In June, a brand new Falcon 9 rocket carried supplies aboard a reused SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. It was the first time the Dragon spacecraft had been reused on a mission. This month, NASA is reusing another piece of SpaceX gear. The Falcon 9 first stage booster.
More than 4,000 pounds of food, equipment, and experiments will head 254 miles above the Earth’s surface aboard a rocket that already made the trip to space once before. For SpaceX, it’ll be the fourth time using a previously flown rocket. For NASA, it’ll be a historic first. And shows a whole lot of confidence in SpaceX for an organization that sticks with the tried and true formula.
SpaceFlightNow reports NASA approved the mission a few days ago, but not before NASA engineers closely studied how SpaceX goes about refurbishing a rocket that has been to space before. Safety is the top priority at NASA, and the space agency needs to know the cargo can be delivered to the ISS safe and sound.
“Some components are removed and some new components are added,” said NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier (associate administrator of NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate). “There’s a detailed list of what inspections need to be done. They did a detailed test program. They did a detailed plan.”
SpaceX will use the same first stage booster that launched the reused Dragon spacecraft back in July (CRS-11). This booster will attempt its second landing on solid ground at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. As for next week’s Dragon spacecraft? That’ll be a reused one too. It made its last trip to the ISS back in April 2015 according to SpaceFlightNow.
Gerstenmaier does make it clear that SpaceX’s reusable booster was only accepted for next week’s flight. This isn’t a broad acceptance by NASA. At least, not yet. “We’ll look at each one on a case-by-case basis, look at the history of the booster, look at the reuse review process that SpaceX does to make sure that the hardware we’re getting (is reliable),” says Gerstenmaier.
As always, SpaceX will livestream the launch and first-stage landing. Launch is targeted for no earlier than 1:20 pm EST on December 8 (Friday). Keep SpaceX’s webcast page bookmarked to stay up to date on the exact launch time. I’ll keep this post updated too.
ISS crew rotates in December too
It’s not just equipment going to the ISS this month. The space station will lose three crew on December 14th as NASA’s Randy Bresnik, Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryazanskiy, and ESA’s Paolo Nespoli return to Earth after spending 139 days aboard the station together.
Their replacements, Roscosmos’ Anton Shkaplerov, NASA’s Scott Tingle, and JAXA’s Norishige Kanai, will head up on December 17th. The trio will arrive at their new home for the next several months on December 19th.