Dec. 15 (UPI) — SpaceX for the first time reused a rocket booster today when it launched and then landed a Falcon-9 rocket as part of a resupply mission for the International Space Station.
While the company has previously reflown rocket boosters four times, today’s launch was the first time that a previously used rocket booster powered a previously used vessel, the Dragon, on a mission to the ISS. It is also the first time a booster was reused for a NASA mission.
The Dragon, which is expected to reach the ISS on Sunday, is carrying about 4,800 pounds of scientific hardware and supplies.
“That marks the second successful visit to and from space for this particular booster,” said a SpaceX commentator on the SpaceX webcast of the launch.
The vessel lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., this morning at 10:36 am, with the rocket booster separating from the second stage — which propels the Dragon toward the ISS — and maneuvering back to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base about 10 minutes later.
SpaceX says the ability to reuse rockets is key to its future business goal of sending thousands of people into space and driving down the cost of space travel overall.
The booster used for today’s launch was previously used for a space station resupply mission in June, while the Dragon capsule used for the mission was sent to the ISS in 2015.
“In the long run, reusability is going to significantly reduce the cost of access to space, and that’s what’s going to be required to send future generations to explore the universe,” SpaceX’s Dragon mission manager Jessica Jensen said Monday during a briefing with reporters ahead of the launch.
The launch, which includes basic supplies for astronauts aboard the ISS, also includes several significant experiments, including some that could help in developing methods of growing crops in space, on the Moon and eventually on Mars, and equipment to help measure the amount of “space junk” hurtling around the Earth.
Officials also noted that it’s possible, but not guaranteed, that astronauts will be able to have a Christmas morning similar to people on Earth — complete with gifts.
“I cannot confirm nor deny the presence of Christmas presents,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s ISS program manager. “There are crew care packages, and as program manager I don’t have to go inspect all those. So it wouldn’t surprise me, but I can’t say for certain.”