With the words “go for launch”, a countdown, and a humongous billow of white smoke, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. The launch marked the first time that SpaceX has reused its Dragon cargo vessel, as well as the one hundredth launch from Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
The last launch of the Dragon spacecraft was in September of 2014, when it was launched to resupply the International Space Station on SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission.
On its latest mission — webcast live by SpaceX — the Dragon is flying without a crew and is carrying almost 6,000 pounds of cargo, including:
- The Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), a compact solar panel concep. Designed with solar cells attached to a flexible blanket, the new technology can be rolled out like a yoga matt. It’s intended to provide power to electric thrusters and could be used on future NASA missions near the moon, Mars, and beyond.
- The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), an instrument that detects neutron stars using an X-ray spectrometer.
- A fruit fly lab that will be tasked with studying the severe effects that spaceflight has on the heart and cardiovascular system. The lab will conduct research on flies born in space versus flies born on Earth.
The Dragon separated from Falcon 9 several minutes after liftoff as it ascended out of Earth’s atmosphere. It’ll take it some time to climb its way to the space station, arriving on June 5. From there, the Dragon will stay in low Earth orbit for about a month before reentering Earth’s atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean near Baja, California.
This was also the eleventh Commercial Resupply Services mission — dubbed CRS-11 — from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. NASA currently has a contract with SpaceX for up to 20 resupply missions.
Reusable spacecraft is big part of SpaceX’s vision to reduce the cost of spaceflight and make it more accessible. The successful second launch of the Dragon spells good news for the Dragon 2, a spacecraft SpaceX is developing to transport humans to and from the ISS.
Watch the full webcast from Saturday here: