SpaceX continued to make advancements toward a fully reusable, and therefore more cost effective, fleet of space craft on Friday with the launch of CRS-13; a resupply mission destined for the International Space Station that reused both a Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket that had been flown in previous missions.
On SpaceX’s thirteenth ISS resupply mission, the Dragon Capsule successfully docked with the orbiting habitat on Friday, delivering some 4,800 pounds worth of supplies to the crew living aboard.
“It’s a beautiful spacecraft and we’re looking forward to digging into it and getting some science on board,” astronaut Joe Acaba of NASA said upon the Dragon Capsule’s arrival.
The exact same capsule ferried a similar amount of food and equipment to the International Space Station in November of 2015, before successfully returning to the Earth’s surface for refit and reuse. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket has also made the trip before, seeing it’s last rotation in orbital operations as recently as June of this year. Although the concept of reusing rocket stages and capsules is not unique to Elon Musk’s space faring organization, SpaceX is among the most successful and highest profile private space ventures on the planet, in large part thanks to cost reductions allowed by their emphasis on the reusability of their platforms.
This launch marks only the second time in history a dragon capsule has been re-used for such a cargo delivery, and serves as proof of concept that SpaceX can indeed reliably reuse platforms that have previously seen the rigors of orbital operations and treacherous re-entry. More importantly, this marks the first time a used rocket has been launched carrying a used payload in the company’s brief history; a significant achievement in itself.
Leading up to the launch, NASA’s team were confident that, despite the rocket stage and capsule both seeing use before, the platform was sound and excepted to perform well.
“We’re very comfortable that the risk posture on this vehicle is not significantly greater than [on] a new booster,” Kirk Shireman, NASA’s ISS program manager, said in a prelaunch briefing Monday (Dec. 11). “We think of it as equivalent risk.”
Ten minutes after launch, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket returned to earth at Landing Zone 1, at the SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral. It’s soft landing marked the rocket’s second successful launch and return and the 20th time SpaceX has successfully done so with their Falcon 9 platforms.
Watch the video below to see the dramatic launch and feather light landing of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Friday: