SpaceX launches supplies to space station in its first reused Dragon capsule
Successful reuse of the Dragon capsule is significant for SpaceX’s materials technology, but in general, the spacecraft reuse is less significant than that of the first-stage booster
SpaceX launched supplies to the International Space Station in a previously used Dragon spacecraft for the first time on Saturday and then landed the rocket’s first-stage booster back on Earth.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a little after 2pm from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The launch had originally been set for Thursday afternoon but was scrubbed because of weather.
The Dragon capsule for this mission was previously used in 2014 to carry supplies to the space station. For this launch, it was filled with almost 6,000 pounds of crew supplies, hardware and science research, including equipment to study neutron stars.
In preparation for the flight, the California-based space company replaced some parts on the Dragon, such as the heat shield. But the majority of the components, including the hull and thrusters, were able to be reused, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice-president of mission assurance at SpaceX.
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“The majority of this Dragon has been in space before,” he said during a pre-launch news conference last week.
About seven minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster landed upright at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Dragon spacecraft deployed about 10 minutes after launch and should arrive at the space station on Monday. The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth in July, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
Reusing a Dragon capsule is “one more piece of the puzzle” in creating a fully reusable launch system, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at the Teal Group.
In March, SpaceX achieved one of its long-time goals by using a previously flown first-stage booster to launch a commercial communications satellite and then landing that booster on a floating platform at sea.
During that same mission, the company successfully recovered the rocket’s fairing, a clamshell-like covering that protects satellites and other payloads.
Successful reuse of the Dragon capsule is significant for SpaceX’s materials technology, but in general, the spacecraft reuse is less significant than that of the booster, which required “more cutting-edge” technology to be able to land upright, Caceres said.
SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk has said the first-stage booster is the most expensive part of the rocket. Company President Gwynne Shotwell has said that launch costs could eventually decrease by 30 per cent by reusing rockets.
Saturday’s launch was SpaceX’s seventh of the year as the company increases its launch cadence. Last year, SpaceX launched a total of eight missions before a launchpad explosion that destroyed a rocket and commercial satellite grounded the company for several months.