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SpaceX Wants to Reuse Dragon for ISS Cargo Missions

Oct 21, 2016 05:58 AM EDT
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SpaceX successfully launches its 14th Falcon 9 rocket

For the first time, SpaceX will reuse a Dragon spacecraft for cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.

According to Benjamin Reed, director of commercial crew mission management at SpaceX, the company was planning to launch a used Dragon capsule on its 11th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) cargo mission to the space station scheduled early next year.

"We will be reflying our first Dragon capsule on CRS-11," Reed said during a presentation at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) on Oct. 13, as reported by Space News. This will allow the company to close the Dragon 1 line and focus on the development and production of a next-generation version of the spacecraft, the Dragon 2, capable of both crew and cargo missions. This new version will have greater cargo volume than the current Dragon model.

While the Dragon spacecraft is originally designed to be reusable, SpaceX's contract with NASA requires the use of a new spacecraft for every cargo mission. According to Reed, the company has been working with the space agency to prove that the spacecraft could be reused safely for additional cargo missions.

"It's a great example of the partnership we have with NASA," Reed said in a statement. "We've carefully gone through a process of proving that you can reuse various components all the way up to a whole system, and how you certify that.

According to Reed, the biggest challenge in the spacecraft's reusability would be how to prevent saltwater from entering the capsule after descending and splashing down in the ocean. "We've been working hard to update the capsule, to ensure that you don't have to worry about the seawater issue," he sad.

In addition to the current resupply contract, NASA has also awarded SpaceX with another contract (CRS-2) for additional cargo missions earlier this year, for which the company plans to use a version of the Dragon 2.

The CRS-2 missions will be using "propulsive" landings, which is when the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters instead of splashing down in the ocean. This capability will allow NASA to immediately retrieve the cargo returned by the spacecraft, and at the same time build up experience for propulsive landings for the crewed version.

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