SpaceX is set to deliver nearly three tons of supplies, equipment and experiments to the International Space Station on Thursday (1 June) using a refurbished Dragon cargo capsule that has already been flown before.
The company will launch a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's historic Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the 20-foot high Dragon capsule perched on top.
The Dragon spacecraft was first sent to the orbiting space station back in September 2014 and has been refurbished for the upcoming unmanned CRS-11 mission with a new heat shield and new parachutes for re-entry at the end of the mission. The capsule's hull, Draco thrusters and some avionics were also refurbished.
The cargo ship will carry 6,000 pounds worth of supplies and experiments, including an experimental navigation system, live mice and fruit flies, to support over 250 science and research investigations aboard the space station.
The impressive feat comes just months after the company, owned by Elon Musk, launched its first reused rocket booster for a satellite. A second, previously used booster is set to launch a commercial communications satellite for Bulgaria Sat on 15 June.
"This whole notion of reuse is something that's very, very important to the entire space industry," NASA's space station program manager Kirk Shireman said during a news conference on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.
SpaceX vice president of flight reliability Hans Koenigsmann did not specify how much money the firm saved by re-flying the spacecraft. However, he noted that savings, if any, were minimal due to the number of X-rays and inspections it went through.
Reusing a spacecraft, however, is not a new concept given that Nasa space shuttles have made numerous trips into orbit. However, the mission is a significant milestone for the commercial space industry.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has long touted the importance and benefits of reusing hardware to slash launch and space travel prices.
The space-faring company will also attempt to return the Falcon 9 first stage to a landing pad near the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to be reflown in a later mission. SpaceX has successfully landed and recovered ten Falcon 9 boosters to date.
The launch will be the sixth one for SpaceX and the 100th one from Nasa's historical launch pad 39-A - the same site that saw the Apollo launches including the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Wednesday also marks the fifth anniversary of the return of SpaceX's first Dragon capsule to visit the ISS.
If successful, the Dragon will be captured by a 57-foot-long robotic arm on Sunday to dock with the space station, installed to the station's Harmony module and unpacked by the Expedition 51 crew. The Dragon will remain docked for about a month before it is loaded with lab results and trash to head back home to Earth. The spacecraft will splash down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California.
Liftoff is targeted for 5:55PM EST (10:55PM BST) followed by the post-launch news conference at 7:30PM EST.