SpaceX is a leader in aerospace innovation. The company has designed and manufactures the world’s most advanced rockets, capable of launching payloads to orbit and returning from space with propulsive landings in order to be reused. In 2020 NASA upgraded its contract with SpaceX to allow the use of previously-flown Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon spacecraft. To date, SpaceX has launched 151 missions, landed 113 orbital-class rockets, and reused first-stage boosters in its fleet 91 times. The most a particular booster has flown is 12 times. SpaceX has already launched multiple crew and cargo missions atop previously-flown boosters; the first crewed flight launched by a flight-proven rocket took place in April 2021 (Crew-2 mission). NASA also accepted the use of a previously-flown Falcon 9 to launch NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in November 2021 and the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission in December 2021.
NASA plans to continue to support the use of flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets. The agency modified a contract on April 6, stating plans to switch a new booster for a reused one to launch the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite. The project is a collaboration between Canada, the United Kingdom, and France. The SWOT satellite is designed to monitor Earth’s oceans and lakes to detect the effects of climate change.
Related news: NASA has amended the launch contract for the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission. It will now fly on a flight-proven Falcon 9 booster rather than a new one.https://t.co/TXzSszTrA8 https://t.co/hGmVwk45fZ— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) April 8, 2022
NASA signed a contract with SpaceX in 2016 to launch the SWOT mission for $112 million in 2021, however, it was not launched and a new date for the mission had not been officially established. SpaceX now plans to launch the SWOT mission sometime in November from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Launching with a previously-flown rocket reduces the cost of spaceflight. NASA representatives have favored the reuse of Falcon 9’s first-stage booster because the company has proven it is reliable and safe. "Even though I was always excited about utilizing flown SpaceX boosters on principle and also the impact on mission cost, I have changed my opinion about them slightly: I now PREFER previously used boosters over totally new ones for most science applications. #FlyAndLearn," said NASA associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen, after SpaceX launched the Axiom Space AX-1 crew mission to the International Space Station on April 8 with a previously-flown rocket (video below).
Ok, @SpaceX - this was one of the best looking booster landings I have ever seen, ranking all the way up there with the 1st ever booster landing, the 1st #FalconHeavy, and the emotional #S6MF landing I attended. The two camera shots and lighting was amazing. @elonmusk #Ax1 https://t.co/5POetW4saj— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) April 8, 2022
Flight-proven!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 8, 2022
Featured Image Source: SpaceX