SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon capsule filled with supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A on Sunday morning, February 19.
The revamped launch site, last utilized for the final space shuttle launch on July 8, 2011, was also used to launch NASA’s Apollo moon missions and many space shuttle flights between 1981 and 2011.
In 2014, SpaceX signed an agreement to lease the site from NASA for 20 years. Renovations made include construction of a new rocket hangar and other upgrades to accommodate the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
“It was really awesome to see 39A roar back to life for the first time since the shuttle era, and it was extremely special that this first launch off of 39A was a Dragon mission for NASA heading to the space station,” Dragon mission manager Jessica Jensen told reporters.
Approximately eight minutes after the Falcon 9 launch, its first stage returned to Earth in a vertical landing several miles away, at a site in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station designated Landing Zone 1.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk celebrated the successful landing with an Instagram post reading, “Baby came back.”
Initially scheduled for Saturday, February 18, the launch was postponed due to a problem with the Falcon 9’s second stage.
This was the 10th SpaceX cargo supply mission to the ISS, which operates under a contract with NASA.
The successful first stage landing is the eighth the company has completed as part of its program to develop reusable rockets.
Loaded with nearly 5,500 pounds (2,500 kg) of supplies, including science experiments, the Dragon, which reached orbit 11 minutes after launch, will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday morning, February 21, at which time NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet will grab it with the Canadarm 2 robotic arm.
Also on board the Dragon are SAGE-III, an Earth-monitoring instrument that will be added to the ISS to study atmospheric ozone; a Lightning Imaging Sensor, which will track lightning across the planet, and RAVEN, a data collection system designed to enable future spacecraft to rendezvous autonomously with the ISS.
Installation of these instruments on the ISS could take up to 16 days.
After spending 29 days docked on the space station, the Dragon will return to Earth carrying almost 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) of trash, which will burn up in the atmosphere. Its trunk portion, which will hold the trash, will separate from the capsule before re-entry while the capsule will land in the ocean and subsequently be recovered.