SpaceX is gearing up to get its proverbial arse to Mars. For the first time today, the aerospace company will launch an already-used Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying 2721kg of supplies and science experiments. The spacecraft will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and naturally, NASA TV will be broadcasting the whole thing live starting at 7:15AM AEST. The launch itself is set to begin at 7:55AM AEST.
In March, SpaceX made history by successfully launching a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket into orbital space — and landing it. The company's founder, Elon Musk, has long promulgated the importance of reusable rockets and spacecraft, mainly as a way of cutting costs associated with launch. Achieving reusability is a critical step toward Musk's ultimate goal of establishing a Martian colony, since it will allow passengers to actually be able to afford the travel there. It will still be expensive, though.
"Reusability, for both rockets and spacecraft, is something SpaceX has been working toward since their founding," Phil Larson, former Obama space policy adviser and SpaceX official, told Gizmodo. "The progress they're making on both fronts is exciting for the industry and bodes well for the future of access to space. It's tough to throwaway a rocket each time you use it and expect the cost of launch to lower dramatically — the same goes for spacecraft. Ferrying cargo and crew to space is still expensive, and reusing Dragon will be a key step in helping lower the cost of space access."
The last time this particular Dragon touched space was in September 2014, on a resupply mission to the ISS. While it's unclear how much of the spacecraft was replaced, according to Ars Technica, it had to install a new trunk and solar panels. If today's launch is successful, Dragon will be part of an exclusive club of reusable spacecraft. In 1981, NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia became the first American spacecraft to launch and land twice. A Soviet spacecraft preceded this in 1977, according to Ars Technica. And just this past year, an Air Force spy plane quietly achieved the same feat.
Update 9:10AM AEST: The launch has been postponed due to weather. The launch will now take place on Sunday June 4, 7:07AM AEST.
Standing down due to lightning. Backup launch opportunity on Saturday, June 3 at 5:07 p.m. EDT or 21:07 UTC.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 1, 2017