NASA Considers Using Previously Flown SpaceX Rockets For Future ISS Resupply Missions

Spaceflight company SpaceX has, for the first time, launched a refurbished spacecraft that has already been used on an earlier mission, a breakthrough in the California-based company’s aim to develop fully reusable spaceflight systems that can significantly reduce the cost of space missions in the future.

SpaceX’s First Mission To Launch A Previously Flown Dragon Capsule

A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, June 3, carrying an unmanned Dragon capsule. The latter has flown to and came back from the International Space Station in a 2014 space mission.

The rocket and the previously flown capsule, which carried experiments and supplies for the ISS, did not experience technical issues.

The mission marks the first time that Elon Musk’s company launched a pre-flown Dragon capsule on a resupply mission for NASA.

Used Falcon 9 Boosters In Future Cargo Missions To The ISS

Now, the U.S. space agency considers the idea of future missions that will employ used Falcon 9 boosters. These missions, which will deliver supplies to the ISS, will be uncrewed.

“We are looking at it,” said ISS Transportation Integration Office manager Ven Feng. “We’re evaluating every aspect of it very carefully, and there is no schedule yet when we might go down that path.”

Reusable Spaceflight Systems To Reduce Cost Of Space Missions

SpaceX aims for reusable spaceflight systems that can significantly reduce costs of missions and may even spur space explorations. The company also wants to reuse some parts of its launch and spacecraft equipment.

“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” Musk previously said. “A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”

SpaceX already landed the first stages of the Falcon 9 11 separate times, which include Saturday, when the booster returned to Earth to land at a touchdown area at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After stage separation, the first stage of Falcon 9 landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1.

The company has already re-flown one of these first stages, the first of which was on March 30, during the launch of the SES-10 communications satellite. Another mission, which is set on June 15 to launch the BulgariaSat 1 communications satellite, will also employ a used Falcon 9 first stage.

“SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft for the company’s eleventh Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-11) to the International Space Station,” SpaceX said in a statement.

“This mission marked the first reflight of a Dragon spacecraft, having previously flown during the fourth Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-4) mission back in September 2014.”

The company said that the previously flown Dragon is set to arrive at the orbiting laboratory on Monday, June 5. It will be installed on the side of the Harmony module that faces planet Earth for its one month-long stay.

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