Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, took a step toward making spaceflight less expensive by reusing its rocket boosters during a mission on Friday to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket used for the mission, dubbed Commercial Resupply-3, or CRS-3, was the first to fly with landing legs, and was the first to successfully perform a controlled ocean splashdown.
The launch of the third official cargo delivery mission by SpaceX to the station had been delayed from last month and again from Monday due to technical problems.
The rocket, carrying a Dragon space capsule loaded with 3,500 pounds of supplies for the space station, lifted off at just after 3:25 p.m. EST. The Dragon spacecraft reached the space station on Sunday.
The mission was the first successful test of a new capability for the first stage of the Falcon 9: the ability to descend to a soft touchdown after delivering its payload to orbit. Conventional rocket boosters fall back to Earth after expending their fuel, reëntering the atmosphere fast enough to disintegrate in the heat caused by friction with the air. This adds greatly to launch costs, which can top $200 million per launch, since a new rocket has to be built for each flight (see “SpaceX to Launch World’s First Reusable Rocket”).To read more, click here.