NASA agreed to allow its astronauts to fly in reused Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 thrusters from SpaceX’s third launch of a crew to the International Space Station, a mission to be launched next year.
The space agency has modified its $ 2.7 billion commercial crew contract with SpaceX to allow reuse of spacecraft and rocket hardware. NASA had not previously approved the use of spacecraft and previously flown rockets on missions that bring the agency’s astronauts into orbit.
In a disclosure dated May 15 and posted on a federal government procurement website, NASA said the contract amendment allows for the extension of Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 test flight, which launched on May 30 with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, from two weeks to Up to 119 days.
The launch of Hurley and Behnken on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the first time that astronauts launched into orbit from US soil since the last flight of the space shuttle took off on July 8, 2011. .
The two-man crew docked on May 31 at the International Space Station, where they will support operations at the orbiting research complex for several months. NASA officials say the Demo-2 test flight is likely to conclude with a parachute-assisted splash in the Atlantic Ocean in August.
Once Hurley and Behnken return to Earth, NASA engineers will review Crew Dragon test flight data before formally certifying the SpaceX crew capsule design for crew operating rotation missions from and towards the space station.
SpaceX is under contract to fly six of these “post-certification missions” until the mid-2020s.
The contract amendment announced by NASA also requires SpaceX to participate in additional joint test training with US Army search and rescue teams. USA launching.
SpaceX, NASA, and military search and rescue teams conducted joint training exercises prior to the launch of Crew Dragon Demo-2. Those training sessions will continue prior to the next six Crew Dragon missions under contract with NASA.
In exchange for NASA’s new requirements, the space agency will allow SpaceX to reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 thrusters for NASA astronaut missions. NASA says SpaceX could begin reusing Crew Dragon vehicles and early Falcon 9 stages in manned launches that begin with the second post-certification mission, or Crew-2.
Crew-2 is scheduled for launch in 2021. The Crew-1 mission, SpaceX’s first operational astronaut flight, is scheduled to fly with a new Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket.
“In accordance with the public-private partnership strategy for the Commercial Crew Program, NASA specifies ‘what’ safety requirements must be met, and the industry is free to propose ‘how’ to meet those requirements,” wrote Josh Finch, a NASA spokesperson, in An email response to questions from Spaceflight Now.
“In this case, SpaceX has proposed to reuse future Falcon 9 and / or Crew Dragon components or systems for NASA missions to the International Space Station because they believe it will be beneficial from a security and / or cost point of view.” Finch wrote. “NASA conducted an in-depth review and determined that the terms of the general contract amendment were in the best interest of the government.”
According to Finch, SpaceX will propose a reuse plan for future crew missions, starting as soon as Crew-2 flight. He wrote that a specific plan has yet to be developed to propose which Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 thrusters could be reused for the Crew-2 mission and subsequent flights.
“Additionally, NASA will have to approve that plan after SpaceX proposes it,” Finch wrote.
According to Finch, the modification to SpaceX’s commercial crew contract, which was originally signed with NASA in 2014, does not include any exchange of funds.
Each of SpaceX’s operational crew’s rotational flights to the space station will carry up to four astronauts, including NASA space flyers and international partners on the space station.
NASA has assigned astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker to the Crew-1 mission. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will join American astronauts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The most recently announced launch date for the Crew-1 flight was August 30, but that could be delayed until September if the Crew Dragon’s demo-2 test flight returns to Earth in August. NASA is expected to take a month or two to review the Crew Dragon test flight data before giving the go-ahead for SpaceX’s first operational launch with astronauts.
SpaceX has reused the early stages of Falcon 9 in 37 missions, with a record of perfect success, since the launch of the first Falcon booster previously flown in 2017. SpaceX also reused Dragon’s Charge Pods up to three times in station refueling missions. space.
The first version of SpaceX’s Dragon Supply Freighter has been retired, and SpaceX plans to fly a cargo variant of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for future logistics missions to the space station. SpaceX also refers to the new generation of space station service vehicles like Dragon 2, with crew and cargo configurations.
The human-rated Dragon includes seats, crew displays, life support systems, and SuperDraco abort engines, which will be activated to push the capsule away from its rocket if it fails during launch. The SuperDracos will not fly in Dragon capsules configured for charging missions.
NASA previously approved plans to reuse Dragon 2 vehicles for cargo delivery flights to the space station. SpaceX says Dragon 2 cargo pods can fly to space station and back up to five times, an improvement
Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which is also designed to transport astronauts, will also be reused on crew missions to the space station. The Starliner lands under a parachute on the ground.
Boeing has built two Starliner spacecraft for its missions to and from the International Space Station.
But a pilotless Starliner test flight in December was unable to reach the International Space Station due to a misconfigured mission timer, causing the spacecraft to burn too much fuel after separating from its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Engineers traced the problem back to a software bug, and the Starliner spacecraft aborted its mission to the space station and returned to Earth safely.
Boeing plans a second Starliner test flight without astronauts later this year. If that goes well, the Starliner could be ready to take a crew to the space station on a demonstration mission in the spring of 2021, before starting six crew rotation operational flights under contract with NASA.
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