SpaceX Launches First Reused Dragon to Space Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon supply ship with nearly 6,000 lbs of cargo to the International Space Station on Saturday.

The Falcon 9 booster lifted off at 5:05 p.m. from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Dragon safety entered orbit as the Falcon 9’s first stage landed back at Cape Canaveral.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster is seen as it lands shortly after launching the Dragon spacecraft from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Saturday, June 3, 2017. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It was the first reuse of a Dragon cargo ship and SpaceX’s 11th commercial resupply mission under a contact with NASA.

The flight was the 100th launch from the historic Pad 39A, which is where the Apollo 11 mission was launched.

  • Congrats to the SpaceX team. I hope others use this opportunity to reexamine how they use their capsules (I’m looking at you Russia, China, and all the new American ones coming on line) to find chances to improve processes and save money.

  • therealdmt

    Exciting times! I got some chills from the shot of that booster come down all charred and charging hard just before the legs deploy-to-landing sequence

    Now to get re-use routine

  • windbourne

    It appears that spacex has gotten their ducks in.a row on this.
    They are launching every 2 weeks.
    If they keep this up through the rest of the year (except when launching first FH ), then they will be in great shape for next year.
    Hopefully, at that point, they will really focus on HSF. Of course, once going successfully at that, they will need to encourage an expansion of stations or perhaps a base.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Fly a reused booster and a reused dragon and you’re at STS levels of reuse. We will have reached what Max Faget suggested we should have done back in the early 70’s. He suggested STS should have been a DC-3 class vehicle. Small/medium payloads and inexpensive to operate. Start small while we learn how to fly and refly a spacecraft. I don’t think the operating modes are quite what he had in mind, but wow, Falcon is really starting to firm up into a reconfigurable, multi mode system. After 20 years Falcon is going to be a nice mature system, and given the realities what governments are willing to pay for on space travel, and the realities of the private field, I think we can say that for a while at least 20 years or so might be what it takes to mature this class of a launch vehicle. I expect Vulcan to have a development period just as long, if not longer. Should it survive the assault of what will be a much more mature Falcon.

  • Duncan Law-Green

    20 years? I don’t think Elon is that patient. Like all of us, he’s not getting any younger.

    Once FH is flying, he’ll have a bunch of highly-talented LV engineers hungry for the next challenge. The next logical step IMO will be a Raptor-7 or Raptor-9 targeting full reusability. If he doesn’t feed those engineers, then they’re just going to leave and help build New Glenn and New Armstrong 😉

  • Jacob Samorodin

    People forget that space customers made fixed contract price/fee deals with space-launch providers like SpaceX…Major reductions in launch fees for customers is still…years, maybe a decade off. I give Elon Musk credit for one thing: he does not have an army of workers (like NASA’s space shuttles needed) to prepare reused hardware for launch.

  • Tom Billings

    “Major reductions in launch fees for customers is still…years, maybe a decade off.”

    The money invested in Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy needs to be paid back, and that will come from more deeply reduced costs than prices. Everything just takes time. In particular, new launch vehicles and capabilities do. The fact is that SpaceX has demonstrated that this *is* coming, because if *they* can reduce costs, so can others, even if those others also have to found new companies without the cost+ contractor club’s culture to do it.

    Another point I find interesting is the desire in the comments to talk about *anything* for SpaceX’s future *but* ITS. I feel like we’re back in 2009 again, with people smirking at the idea that SpaceX would launch a 9 engine launch vehicle anytime before 2020. While *I* might have picked a different way to go to other places in the Solar System than an entirely Earth-based chemical system, I see little reason to believe that Musk’s drive will slacken for his dream, or a commitment to ITS. All the mentioned alternatives for using the Raptors on lesser beasts seem to have no backing other than a disbelief in sustaining the R&D pace that SpaceX has shown to date.

    Yes, this launch pace is a *good* thing, and vital to the business. It is not the future SpaceX is focused on. Let us see what Musk has to say at the next conference this fall.

  • duheagle

    Agree about the 20 years thing, but not about SpaceX’s engineers lacking another “bone.” They already have ITS to chew on.

    A “Raptor-7” or “Raptor-9” may eventually appear, but not until it makes economic sense. That would only be if the economics of Falcon 9/H have been pushed to their limits and some competitor is threatening to make inroads with even better reusability economics. That time is definitely not now. It may well never come at all.

  • duheagle

    Bravo! Would merely note, in addition, that SpaceX’s recovery of development costs is already on-going. It now seems highly probable that SpaceX will finish the year with two dozen or more missions accomplished. The total for next year is likely to be significantly higher. At that rate, SpaceX will clear its current backlog in less than two years and recover its sunk development costs for Falcon 9/H in even less time.

    Juggernaut’s Carriage seems finally to be rolling and is definitely picking up steam.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX has been “concentrating” on HSF right along. Walking and chewing gum at the same time is among SpaceX’s core competencies.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Sure he has the patience, they’ve been at it for 15 years already.

  • windbourne

    In terms of space work, that is darn little. The guys that built Apollo worked on Atlas, Titans, etc back in the 50s.

  • windbourne

    Really? Where is dragon fly?
    I will bet that come Nov, we will hear that SpaceX has started DragonFly trials.

  • windbourne

    Actually, he already lowered the prices for everyone. In fact, he is already the lowest in the industry.
    As such, he really has no real reason to drop it that much.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    True, however do you think that the current generation of engineers tap into that experience set? And to the degree that they do, I would imagine Space X has access to a similar tie to the past that lie in the government domain from NASA. The 5th floor of the U of Arizona Sci and Engineering Library are choc full of NASA tec reports and engineering studies and reports from the era. I still read those on occasion, and it’s written in a different language than similar fare is today. I wonder how much power point, and MS Office users and consumers can maintain their attention to the plain vanilla documents, analog data techniques, log-log graphs, french curve graph approximations and type written pages with data tabulations. You raise a good point, but I wonder how much it figures into the matter. My bet is the experience is mainly passed on from person to person, generation to generation. Are engineers any better at listening to their grand-parents than the normal cross-section of humanity?

  • duheagle

    We saw footage of a tethered Dragonfly test over a year ago, nothing since. The vehicle still exists and McGregor, while plenty busy with F9/H checkouts, still has time to do other things. Dragonfly could already well have flown, both tethered and free, a number of times in the interim.

    SpaceX often, but does not invariably, put up videos of test ops. We got no progress videos anent the ASDS initiative, for instance – Elon sprang that one on us cold. Ditto for that “Roomba” robot on the ASDS. Except for a nosy drone videographer, no one outside SpaceX would even know the thing exists. In this case, especially, absence of evidence is hardly equivalent to evidence of absence.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Closer to Raptor-15 will do.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    No teathered or unteatherd flights allowed at McGregor anymore. Those tests will be done in situ on actual missions.

  • duheagle

    That might turn out to be correct. There were high-altitude tests SpaceX was going to run at Spaceport America which it cancelled in favor of trying actual landings as part of revenue missions. That worked out pretty well. Perhaps SpaceX has elected to go a similar route in proving out D2 powered landings.

    So if we see no powered landing tests of D2 until D2 cargo-only missions to ISS start, that won’t be a shock. Initial crew missions with D2 will employ splashdown recovery under chutes. I imagine that, even on these missions, the Super Dracos would be test fired at high altitude to confirm their correct function as will be the case on any missions that intend to also land under power. The same could be done on cargo-only returns and then followed up by actual powered landings at LZ-1 rather than a splashdown off-shore.

    I have no idea how many such “feet dry” cargo-only returns NASA might want to see before letting the same thing happen for returning crew, but I’m guessing the number won’t be large – especially if the Super Draco tests, at altitude, have been as successful as those for cargo-only returns.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    They will probably start using same technique used by shuttle. Look up PTI programmed test inputs. Same approach can be applied to thruster testing.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Did you see this? Can you guess what descope means in this context?

    https://mobile.twitter.com/GREverett66/status/868777583579680768

  • windbourne

    have to wonder if they will recover sunk costs in only 2 years. Somehow, that does not seem possible.

    Regardless, if they can stay on track with these launches, they will be in good shape financially for both HSF and ITS.

  • windbourne

    no. What?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    descope (third-person singular simple present descopes, present participle descoping, simple past and past participle descoped)

    (management, US) To reduce the scope of; to revise objectives downward, sometimes in the context of a funding shortfall.  [quotations ▼]

    In engineering one may use the term sub-scale or cost optimized.

  • windbourne

    ok. snarky. It suits you at times. 🙂

    The original question stands.
    What will be downsized?
    HSF? ITS? Internet sats?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Matches all the rumors I’ve been hearing about ITS. Basically, FH is considered a short term gap filler until Mini-ITS comes in and provides mission coverage fully RLV to try and hit that 100 fold reduction target Musk has always been shooting for. Also replace F9 at some point. Also needed internally for Mega Constellation.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Yes, but the reason behind it is Musk’s sensible use of adequate resources, and not copying NASA’s bloated bureaucracy and avoiding the NASA model of an enormous payroll for an army of workers, contractors, subcontractors that NASA has. It’s been repeated by others here: NASA is really in the business of spreading billions of taxpayer dollars around for a giant, bloated government job program with fuzzy timetables for overpriced projects. A JOKE: How many NASA employees does it take to screw in a light bulb? ANSWER: 1000. 900 to do the paperwork, 90 involved in the planning committee, 9 contractors and one to actually install the light bulb. ROTFLMAO.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Nice thought, but it’s not only engineering that’s subject to Murphy’s Law, economics and finances also are subject to that law too.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “That would only be if the economics of Falcon 9/H have been pushed to their limits and some competitor is threatening to make inroads with even better reusability economics.”
    No, you have entirely missed the point of what Elon and SpaceX is all about. Elon is not interested in “beating the competition” – he is interested in making space launch/travel as cheap as possible, as soon as possible. Altruism is not a zero sum contest.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I wonder if this is more about flight proving Block 5 before flying Dragon 2 on it, rather actually Dragon 2 specific delays.

  • duheagle

    I’m not the one missing the boat. Elon is quite interested in beating the competition. His ultimate goal is his cherished Mars colony. To build that, he’s going to need a great deal of money. His businesses are designed to furnish that.

    Spending money to build a Raptor-based lifter that only competes with Falcon 9/H doesn’t advance either the money or Mars goals. At least not until, as I said, some potential competitor starts breathing down the Falcons’ necks. In the meantime, the Falcons will transition from being development projects to being operational cash cows. ITS will be pursued at the maximum speed possible with the revenues generated by the rest of the Musk empire.

    “Making space launch/travel as cheap as possible, as soon as possible” is an incidental that will be accomplished in the process of pursuing Musk’s main goal – Mars. But SpaceX will “manage” the cost of space lift to optimize their results. Optimizing cash generation over time is the thing. SpaceX will bring down the price of space lift incrementally, with each reduction not occurring until the market shows it is expanding to accommodate the previous reduction. This is, and will continue to be, a process, not an event. But it will be a process predicated on profit optimization, not on altruism. Altruism isn’t going to get anyone to Mars.

    Altruism, by the way, is not a contest of any kind. It’s also not a game, so the “zero-sum” reference is also out of place. Is it possible you threw that in because you see competitive business as a zero-sum arena? That seems to be what leftists typically believe. It’s one of the many ways they fundamentally misunderstand the Universe.

  • duheagle

    Unless Mr. Everett’s breakfast companions are Musk and Shotwell, I’d take company scuttlebutt with a grain of salt. Insiders sometimes like to impress outsiders by making gnomic utterances. That applies whether or not said insiders actually rank high enough to likely have any credibility anent the leadership’s view of the road ahead.

  • duheagle

    So you are part of the Congress of Blind Men sitting around speculating about the nature of elephants.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Must be a fat coincidence.

  • Paul451

    Reading between the lines, the comments are consistent with those made publicly by heads-of-development about Musk’s philosophy, and by Musk about his own thinking; as long as you remove the obvious twisting of their words in Everett’s tweet.

    Musk works by “first principles”. He looks at the fundamental material costs and asks “Why is the end-product so many orders of magnitude more expensive”, and once he has the answer, he asks “Why is that process so expensive”, and so on, until he has a plan to change the method of development. Likewise, he starts as early as possible with commercial hardware, capable of earning money, and continues to optimise by using those customers (Falcon flights or Tesla owners) as testers for next generation updates. Rather than trying to milk the last fraction of a percent efficiency on the prototype, blowing out the complexity and cost of the design, before even considering production.

    [Every Tesla sold had sensors and equipment that they didn’t initially use. They were used to gather test data, which allowed them to develop software to use those sensors to deliver new capability to the next generation. And also increase functions/efficiency/etc for those previous owners.]

    That’s where he’s “focused on the money (ie, costs), not the technology (obsession with expensive bleeding edge)”. Which answers Snarky’s question about the meaning of “De-scope”.

    It also argues against Snarky’s obsession with a 1/3rd-scale mini-ITS. SpaceX’s internal trades have settled on ITS’s size as the optimum for their goal. It is the “descoped” design. Musk’s not going to waste time or money developing an entirely separate interim line. Any “mini” version will be the same size, just underpowered.

    Just as the first F9 barely lofted 10 tonnes to LEO, while the newest iteration can carry over 20. But it would be stupid to call the first F9 a “mini-F9”. Or the previous Merlin engines “mini-Merlins”.