SpaceX launches ISS mission using twice-flown Dragon for the first time

SpaceX has launched CRS-18, the 18th commercial resupply mission it has flown for NASA to deliver experiment, research and supply materials to the International Space Station. This mission’s cargo included IDA-3, the second automated docking ring set to be installed on the ISS, which will enable autonomous docking capabilities for future commercial spacecraft visiting the station with both crew and cargo on board. CRS-18 took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 6:01 PM ET (3:01 PM PT) on Thursday, after an attempt Wednesday was scrubbed due to weather.

There are around 5,000 lbs of cargo on board the Dragon launched for this mission. CRS-18 also carried a research mission into engineering organic tissue for use in 3D bioprinting from a company called Techshot, as well as experiments in tire material manufacturing from Goodyear. There’s even Nickelodeon’s signature green slime (yes, the slime you’re thinking of), which is being sent up care of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory to help astronauts educate students on how fluid operates in microgravity environments.

SpaceX previously flew the Falcon 9 first-stage rocket booster used on this mission just two months ago for the last ISS resupply mission, CRS-17. That’s a quick turnaround for one of its refurbished rockets, and another sign that it’s making good progress in its goal of achieving fully reusable launch capabilities. The Dragon cargo capsule used for this mission also flew before — twice, including for CRS-6 in April, 2015 and once again in December 2017 for CRS-13.

sped up crs 18 falcon 9 launch

The landing of the Falcon 9 from CRS-18, sped up 2X.

This launch included a recovery attempt for the Falcon 9, too, and it returned and landed as planned at the company’s LZ-1 landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. The first-stage booster separated from the second-stage and Dragon craft as planned, and then returned to Earth, landing successfully after a controlled descent. This was SpaceX’s 44th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage after launch.

Next up for the Dragon capsule is for it to dock with the ISS, which is set to happen on Saturday. It’ll then have its cargo unloaded by the astronauts on board the station, and receive 3,300 lbs of return cargo, which it’ll bring back to Earth with a return trip that’ll conclude with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.