SpaceX once again made history on Friday (15 December) by successfully launching a used rocket and spacecraft in a historic resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Elon Musk-owned company launched the pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida lifting its robotic Dragon capsule on its latest resupply run to the orbiting space station.
In its now signature move, SpaceX also nailed the landing of its rocket booster yet again at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral less than 10 minutes after liftoff. The Falcon 9 rocket booster was previously flown in the CRS-11 mission in June earlier this year.
Marking SpaceX's 50th Falcon 9 rocket launch and its 13th commercial cargo flight for Nasa, the CRS-13 mission lifted about 4,800 pounds (2177kg) worth of crew supplies, experiments and research to the space station.
The launch was initially scheduled for liftoff on Tuesday (12 December) but was later delayed by SpaceX for further ground-systems checks, inspection and cleaning of the rocket's second-stage fuel system.
Prior to launch, the 45th Space Wing of the US Air Force tweeted that the mission also marked the 19th launch from Cape Canaveral's Eastern Range in 2017.
"This was a fantastic way to end the year for SpaceX east coast launches," Jessica Jensen, director of SpaceX's Dragon Mission Management, said. "It was a great launch."
The refurbished Dragon spacecraft was previously launched in SpaceX's sixth cargo resupply mission to the ISS in April 2015. Some of the science experiments to be delivered include a sensor to measure the Sun's energy output to Earth, a space-junk tracker and barley seeds for Budweiser to determine the possibility of brewing the first beer on Mars.
It is also reportedly carrying a couple of Christmas presents for crewmembers onboard.
"I cannot confirm nor deny the presence of Christmas presents," Kirk Shireman, NASA's ISS program manager, said. "There are crew care packages, and as program manager I don't have to go inspect all those. So it wouldn't surprise me, but I can't say for certain."
Friday's launch was also the first lift off of Launch Pad 40 since the spectacular and expensive Falcon 9 explosion on 1 September 2016 during a fueling procedure that destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket, its $200m (£150.1m) satellite payload and grounded SpaceX for months.
On Sunday, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba will capture the Dragon spacecraft using the ISS' robotic arm and install it on the station's Harmony module. The capsule will remain docked at the station for about a month before returning to Earth in January with the results of previous experiments.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has long touted full and rapid reusability in an effort to cut launch and space hardware prices and make access to space cheaper and more accessible.
"In the long run, reusability is going to significantly reduce the cost of access to space, and that's what's going to be required to send future generations to explore the universe,"Jensen said during Monday's briefing, Space.com reports.
So far, SpaceX has pulled off 17 successful launches this year with one more slated for 22 December when it launches.
Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture of the Dragon spacecraft will begin at 4:30AM EST on Sunday (17 December) on Nasa's website. Coverage of the installation will begin at 7:30AM.