A SpaceX Dragon capsule has been reused for the first time during an unmanned resupply mission to the International Space Station. A new Falcon rocket launched the Dragon on Saturday, June 3rd and the capsule arrived at the station on June 5th. The first stage of the Falcon 9 has made a vertical landing, which has become almost routine for SpaceX’s rockets.
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer snagged the Dragon with Canadarm2 and docked it to the docking port on the Harmony module. This completed the delivery of 2,700 kilograms of supplies and experiments that will be used by Expeditions 52 and 53.
The experiments include live mice and fruit flies that will help scientists understand osteoporosis and the effects of spaceflight on the cardiovascular, respectively. The equipment includes a new, compact solar panel called the Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) and an experimental intergalactic GPS system known as the Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER).
The Dragon, known formally as SpaceX-11 for this mission, had been informally named in honor of the artist Prince. After the successful capture, Jack Fischer quipped, “We … want to note the special significance of the SpaceX-11, which if we follow the naming convention of the artist Prince, could be called the SpaceX formerly known as SpaceX-4.”
This important milestone for SpaceX represents another step in making spaceflight less expensive. True reusable hardware such as the Falcon and SpaceX capsule will eliminate the need to build new hardware or put existing hardware through an expensive and time-consuming refurbishment process before each launch. This could have the effect of making the cost of spaceflight more palatable both to the American taxpayer and to private citizens who may wish to purchase a flight into space.
SpaceX-11 is expected to remain docked to the International Space Station for a month and then return with 1,500 kilograms of cargo that includes completed science experiments and hardware.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 7, 2017