SpaceX’s crazy 12 hours: Fly a Falcon, land a Dragon


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SpaceX successfully launches a used rocket

SpaceX is having one hugely eventful day.

Over the course of just 12 hours, the company plans to safely guide a Dragon spaceship home from the International Space Station, then launch a communications satellite on one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

Half the job is already done. In the early hours of Monday morning, SpaceX’s Dragon undocked from the space station. Over the course of about six hours, the craft fired up its engines so the Dragon could safely de-orbit and cut back through the earth’s atmosphere. It then deployed parachutes and landed in the ocean just after 8 a.m. ET.

That completed SpaceX’s 11th unmanned resupply mission to the space station — and the company’s very first with a used Dragon spacecraft.

Yep, the Dragon capsule that landed in the ocean Monday morning had done it all once before.

It was first flown to the space station in September 2014 mission before SpaceX brought it home, refurbished it, and sent it off to the space station again on June 3. It stayed for a month, while the crew conducted some experiments that Dragon brought along, and it was loaded with lab results and other items before it was sent home Monday.

Related: SpaceX nails two rocket launches in one weekend

Reusing stuff it sends to space is a major part of SpaceX’s mission. It’s a big reason why the company has been so influential in the commercial space industry. The idea is to drastically reduce the price of spaceflight by creating hardware — rocket boosters, spacecrafts, etc. — that can be used more than once.

But SpaceX doesn’t have long to celebrate that success.

At 7:36 p.m. ET, the company is launching a rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On board is a hefty satellite that SpaceX will attempt to launch to geostationary orbit for Intelsat.

That launch was supposed to take place on Sunday night, but it was halted with just nine seconds left on the countdown. SpaceX later said it was a computer-made decision, but there’s no word yet on what the issue was.

The company won’t attempt its signature move by guiding the rocket back to a safe landing so it can be used again in the future. The satellite on board is extremely heavy, so the Falcon 9 needs to use all the fuel it can to thrust it into the air. That means there won’t be any fuel left to guide the Falcon home.

SpaceX can’t reuse everything.

CNNMoney (New York) First published July 3, 2017: 9:01 AM ET


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