SpaceX Lands Five More Cargo Missions to ISS in NASA Award

 

5 More Credit: NASA

5 More
Credit: NASA

SpaceX has picked up NASA orders for five more commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station, according to an article in Space News. The agreement, which was signed in December, bring the total number of Dragon missions to ISS under the original CRS-1 contract to 20. The original order called for 12 flights, but SpaceX was awarded an additional three missions last year, as NASA repeatedly delayed the CRS-2 contract awards. Sic have been successfully completed thus far, with the seventh having failed spectacularly in the skies over Cape Canaveral last June.

The newly awarded missions, which will begin with CRS-16 in FY 2018 and continue through FY 2019, should mark the closeout of the original CRS-1 contracts. SpaceX, like fellow winners Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada, is guaranteed a minimum of 6 missions under CRS-2. A NASA launch graphic also shows a single unassigned “future cargo” flight in FY 2019, which would presumably be awarded to Orbital ATK, given the four SpaceX flights just added.

SpaceX is also guaranteed a minimum of 2 awards under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, a number which does not include two test flights, the second of which will have crew on-board, and are expected to begin next year.

As the missions progress, it will be interesting to observe the evolution in the Dragon’s configuration, as well as its flight profile, including landing. In public statements, NASA has been generally receptive to SpaceX’s ambitions regarding eventual powered landings for Dragon, and it is all but certain that the path will begin with SuperDraco equipped cargo variants returning from ISS. Perhaps on one of the missions just added.

From a different standpoint, the significance of the newly awarded cargo missions to ISS, is that each brings with it nearly ideal circumstances for recovering Falcon 9 first stages. The NASA resupply missions, while requiring a northeast trajectory to reach the Station’s 51.6 degree orbital inclination, are not particularly taxing on the Falcon 9 booster itself. Unless NASA begins shipping gold bars to ISS, the limited cargo volume inside each Dragon spacecraft means there is little chance that the overall mass being boosted will approach the Falcon’s LEO lift capacity, leaving ample propellant for landings which may become all but routine by that point.

 

 

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