Marking another step forward for lower-cost space flight, a Space Exploration Technologies Dragon capsule took off Saturday on a flight to the International Space Station with nearly 6, 000 pounds of cargo in tow.
Liftoff took place at 5:07 p.m. from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the capsule is expected to reach the space station in three days. It was the Dragon’s second mission to the space station, following a first-ever supply run to the space station in September 2014.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) placed the capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket has several components that are recoverable and reusable post-flight, including the rocket’s first stage, which ejects from the rest of the rocket and safely lands back on Earth after the capsule has reach a certain altitude. Today’s launch saw a successful first-stage return, the fifth time SpaceX has achieved this feat since the rocket’s inaugural flight.
This partial reusability makes the rocket a major cost-saver over twentieth-century rocket missions that required a whole new rocket per mission. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, hopes to develop the Falcon 9 into a completely reusable rocket system.
The Dragon itself has full reusability. Like the bygone space shuttle—but at a fraction of the cost—it will land back on Earth after the supply mission and be prepared for more supply missions in the future, per the terms of a resupply contract that SpaceX has signed with NASA.
Including Saturday’s launch, SpaceX has flown seven supply missions to the space station this year and 11 overall. Its contract commits it to 18 supply runs total.