Falcon 9 launches reused Dragon to the space station
Updated 8:25 p.m. Eastern.
NEW YORK — A SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft June 3 making its second trip to the International Space Station.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 5:07 p.m. Eastern and placed the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. A launch attempt two days earlier was scrubbed because of weather. The Falcon 9’s first stage made a successful landing at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1, the fifth such land landing for the first stage overall and the third this year.
The Dragon, flying a mission designated SpX-11 by NASA, is carrying more than 2,700 kilograms of cargo for the ISS. More than 2,000 kilograms of that is scientific hardware, including experiments to be conducted inside the station as well as astrophysics, earth science and space technology experiments to be mounted on the station’s exterior. It is scheduled to arrive at the station on the morning of June 5.
This launch is not be the first trip to the station for this Dragon spacecraft, or at least most of it. The spacecraft first launched on the SpX-4 mission in September 2014, returning to Earth a month later. SpaceX refurbished the spacecraft and won NASA approval to fly it again on SpX-11.
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 majority of this Dragon has been in space before,” he said.
“SpaceX did a very thorough job in terms of certification of the Dragon and refurbing it, and NASA did a very thorough job of understanding that certification and making sure that it was safe to fly and that risk was not substantially more than a brand new Dragon capsule,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA ISS program manager, at the same pre-launch briefing. “We’ve very happy with this capsule flying again.”
While the Dragon was reused, the Falcon 9 was new. Shireman said NASA was still studying the issues about flying a mission on a Falcon 9 with a previously-flown first stage, despite the successful reflight of a first stage on a commercial satellite launch in March.
“SpaceX is certifying the Falcon 9 for multiple flights. We want to take our time and review all of those certification results,” Shireman said, adding there was no timetable for making a decision about using flight-proven Falcon 9 first stages.
The Dragon’s arrival at the ISS will come a day after the departure of a Cygnus spacecraft that has been attached to the station since mid-April. Release of the Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft by the station’s robotic arm is scheduled for June 4 at 9:10 a.m. Eastern.
The Cygnus was originally scheduled to depart the station in mid-July, but took advantage of a opening in the station’s schedule caused by the two-day Dragon launch delay to depart early, given that the spacecraft was already fully loaded with garbage to dispose from the station.
“It’s completely packed. It’s full of disposal as well as a few other experiments,” Ven Feng, manager of the NASA ISS transportation integration office, said at the post-launch press conference June 3. “Because it’s full, we decided, since we had this one-day opportunity after the launch scrub on the first, to go ahead and unberth Cygnus now.”
Cygnus will remain in orbit for a week after departure, releasing a set of cubesats and performing a fire experiment inside the spacecraft, before reentering June 11.