We really should be used to this by now, but it’s just too cool.
SpaceX has landed its fifth Falcon 9 rocket booster back on land after launching a spacecraft to orbit for NASA. In doing so, it became the first private company to launch the same cargo capsule into orbit more than once.
The landing — which took place at Cape Canaveral — came about 10 minutes after the Elon Musk-founded spaceflight company launched a previously used Dragon spacecraft toward the International Space Station at 5:07 p.m. ET.
The Dragon capsule is a refurbished spacecraft that first launched to the Space Station in 2014. Since it came back to Earth, SpaceX has been getting it ready for this next flight.
The Dragon is now joining a special club of spacecraft that have been to orbit multiple times.
“NASA’s space shuttle orbiters, the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B, and the Soviet Union’s VA spacecraft were all reused on orbital missions,” Robert Pearlman, space historian and founder of collectspace.com, said.
“The first orbital-class spacecraft to be reused, however, was a NASA Gemini capsule that was launched on two suborbital flights (the second flight in 1966 was a test for the U.S. Air Force’s planned Manned Orbiting Laboratory program).”
The Dragon — which is loaded down with food, experiments, and other supplies — is expected to arrive at the Space Station on June 5.
The spectacular evening launch and landing are yet further evidence that SpaceX is attempting to make good on its promise of ushering in a new era of space exploration, one focused on lowering the cost of spaceflight through reusability.
SpaceX has performed a total of 11 Falcon 9 rocket landings, with some of them landing on drone ships floating out at sea.
Other companies are also working toward reusability, but none are as far along.
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is working toward a fleet of different reusable rockets and spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance is also developing a reusable rocket stage.