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8 December 2010 - SpaceX Dragon Becomes First Commercially Built Spacecraft to Re-enter Atmosphere

On 8 December 2019, SpaceX launched and recovered its Dragon spacecraft.

With that feat, it became the first private company to recover a spacecraft.

Launch details

The SpaceX Dragon was launched in the morning of 8 December on a Falcon 9 booster. It was the first orbital flight for the Dragon spacecraft and only the second one for the Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA COTS program

The SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 1 was a mission paid for by NASA as part of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

This program was meant to coordinate the delivery of cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

SpaceX won Phase I of the contract, which gave them $278 million in seed money to develop the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

Permission for spacecraft re-entry

Because the spacecraft was going to re-enter into the atmosphere, SpaceX needed to obtain the necessary permits from the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. 

This license was approved on 22 November 2010, the first such license awarded to a private company.

Dragon Re-Entry

So after 2 orbits around Earth, the Dragon spacecraft started making its way back to Earth. It de-orbited and deployed it's three parachutes to slow down

About 3 hours after launch it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, about 800km west of Baja California. 

The spacecraft landed within 800m of the target landing location, well within the 60 by 20 kilometer recovery zone and was picked up about 20 minutes after splashdown.

Important milestone

The 2 successful launches for the COTS program ware instrumental in SpaceX becoming a reliable contractor to NASA.

They paved the way for future contracts and missions.


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