In an incredible first, NASA will launch a used rocket built by SpaceX for its Dec. 8 resupply mission to the ISS.
NASA plans to use a previously flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the first time ever. The agency will use the rocket for a Dec. 8 launch that will send supplies to the International Space Station from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
It’ll be the fourth time one of SpaceX’s rocket boosters have been reused after being successfully landed in founder Elon Musk’s ambitious effort. Musk hopes that making reusable rockets will greatly drive down the price of launches and usher in a new space age.
The rocket won’t be completely the same as its first launch, as it will have some components removed and some new components added on, but it will be the basically the same. NASA believes that this rocket will be just as reliable as a brand new booster, and is thus confident in the success of the launch.
NASA describes the rocket launch as follows.
NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting its 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for no earlier than 1:20 p.m. EST Friday, Dec. 8.
Mission coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency’s website Thursday, Dec. 7, with two news briefings.
Packed with almost 4,800 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
NASA TV mission coverage is as follows:
Thursday, Dec. 7
11 a.m. – Prelaunch news conference with representatives from NASA’s International Space Station Program, SpaceX, and the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base
3:30 p.m. – “What’s on Board” science briefing, highlighting research testing: fiber optic filaments, how plants respond to microgravity, the accuracy of a biosensor used for diabetes management, a drug delivery system for combatting muscle atrophy and instruments to measure the Sun’s energy input to Earth and orbital debris.
Friday, Dec. 8
12:45 p.m. – Launch commentary coverage begins
3 p.m. – Post-launch news conference with representatives from NASA’s International Space Station Program and SpaceX
Sunday, Dec. 10
4:30 a.m. – Dragon rendezvous at the space station and capture
7:30 a.m. – Installation coverage
About 10 minutes after launch on Dec. 8, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit and deploy its solar arrays. A carefully choreographed series of thruster firings are scheduled to bring the spacecraft to rendezvous with the space station. NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba will capture Dragon using the space station’s robotic arm. Ground controllers will then send commands to robotically install the spacecraft on the station’s Harmony module.
The Dragon spacecraft will spend approximately one month attached to the space station, returning to Earth Jan. 6, with results of previous experiments.
Here’s how SpaceX describes the Falcon 9 rocket.
Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. Falcon 9 is the first orbital class rocket capable of reflight. SpaceX believes rocket reusability is the key breakthrough needed to reduce the cost of access to space and enable people to live on other planets.
Falcon 9 was designed from the ground up for maximum reliability. Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events — and with nine first-stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.
Falcon 9 made history in 2012 when it delivered Dragon into the correct orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station, making SpaceX the first commercial company ever to visit the station. Since then Falcon 9 has made numerous trips to space, delivering satellites to orbit as well as delivering and returning cargo from the space station for NASA. Falcon 9, along with the Dragon spacecraft, was designed from the outset to deliver humans into space and under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is actively working toward this goal.
The second stage, powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine, delivers Falcon 9’s payload to the desired orbit. The second stage engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation, and can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into different orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems. Like the first stage, the second stage is made from a high-strength aluminum-lithium alloy.