SpaceX is taking recycling to a whole new realm - all the way to orbit. On this week's supply run to the International Space Station, SpaceX will launch a Dragon capsule that's already traveled there.
The milestone comes just two months after the launch of its first reused rocket booster for a satellite. "This whole notion of reuse is something that's very, very important to the entire space industry," NASA's space station program manager Kirk Shireman said at a news conference Wednesday. While the concept is not new - the space shuttles, for instance, flew multiple times in orbit - it's important for saving money as well as technical reasons, he noted. This particular Dragon flew to the station in 2014. SpaceX refurbished it for Thursday evening's planned launch, providing a new heat shield and fresh parachutes for re-entry at mission's end.
There were so many X-rays and inspections that savings, if any, were minimal this time, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability for SpaceX. The vast majority of this Dragon has already been to space, including the hull, thrusters and tanks. It's packed with 6,000 pounds of station cargo, including mice and flies for medical research. Wednesday marked the fifth anniversary of the return of the first Dragon capsule to visit the space station. This will be the 12th Dragon visit overall and the 11th under NASA contract. The Dragon is the only unmanned supply ship that returns to Earth; the others are filled with trash and burn up on re-entry.