Five ground landings attempted and five ground landings achieved.
Loren Grush reports: Another one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets successfully landed back on Earth this evening after launching cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. This time, the rocket touched down at the company’s landing site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, called Landing Zone 1.
That means SpaceX’s success streak of recovering its vehicles on solid ground continues. So far, all five of the company’s attempts to land on land have worked just fine. Now, SpaceX is in possession of 11 Falcon 9 rockets that have flown to space and back — either by landing on ground or on one of the company’s drone ships at sea.
SpaceX’s landings may seem fairly routine at this point, but the cargo the rocket was carrying before it landed was pretty significant — or at least, what was carrying the cargo was unique. For this flight, SpaceX used a Dragon cargo capsule that had already been to space before. The Dragon previously flew on SpaceX’s fourth cargo resupply mission for NASA back in September 2014. It remained in space at the ISS for nearly a month before returning to Earth and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
The Dragon, which is still on its way to orbit, is carrying around 6,000 pounds of supplies and science experiments for the crew of the ISS. That includes a group of fruit flies to test out how the cardiovascular system functions in microgravity, as well as a group of mice to study bone loss in the space environment. Some unique technologies are also riding up inside the Dragon’s trunk — the unpressurized structure attached to the spacecraft that provides support and houses the vehicle’s solar panels. The trunk contains an instrument called NICER, which will eventually be mounted to the outside of the space station to look for neutron stars, as well as a specialized solar panel called ROSA which can be unfurled a bit like a flag.
Eventually, SpaceX hopes to keep reusing its Dragon cargo capsules moving forward. That way, the company can at some point shut down production of the vehicle and focus on the production of another spacecraft: the upgraded Dragon … (read more)