Crew Dragon

NASA modified SpaceX contract to allow the reuse of previously-flown Falcon 9 rockets

NASA modified SpaceX contract to allow the reuse of previously-flown Falcon 9 rockets

Featured Image Source: Bill Ingalls / NASA

SpaceX is a leader in aerospace innovation. The company has designed and manufactured some of the world’s most advanced rockets, capable of launching payload and returning from space to be reused.  Aerospace companies use a rocket once, SpaceX engineers developed a rocket recovery system to reuse some parts of the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. The 229-feet-tall rocket is the most flown operational rocket in the United States, it has flown 85 times.

Falcon’s nine Merlin 1D engines are powered by a combination of rocket-grade kerosene, known as RP-1, and liquid oxygen, LOX. It is capable of producing over 1.7 million pounds of thrust as it lifts off through Earth’s atmosphere. In the vacuum of space, it produces over 1.8 million pounds of thrust.  The rocket’s second stage, which is the top part that propels the payload or spacecraft in space, is powered by a single Merlin engine, it can carry 25 tons of payload to low Earth orbit.

SpaceX’s rocket recovery system consists of the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster conducting controlled vertical landings. The rocket can flawlessly land both on the ground and autonomous drone ships at sea to be reused again. Engineers truly introduced a great innovation to the aerospace industry. The company aims to one day accomplish developing a rocket that can be as reusable as airplanes. For now, SpaceX’s reusability goal is to re-fly a rocket 10 times, they are halfway to reaching that milestone.  A couple of Falcon 9 first-stage boosters have re-flown 5 times. Previously flown Falcon 9 boosters are mostly used for internal missions, though customers can book a previously-flown booster for a cheaper price. Overall, SpaceX has safely returned orbital-class rockets 45 times and 31 of those rockets have been reused.

Last month, on May 30, SpaceX conducted its first crewed flight to the International Space Station under a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program which is returning human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. The successful mission, referred to as Demo-2, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center with two brave NASA Astronauts aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft, atop a new Falcon 9 rocket.



According to a recent contract  modification, NASA upgraded its contract with SpaceX to allow the use of previously-flown Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft for future missions. The contract details that “NASA plans to issue task orders for Post-Certification Missions (PCM) to and from the ISS [International Space Station] that include ground, launch, lifeboat, on-orbit, return and recovery operations. The minimum quantity of missions to be ordered is two (2) and the maximum potential quantity of missions which may be ordered is six (6).”

The contract's modification reads:

“The purpose of this bilateral modification is to extend the Demo-2 flight from two weeks to up to 119 days and add the requirement for 45th Operations Group Detachment-3 (DET-3) Joint test training for PCM-1 [Post-Certification Mission] through PCM-6 in exchange for allowing reuse of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Crew Dragon spacecraft beginning with PCM-2.”

The 45th Space Wing is a United States Space Force team assigned to Space Operations Command, stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. They will participate during astronaut deployment missions for training purposes.

The contract modification grants permission for SpaceX to use previously flown spacecraft after their Post-Certification Mission 1, which is expected after Crew-1 conducts a successful mission which could occur towards the end of this year. Spacecraft reusability significantly reduces the cost of spaceflight. If SpaceX continues to reliably conduct re-flights of orbital-class rockets and eventually carries astronauts to space aboard used spacecraft, it will completely revolutionize spaceflight.

SpaceX announced software engineers will host a question-and-answer session today, June 6, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. PDT. Via the social platform Reddit, linked below.



About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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