SpaceX launches reused booster from renovated launchpad

NASA's willingness to fly reused vehicles could motivate commercial companies to do the same.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Dec 19, 2017
SpaceX launched a supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, December 15, marking the first time the company used both a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

The launch was also the first from the company's renovated launchpad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida since the site was damaged in September 2016 when a SpaceX rocket exploded there while fueling.

Initially scheduled for December 12, the launch was delayed because the company needed to investigate particles found in a section of the Falcon 9's fuel system.

On board the Dragon are close to 4,800 pounds of supplies and science experiments for the ISS, including a sensor that will measure the amount of sunlight that hits the Earth and another sensor that will determine the amount of debris near the space station.

The capsule will rendezvous with the ISS on Sunday, December 17, where NASA astronauts Mark vande Hei and Joe Acaba will grab it with the stations' robotic arm. It will be installed on the Harmony module, where it will stay for approximately one month before heading back to Earth in January with results of experiments conducted on board the ISS.

For the 14th time this year, the first stage booster successfully returned to Earth following a launch, touching down SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.

Having NASA agree to send supplies with reused hardware is a milestone for SpaceX, which started flying reused rockets just this year.

While the space agency will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to fly used rockets for ISS resupply missions, the fact that it is willing to use them could inspire other commercial companies to do the same and launch their satellites with reused vehicles.

To date, only a few commercial companies have done this.

Alongside its repairs to the SLC-40 launch site, SpaceX also added upgrades to it, setting the stage for an eventual launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket from the pad.

Significantly larger than the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy will be made up of three Falcon 9 rocket cores.

Now that repairs to SLC-40 are complete, SpaceX plans to upgrade its other Cape Canaveral pad, LC-39A at NASA's Kennedy's Space Center, from which all its previous Florida missions launched this year, to enable launches of the Falcon Heavy from there as well.

This launch was the company's 17th of 2017.

 

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