SpaceX announced Monday afternoon (in a press release that, curiously, was not on their web site as of late Tuesday morning) that they have received a commercial spacecraft reentry license from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), the first since license issued by that office:
Next month, SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.
This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only 6 nations or governmental agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.
That launch, scheduled for no earlier than December 7, is the first of three Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration missions, part of the company’s $278-million COTS award from NASA in 2007. The receipt of the license also generated a congratulatory statement from NASA, which is depending on SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, the other COTS awardee, to provide transport of cargo to (and in the case of SpaceX, from) the ISS.
The SpaceX license award came the same afternoon that Mojave-based Masten Space Systems announced signing a letter of intent with Space Florida that could lead to suborbital demonstration flights from Cape Canaveral in 2011. Masten would fly from Launch Complex 36, a former Atlas launch site that is now operated by Space Florida. According to a Florida Today report, Masten would fly a prototype of its planned future suborbital vehicle from the Cape, flying to altitudes of about 30 kilometers.