SpaceX's latest visit to the International Space Station (ISS) marks a special achievement as it used a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft together for the first time in five years.
SpaceX first landed its Falcon 9 booster back on earth in December 2015, and has largely made good on its promise to refurbish and relaunch these rockets. While it had used the recycled boosters for launching satellites for private companies, the CRS-13 mission to the ISS on 15 December was the first time NASA had approved their use.
The Falcon 9 booster is the same one that resupplied the ISS in June 2017, while the Dragon spacecraft carried supplies to the orbiting laboratory for the first time way back in April 2015. This time around, the ship was loaded up with 4,800 lb (2,177 kg) of materials and will spend around one month at the station after crew members snared it using the ISS' 18-metre (58-ft) robotic arm yesterday.
The Dragon spacecraft would return 3,600 lb (1,632 kg) of cargo to earth when it will conduct a de-orbit burn, reenter the atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean.
If everything works to plan, it would mark the success of its strategy towards regular re-flight of its rockets and spacecraft, in its bid to cut the cost of spacefaring and ultimately landing humans on Mars.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appeared on the company's live stream shortly after the landing and spoke about the achievement. ''It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight,'' he said.
According to commentators, the mission comes as a critical milestone for SpaceX, which has been working on making its rockets partially reusable since as early as 2011. Until now all rockets it used have been expendable, thrown away once they launch into space.
What this means is, an entirely new rocket which can cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make has to be built for each mission to orbit. SpaceX has been working to re-fly its rockets after launch in a bid to partially save on the costs for each mission.