SpaceX launch programme achieves another milestone after hiatus caused by September rocket explosion
05 June 2017
On June 3, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft for the company’s eleventh Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-11) to the International Space Station (ISS). This mission marked the first reflight of a Dragon, having previously flown during the fourth Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-4) mission back in September 2014.
Falcon 9 launch - Image: SpaceX
Following stage separation, the first stage of Falcon 9 successfully landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Dragon arrived at the ISS on June 5 to be installed on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module for its month-long stay.
The reflight of the recycled Dragon cargo ship is a further milestone in the company’s commercial space programme and marks the first time one has been reused on a second mission. It was given a new heat shield and parachutes, a few other modifications and was tested extensively.
Each Dragon can probably safely fly about four missions to and from the ISS, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of build and flight reliability, said during a press conference on June 3.
The first stage booster flown on this mission was brand new, and as is now the custom, returned to Cape Canaveral for a vertical touchdown. Each Falcon 9 first stage is designed to fly 10 times with no hardware changes, and at least 100 times with only moderate refurbishment, SpaceX owner Elon Musk said in late March.
The booster’s return was the fifth successful landing by SpaceX since the explosion of one of its Falcon 9 rockets on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 1 September, 2016.
The rocket exploded while it was being fuelled in preparation for an engine test, leading to the loss of both the launch vehicle and its payload, the $200 million Israeli Amos 6 communication satellite. Accident investigators determined that a canister of helium burst inside the rocket's second-stage liquid oxygen tank, triggering the explosion. The canister has since been redesigned.
The accident affected the company's aggressive agenda, which includes taking US astronauts into space. Later this year, SpaceX will launch its Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the ISS in automatic mode, without people on board. A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018.
SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew.