Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. took another step in the push to drive down flight costs, launching a resupply mission to the International Space Station using a pre-flown capsule.
The Dragon capsule, which is carrying almost 6,000 pounds (2,720 kilograms) of supplies and payloads to the orbiting lab, was successfully launched at 5:07 p.m. Saturday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dragon spacecraft, propelled by a Falcon 9 rocket, had supplied the space station in September 2014.
The mission brings Musk one step closer to his goal of recovering, refurbishing and reusing pre-flown spacecraft. Once derided as a crazy idea, reusability is now seen as the key to affordable space missions — and eventually, Musk hopes, the human colonization of Mars. “It’s starting to feel kinda normal to reuse rockets,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “Good. That’s how it is for cars & airplanes and how it should be for rockets.”
The capsule will arrive at the space station in three days, where crew members will use the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) robotic arm to reach out and capture it, the company said. The launch had been planned for June 1 but was delayed due to lightning. After take-off, the rocket’s first stage arrived safely back on land, in the fifth such instance. The company reflew a previously used rocket for the first time in March.
Saturday’s launch marked SpaceX’s seventh completed mission of 2017 and its 11th operational cargo resupply mission to the space station. SpaceX has contracts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration valued at $4.2 billion. The Hawthorne, California-based company also has pacts for US military launches of satellites, a market estimated to be valued at about $70 billion through 2030.
Dragon will be installed on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module for its month long stay, SpaceX said in a statement. It was the 100th launch from complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where 11 Apollo flights, the 1973 Skylab mission, 82 shuttle flights, and five SpaceX missions were also launched, the company said.