SpaceX is becoming pretty good at this whole “launch and recover rockets” thing.
Earlier this afternoon, the company launched their twelfth successful International Space Station (ISS) resupply rocket while under contract to NASA. This rocket was carrying a Dragon capsule with over 6400 pounds of cargo, but this launch was a bit different compared to earlier ones.
This rocket, named CRS-12, had a payload that consisted of 75 per cent equipment and scientific research experiments. This is more than any launch before for a SpaceX rocket, as the capsules usually carry supplies for the astronauts themselves. This launch helps prepare those onboard the ISS to conduct experiments for the rest of the year and into 2018. The capsule should reach the ISS on August 16.
Included in the capsule is a supercomputer loaded with information designed to help humans reach Mars. The software won’t be planning a route for the ISS to the red planet though—instead the computer is there to test if high-performance computing can last a year in space, which is coincidentally the amount of time it takes for a crewed trip to Mars. Computers must be hardened before they are used in space, and this often results in a great loss of computing power.
Launched from the Kennedy Space Centre, the SpaceX rocket and Dragon separated from the second stage as it was supposed to. After it has dropped off its contents, it will return with about 3000 pounds of goods from the ISS and splash land in the ocean.
Another important aspect of today’s launch is that this will be the final time a brand new Dragon capsule is utilized. From now on, only reused Dragons will be sent up during CRS missions. This will save a lot of time and money for both SpaceX and NASA.
The Falcon 9 first stage launcher that was used to send the Dragon capsule into space was also recovered today. It took the payload into low orbit then returned back down to the original launch pad about nine minutes after takeoff, holding true to its name.