SpaceX Gets First Commercial Reentry License

SpaceX Gets First Commercial Reentry License

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the first commercial reentry license to SpaceX, which plans to use its Dragon spacecraft not only to take cargo and crew to the International Space Station, but back to Earth as well. A test to demonstrate that capability is planned for next month.

The FAA was given regulatory authority over commercial reentry, in addition to its existing authority to regulate launches, in the 1998 Commercial Space Act (P.L. 105-303) At the time, Lockheed Martin was developing a commercial single-stage-to-orbit vehicle called Venturestar as a successor to the space shuttle. NASA partnered with Lockheed Martin on the program, agreeing to invest about $1 billion in research and development (the NASA program was designated X-33). Technical hurdles proved difficult to overcome and Lockheed Martin declined to contine funding the program on its own once the NASA cap was reached. The exact amount Lockheed Martin paid into the program is unclear.

Now, a decade later, another company is attempting to achieve the same fundamental goal — commercial transportation of people to and from orbit — but with more traditional technology, a rocket and a capsule. SpaceX plans to use its Falcon 9 rocket, which succeeded in its first test launch last summer. A second launch is scheduled for December. That launch will test the launch and reentry of the Dragon capsule. It is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA issued a press release praising the action by the FAA. The agency is anxious for SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to succeed in their attempts to develop commercial cargo services for the ISS. Russia’s Progress spacecraft and the space shuttle have been the mainstays of cargo delivery to ISS throughout its lifetime. With the shuttle program ending in 2011, the commercial cargo program is critical to ISS operations.

In addition to Russia’s Progress, Europe and Japan have spacecraft, ATV and HTV respectively, that can take cargo to the ISS. None of those three can survive reentry, however. To date, the space shuttle has been the only way to bring cargo back to Earth, except for a very small amount that can be accommodated in Russia’s Soyuz capsule when it brings crews home.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.