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What will go up — hopefully on December 7 — can now come back down. The US Federal Aviation Administration has granted the first-ever commercial license to SpaceX for a spaceship to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere from orbit. The commercial space company has an all-important test flight of the Dragon capsule launching on its Falcon 9 rocket, and it will be the first attempt by a non-governmental entity to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit.
It is also the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. NASA is hoping SpaceX will be able to make at least 12 flights to carry cargo to and from the station; and if all goes well in that capacity, the Dragon may one day bring astronauts up to space and back home again.
“Congratulations to the SpaceX team for receiving the Federal Aviation Administration’s first-ever commercial license to reenter a spacecraft from Earth orbit,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a statement. “With this license in hand, SpaceX can proceed with its launch of the Dragon capsule. The flight of Dragon will be an important step toward commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station. NASA wishes SpaceX every success with the launch.”
The Dragon spacecraft is made up of a pressurized capsule and unpressurized “trunk” used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members.
In June, SpaceX conducted the first successful fight test of Falcon 9 with a “dummy” Dragon spacecraft. There will be three test flights before launching any real cargo to the ISS. Cargo delivery will enable SpaceX to make up to $1.6 billion.
The FAA license is valid for 1 year, and is subject to renewal if all goes well.
For more information: SpaceX