Dragon is carrying nearly 6,000 pounds of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the International Space Station in support of the Expedition 52 and 53 crew members. This is the first time the Elon Musk-founded private spaceflight company has reused the cargo spacecraft to deliver supplies, science experiments, and hardware to the International Space Station.
Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reusability at SpaceX, said CRS-11 was the company's seventh launch this year and that SpaceX will use a "refurbished first stage" for the next launch. Launch was planned for 21:07 UTC with first weather forecasts giving 60% probability of violating launch by weather. When this refurbished Dragon reaches the orbiting lab on Monday, it will be the first returning craft since NASA's now-retired shuttles. Shireman said NASA was still studying the issues about flying a mission on a Falcon 9 with a previously-flown first stage, despite the successful reflight of a first stage on a commercial satellite launch in March.
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"The majority of this Dragon has been in space before", he said during a prelaunch news conference earlier this week.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a little after 2 p.m.
The ISS crew will then use the robotic Canadarm2 to grab Dragon and place it on the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.
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To make way for the Dragon's berthing Monday, flight controllers plan to use the station's robot arm Sunday to detach an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship now berthed at the Unity module's Earth-facing port. Another flight featuring a reused booster is coming up later this month.
This also leads to a faster recovery time for the Falcon 9. "The progress they're making on both fronts is exciting for the industry and bodes well for the future of access to space", said former Obama space policy advisor Phil Larson to the Observer. But there won't always be such lengthy periods between flights; SpaceX aims to streamline the checkout and refurbishment process for used gear, eventually re-launching Falcon 9 first stages within 24 hours of touchdown. Its last launch was just two weeks ago, and its next one is tentatively two weeks away as well. In addition to the NASA space shuttle orbiters and the U.S. Air Force X-37B orbital test vehicles, a Soviet VA spacecraft and a NASA Gemini capsule were flown twice. After the trial, the 15-foot (5 m) long array will be furled and re-stowed in the Dragon's trunk to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. This will be the 100th launch, and sixth SpaceX launch, from pad 39A.
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