On December 12, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, sending an uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule filled with supplies to the International Space Station. No big deal, except that two components, both the first stage rocket and the spacecraft, have already flown on previous missions. That's never happened before.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule just prior to release from the ISS. (Image: NASA)
The launch, as Space reports, was originally scheduled for December 5, but it was pushed to this coming Tuesday to take pad, payload, crew and orbital considerations into account. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is clearly excited, as per this Insta:
The Dragon capsule will sit atop the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, carrying about 2180kg of scientific hardware to the space lab, including a space-junk tracker and a device that manufactures optical fibre. This should be a rather straight-forward launch given the private company has sent supplies to the ISS a dozen times before, but this will be the first launch using both a pre-flown Falcon 9 first stage rocket and a Dragon capsule.
SpaceX has re-used a Falcon 9 three times before, and a previously used Dragon spacecraft once before, but this time it's going to involve the two previously flown components in a single mission. What's more, Tuesday's scheduled launch will mark the first time that NASA will use a previously flown rocket for a supply mission.
Should all go well on Tuesday, we'll truly enter into the era of reusable rocketry - a change in thinking that will go a long way in reducing the costs of escaping our gravity well.