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NASA has announced it will allow SpaceX to reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which recently took astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), and the Falcon 9 first stages as early as next year.
The announcement, while not completely unexpected, is an important step in NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) which is bringing space exploration back to U.S. soil in a way that hasn't been seen since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
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A 'bilateral modification'
A modification to the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract NASA has with SpaceX, which was published last month, allows SpaceX to reuse both the Falcon 9 first stage and Crew Dragon spacecraft starting with the second operational mission of the spacecraft, known as Post-Certification Mission (PCM) 2 or Crew-2.
The change was described as part of a “bilateral modification” that also served to formally extend the length of the Demo-2 mission from two weeks to up to 119 days, SpaceNews explains.
Though SpaceX has previously announced that their Crew Dragon capsule can be reused, the contract modification is a shift in the original agreement, as the company originally planned to use a new Crew Dragon for each of its commercial crew missions for NASA.
Cost-effective and safe
“In this case, SpaceX has proposed to reuse future Falcon 9 and/or Crew Dragon systems or components for NASA missions to the International Space Station because they believe it will be beneficial from a safety and/or cost standpoint,” NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz told Space News.
“NASA performed an in-depth review and determined that the terms of the overall contract modification were in the best interests of the government,” she explained.
Boeing, the other main company involved in NASA's CCP, will also be refurbishing their CST-100 Starliner spacecraft between missions before reusing them.
According to Schierholz, the Crew Dragon will first be reused sometime in 2021, as part of the first operational missions, Post-Certification Mission 2 (PCM-2, or Crew-2), following Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken's historic test mission to the ISS last month.