SpaceX is launching a supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, June 3, reusing a Dragon capsule for the first time.
A Falcon 9 rocket will carry the Dragon, filled with supplies and science experiments, into orbit. The cargo will arrive at the ISS three days later while the first stage booster will return to Earth for a vertical landing, the fifth on land.
Space X has successfully returned four first stage boosters on land and six on ships at sea to date.
Dubbed CRS-11, the mission is the eleventh of 12 specified in a contract between SpaceX and NASA.
Carrying approximately 6,000 pounds (2,700 kg) of equipment, the flight will lift off from the historic Pad 39-A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
In past missions, Dragon capsules have returned to Earth after undocking from the ISS via ocean splashdowns but never retrieved for future use.
This Dragon delivered SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission to the ISS in 2014. After having been retrieved from that flight, it was refurbished and prepared for a second launch.
Reusing it is in line with the company’s long-term goal of significantly reducing spaceflight costs through multiple uses of its equipment.
After demonstrating the reusability of both the Falcon 9 first stage booster and the Dragon, SpaceX plans on making both the second stage rocket booster and the payload fairing reusable as well, according to Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability for the company.
During a launch, the second stage booster ignites once the first stage separates from the spacecraft. The payload fairing protects the spacecraft from atmospheric pressure and heat.
Without such protection, a spacecraft would burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.