FAA to SpaceX: You May Now Re-enter the Atmosphere


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

18 Replies to “FAA to SpaceX: You May Now Re-enter the Atmosphere”

  1. “What will go up — hopefully on December 7 — can now come back down.”
    I guess the right statement would be: “can legally now come back down” 😛

  2. NOW its getting exciting! A challenge to Lockheed Martin’s Orion to see who gets manned orbital ratings first?

  3. “We’re going to ride up front, you guys ride in the trunk with the mail.”
    “Put your shower cap on”
    “Ok everybody ready?”
    ” Yes ?”
    ” lets go! ”
    Sounds like a 3rd world space program. I hope all my tax dollars stick with NASA.The ” Dragon “sound like something made by Drax Industries from James Bond? Meanwhile Jaws is biting the center fuel tank.
    What about the Jules Vern or the Soyous/Progress compared to this dragon does it do it cheaper? or better? Heck the space shuttle hulled most of the ISS up hill, what is wrong with it?

  4. Is there some international treaty that allows the FAA license to extend outside the boundaries of the USA? What happens if the thing re-enters over Canada – do they get a ticket?

  5. The answer is simple:
    “An FAA license is required for any launch or reentry, or the operation of any launch or reentry site, as carried out by U.S. citizens anywhere in the world, or by any individual or entity within the United States.”

    ” * When an FAA licensed space activity is scheduled, FAA safety inspectors will attend even if it takes place outside the United States.
    * The FAA has the authority to suspend or revoke any license or issue fines when a commercial space operator is not in compliance with statutory or regulatory requirements.”

    Hail the power of bureaucracy!

    ‘The ” Dragon “sound like something made by Drax Industries from James Bond?’
    Right cuz every spaceship in the US must be named Enterprise. Better?

    ‘What about the Jules Vern or the Soyous/Progress compared to this dragon does it do it cheaper? or better? ‘
    Oh you definitely should give you precious tax money to Vladimir or even better, to us (here in the EU). What a great mind.

  6. @Tripleclean
    Every Space Shuttle launch consumes 700 million dollars For that amount of money you could build the liner Queen Mary 2 twice.
    The US is running out of money. So there is urgent need for cheaper solutions to bring stuff into space. It is sad that the Space Shuttle program ends. But on the other hand, when the Shuttle program was launched it was to create a cost-effective reusable space craft. The craft was reusable, but not cost-effective, its 133 launches consumed some 93 billion dollars.
    Now there is hope that Space-X will do the job safely, reliably and more cost-effectively.
    You should not underestimate the abilities and skilfulness of people in third world countries. They have many highly educated and well-trained dedicated folks.

  7. @Tripleclean: tell me when you return to planet Earth. I’ll explain then why SpaceX and not the Shuttle…

  8. Paul: you beat me to it, when I was figuring out my password for this site.

    I thought space was not owned by any country (Outer Space Treaty anyone).

  9. Hey, LacaLaca, leave Vladimir out of this discussion. It is not his fault that his predecessors were good engineers in the 60s :-p

  10. It should be “One small step for commercial space flight, one giant leap for Space X ” LOL

  11. The primary difference between Dragon and Orion is the main hatch. Orion is more like heritage Apollo design; necked down smaller hatch on the top with main parachute stowed around it. When parachute deploys, it pulls out up and away.

    Dragon is different. It has full size Space station hatch at the top. It is nice, no adapter needed to dock to Space station. But there is no room for main parachute to fit in there. Instead, it is packed at the lower edge compartment of the capsule. When it deploys, it will put torque on the capsule. The force will tend to flip the capsult. I hope they know what they are doing.

  12. Getting a landing fine or landing fee, seems a short distance in between.

    [Let me see: “fee”-“fie”-“fine”; yup.]

    Emilio, that explains the … big-ass … nose. They have done chute landing tests, seemed to work out well. But coming from orbit adds risk…

  13. Down here in Florida we have been going to space since the space game started. and going to space is expensive. With $93 billion for a soup to nuts STS program doesn’t sound like so much money when our B-2 bombers cost $2B a piece(we own about 30), not counting weps/men/fuel ect BTW I like having the B-2 it a great nuke 1st strike weapon and lets us sleep well @ night flip side people that want to do us harm don’t sleep well until they get big forever sleep . We just got done doing some $800B road project which we still havent figured out,
    OR look at a little park we have here in florida called Disney World it’s gross revenue is about $35B a year steady for last 10 yeas ($400B since Young & Crippen)so the money is still there.
    My point why should an American go to space in a fiat when he owns an Escalade.

    The reason for ships named Enterprise, they have fought in some of the greatest naval battles in the history of the United States. These ships were manned by Sailors committed to victory under the harshest of conditions. The Sailors onboard Enterprise are part of that proud tradition and heritage of the men who have gone before them and live up to their legacy with honor, courage and commitment.

  14. Found this on a NASA page: To replace a Shuttle launch to the ISS with Russian Equipment you would need 2 soyuz+ (@$325M) & 5 progress(@$800M) making a STS launch value $1.2B. Also I have been nosing around and a Jules Vern thing cost $300M plus the French Booster $130M since it says the ATV thing hauls X2 progress you need 2.5 X $430M & still have to buy tickets on the soyuz to move your peeps (@$325) so again were around the $1.2B #

  15. “The reason for ships named Enterprise, they have fought in some of the greatest naval battles in the history of the United States.”

    Well, OV-101 was named after a ship that *never* fought in any naval battles. Its namesake explored new worlds, sought out new life and new civilizations…… 😀

  16. Even with a fleet of these ‘Escalade’s, you are still only getting an average four and a half trips per year, Tripleclean. An under-performance which isn’t going to be solved by throwing money at the problem.
    When the ‘Escalade’ owns you and dictates how often you travel, it’s time for a new vehicle.

  17. “The reason for ships named Enterprise, they have fought in some of the greatest naval battles in the history of the United States.”

    Yeah, sure…
    “Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter, was originally to be named Constitution (in honor of the U.S. Constitution’s Bicentennial). However, viewers of the popular TV Science Fiction show Star Trek started a write-in campaign urging the White House to rename the vehicle to Enterprise.”
    (from here: http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/kscpao/shuttle/resources/orbiters/enterprise.html )
    Same goes for VSS Enterprise. 🙂

    FIAT or Escalade: its more like having a motorhome or a compact. You dont go to the mall or work with a motorhome, do you?

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