WASHINGTON — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) said March 20 that the more powerful Merlin 1D engine the company’s Falcon 9 rocket needs to launch commercial telecommunications satellites into geostationary orbit has achieved flight qualification following the completion of 28 test runs for a cumulative 1,970 seconds.

The program SpaceX conducted at its McGregor, Texas, test site included four tests at or above the 147,000 pounds of thrust and 185-second duration required for a Falcon 9 rocket launch.

“The Merlin 1D successfully performed every test throughout this extremely rigorous qualification program,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a statement. “With flight qualification now complete, we look forward to flying the first Merlin 1D engines on Falcon 9’s Flight 6 this year.”

SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket is scheduled to debut in June carrying Canada’s experimental Cassiope satellite into low Earth orbit. The launch, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, will be the sixth flight of a Falcon 9 and is considered a demonstration meant to clear the way for the upgraded Falcon 9 to launch the SES-8 telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.

SpaceX, which launched its Dragon capsule to the international space station March 1, plans to conduct a total of six launches this year.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. He was named senior staff writer in 2004, a position he held...