SpaceX sends recycled rocket to dock with ISS in world first

SpaceX sends recycled rocket to dock with ISS in world first

Kenneth Drake
December 16, 2017

On Dec. 15, at about 10:36 a.m. the Elon Musk-led space exploration company successfully launched almost 4,800 pounds of cargo en route to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA using the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, both of which represent the first previously used rockets utilized on a NASA supply mission.

After three minutes, the booster separated from the second stage of the rocket, while it continued to propel towards International Space Station, the boosters arced back towards the landing zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket was a SpaceX Falcon 9, and the cargo vehicle was a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Though the early days of rocket landings saw many of them topple, miss the target or blow up, SpaceX has successfully recovered 14 of its boosters this year alone. Double sonic booms thundered across the area.

I suppose you could argue that the Space Shuttles did this first, but not all of the Shuttle Launch System was reused-the orbiters were, of course, and the solid fuel rockets were re-furbished and re-used, but that big orange fuel tank at the center of the stack wasn't.

Packed in the capsule's pressurized compartment are almost 1,000 pounds of crew supplies, almost 2,900 pounds of science material, spacewalk equipment, space station hardware and computer components.

As live images showed the first stage glide down, steady and upright, from the air to the launchpad, cheers erupted at SpaceX's Hawthorne, California headquarters, where employees regularly gather to watch rocket launches.

"Quite an achievement", he said.

In previous eras, rockets and spacecraft would fly once before being discarded after their first missions.

Reusability is the future for spaceflight, according to NASA's station program manager Kirk Shireman.

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NASA's ISS program manager Kirk Shireman said rocket experts from around the agency had reviewed safety for the mission, and that re-used components were seen as no more unsafe than new ones.

Yesterday's booster recovery was the 20th for the company.

"Instead of just rebuilding the pad as it was, we wanted to modernize it", Jessica Jensen, SpaceX manager of Dragon operations in Florida. The only way to get thousands of people into space - the ultimate goal of Musk - is by drastically cutting launch costs, she said.

Notably, the mission marked SpaceX's long-awaited return to Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex-40 since the company lost a Falcon 9 in a spectacular explosion last September.

Friday's successful liftoff means SpaceX has now launched from all three of its pads - two in Florida and one in California - in the same year.

"The net result is about equivalent risk", he told reporters Monday.

The space station is down to three astronauts until Sunday's launch of three more.

SpaceX confirmed that the launch sent the Dragon into a "good orbit" and it was "on its way to the International Space Station". Once back up to full capacity, the station will be home to three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese.