SpaceX Launches Previously Used Cargo Capsule for First Time

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 5:07 p.m. ET (2:07 p.m. PT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch also marked the first flight of a "used" Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX did successfully guide the first-stage booster to a safe landing on a pad back at Kennedy Space Center, meaning that rocket may one day be re-flown.

The mission marks SpaceX's 11th cargo delivery for NASA and the 100th SpaceX launch overall, according to the company. The spacecraft first launched on the SpX-4 mission in September 2014, returning to Earth a month later.

Just a few seconds before liftoff, there was a crackling roar indicating the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines had ignited.

The art of recapturing a rocket after an orbital launch is one of SpaceX's signature moves, and it's done by no other rocket launcher.

Meteorologists were concerned weather would possibly be an issue again Saturday.

The Dragon capsule actually contained many of its original parts. The real success for SpaceX here is showing that their capsule can used in multiple launches, just like their rockets - along with the fact that it's the first time a vehicle has been repeatedly sent into orbit by a private company.

Successful reuse of the Dragon capsule is significant for SpaceX's materials technology, but in general, the spacecraft reuse is less significant than that of the booster, which required "more cutting-edge" technology to be able to land upright, Caceres said.

Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX, said at a pre-launch briefing May 31 that some components of the Dragon were replaced, such as its heat shield.

The Dragon is the only supply ship capable of surviving re-entry; all the others burn up in the atmosphere. The same pad was also used to launch the first crewed mission to the Moon as well as the last Shuttle mission. SpaceX went to great efforts to re-certify the Dragon with intense inspections and tests.

Under the agreement, NanoRacks will deliver the device to the USA side of the space station and astronauts there will conduct studies using the device in about two weeks, data from which will be sent back to the Chinese researchers.

As Cygnus departs, Dragon will close in on the station for its capture by Fischer and Whitson Monday, June 5.

Until SpaceX and Boeing start transporting crews, astronauts will continue to ride Russian rockets. Two people - cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of Russian Federation and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency - recently left the space station and returned to Earth on Friday after spending 194 days on board.

  • Carolyn Briggs