SpaceX is staying true to its goal of full reusability. This time, the company is targeting to launch a pre-flown dragon capsule to the International Space Station or ISS on its next cargo mission. It is scheduled to launch in December.
Apart from the Dragon capsule, the launch will also mark the return of Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The pad has not been used since September 2016, when a SpaceX Falcon rocket burst into flames as it was doing a routing prelaunch test.
SpaceX has been performing contracted ISS resupply routine runs for NASA using its Dragon capsule as well as Falcon 9 for five years. In fact, the upcoming launch will be the 13th such mission for the company.
The Dragon capsule which will launch in some weeks has been to the International Space Station once, on cargo mission number six, which lifted off back in April 2015. The capsule is able to return to Earth through soft, parachute-aided ocean splashdowns. It is this return ability which makes it unique, as all other operational cargo burn up in the atmosphere when its space assignment is done.
These types of activities are part of SpaceX’s effort to make a fully functional and reusable spaceflight system, which company CEO Elon Musk said might revolutionize space exploration because of the reduced costs.
The Falcon 9 has been designed to be reusable, and so far it has successfully landed the boosters 18 times during orbital missions. Three of the pre-flown rocket stages have been to the skies again, with its most recent mission last October 11. SpaceX will again try to land the Falcon 9 first stage during the Dragon capsule launch.
The capsule will be bringing with it interesting payloads on its upcoming mission, and it includes a NASA instrument which has been designed to measure how much energy the sun delivers to Earth. In addition, it also has a machine that will produce ZBLAN optical fiber on orbit.