WATCH: SpaceX launches 1st recycled cargo capsule

- SpaceX’s latest recycling project is out of this world – literally. Just a few weeks after using a reflown rocket to launch a satellite, 6,000 pounds of cargo is now on its way to the space station inside a reflown Dragon capsule.

The unmanned mission blasted off from Kennedy Space Center Just after 5 p.m. Saturday after the storms that scrubbed Thursday’s attempt stayed far inland.  The Falcon 9 rocket cut its way in and out of clouds as it ascended, and by the time the first stage was settling back on its landing pad, the Dragon capsule was in orbit.

“From what I can tell, the mission was excellent and a great success with no hiccups,” SpaceX chief engineer Hans Koenigsmann said after the launch.  “Overall a great day.”

This Dragon capsule first flew in space back in 2014 on SpaceX’s fourth cargo mission to the orbiting outpost.  After it parachuted down into the Pacific, it was cleaned off and inspected.  Some elements, like batteries and the critical heat shield, were replaced.  But the airframe and many of the avionics onboard were recertified for at least one more flight.

Koenigsmann acknowledged that each mission takes a little “life” out of each piece of hardware, but the company believes that the capsules can be reused several times with proper refurbishment.

It’s the same philosophy SpaceX is taking with its rockets, hoping reusability will drive down the cost of missions to space.

“We are hoping to fly more and more Dragon refurbished,” Koenigsmann explained before the launch. “The same is true for the first stages.”

With reusability becoming more familiar – Koenigsmann went out of his way to avoid the word “easy” – the next big challenge for SpaceX may be carrying astronauts instead of just cargo. The company hopes to debut a crewed version of the Dragon early next year.

But when this Dragon capsule docks with the station on Monday morning, it will be in place to deliver food and supplies for the astronauts, along with science experiments containing mice and even fruit flies.  The capsule is also carrying a prototype solar array that will be deployed to its full 12-foot length in orbit as a test.

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