SpaceX’s second crewed mission with NASA reused parts from previous flights.

SpaceX’s second crewed mission with NASA reused parts from previous flights.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched its third crewed mission on April 23, sending four astronauts to the International Space Station.

The mission was part of a busy stretch for the Hawthorne-based company, which last week launched another batch of 60 Starlink satellites and received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy them at lower orbits.


In addition, the aerospace giant reached an agreement with the Port of Long Beach to use a marine terminal as a West Coast base of operations for the recovery of rocket components returning to Earth.


SpaceX was also due to bring four other Space Station astronauts back to Earth last week. As of press time, the capsule returning the crew that SpaceX had carried to the ISS in November was expected to make a landing in the Atlantic Ocean on May 1.


The company made history with its April 23 crewed launch, the second official crew rotation mission that the company has undertaken in partnership with NASA.


For the launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., SpaceX used a rocket booster that had powered the November crewed launch, and the capsule carrying the astronauts previously carried crew members in the company’s flight test to the space station last year.


SpaceX regularly reuses rocket boosters and other parts when deploying satellites, but this is the first time the company launched a crewed mission using parts recovered from previous flights.


“This is another important milestone for NASA, SpaceX, and our international partners,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk in a statement.


The launch came just a week after NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a lunar landing system for upcoming missions to the moon that the agency is planning as part of its Artemis program.

 
“We’re thrilled to be a part of advancing human spaceflight and looking forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the moon and Mars, and helping make humanity a space-
faring civilization and a multiplanet species one day,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a statement.


SpaceX is under contract to perform at least four more missions with NASA to and from the space station.


The company has launched missions at a record-breaking clip to start the year. The mission to the space station was SpaceX’s first crewed launch of the year, but its 11th mission overall, and the company completed another launch less than a week later on April 29.


The April 29 mission lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and deployed 60 satellites in service of the company’s Starlink program.


SpaceX plans to deploy constellations of thousands of satellites in service of a global broadband network that the company is beta testing in parts of North America and the United Kingdom.

 
The initiative got a boost April 27, when the Federal Communications Commission approved a request from SpaceX to deploy a portion of these satellites in a lower orbit than previously authorized.


The approval came over the objections of rival satellite operators Viasat Inc., Kepler Communications Inc. and Kuiper Systems — the latter a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., which is planning a similar satellite-based broadband network.


SpaceX has recently found itself at odds with Amazon and rocket manufacturer Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. SpaceX beat out a team led by Blue Origin to develop NASA’s lunar lander, prompting the Washington-based aerospace company to file a complaint with the Government Accountability Office objecting to the space agency’s decision-making process.


SpaceX’s latest contract with NASA covers development of the lander system and a crewed demonstration mission that will land the first woman on the moon.

 
The company plans to use its new Starship spacecraft for the landing. The massive Starship is a reusable spacecraft designed for interplanetary space travel. In recent months, the company has been conducting prototype flight tests at its launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.


Closer to home, the company received a sublease agreement April 26 from the Port of Long Beach to use a marine terminal formerly occupied by rocket launch services provider Sea Launch. SpaceX is set to take over the facility May 1.

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