force is also expected to reach the end of a similar certification process to formally approve use of SpaceX's rockets to launch national security satellites. According to guidelines, a rocket must meet certification requirements first before being eligible to win a launch contract.

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