SpaceX’s CRS-11 launch on Saturday was a success, bringing a Dragon spacecraft loaded down with nearly 6,000 lbs of supplies and research equipment on board to orbit. The twist was that SpaceX already sent this Dragon capsule up to resupply the International Space Station once before – back in September 2014, when it carried cargo to the ISS prior to being recovered and refurbished post-mission.
The successful relaunch of a recycled Dragon is another historic milestone for SpaceX, which is aiming to reuse various parts of its launch and spacecraft equipment in order to help lower the cost of getting stuff to space. This is key to its aim of making launching a lucrative and profitable business, and also to it achieving its goal of flying missions, including crewed operations, to Mars.
After SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (not a reused one, this time) delivered the Dragon to orbit, it decoupled from the craft about 10 minutes after the original liftoff, and then deployed its solar wings to harvest energy for the rest of its trip to the ISS.
The Dragon will attempt to dock with the ISS around 36 hours from launch, when space station crew will attempt to capture the craft using the facility’s 57.7-foot Canadian-made robotic arm. If this Dragon completes the rest of its mission as planned, it’ll be recovered, refurbished and hopefully reused in a future mission
SpaceX is working on Dragon 2, a capsule designed to bring crew to and from the ISS, and hopes to run test flights with astronauts on board beginning next year.
This mission included an attempt to recover the used Falcon 9 first stage, which was a success. The landing was pretty text-book from all appearances, with the rocket touching down without issue at SpaceX’s LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force base.