NASA has modified its $2.7 billion commercial crew contract with SpaceX to allow Elon Musk’s company to reuse Falcon 9 first stages and Crew Dragon spacecraft for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
The reuse of the boosters and spacecraft will begin with the second commercial Crew Dragon flight, which will likely be launched in 2021. The first commercial mission with four astronauts aboard is scheduled to launched on Aug. 30.
In return, SpaceX has agreed to extend the ongoing Crew Dragon Demo-2 flight test from two weeks to up to 119 days. The spacecraft, currently docked to the space station, was launched with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard on May 30.
The contract modification added the requirement for SpaceX to conduct joint training with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Operations Group Detachment 3 (DET-3) for the first six commercial Crew Dragon launches.
DET-3 forces are placed on alert at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii in case Crew Dragon astronauts need to be rescued due to a mishap.
Crew Dragon and its booster’s first stage are designed for reuse. A Falcon 9 first stage landed on an offshore drone ship on Thursday after launching for the fifth time. Cargo Dragon vehicles has flow to ISS multiple times.