SpaceX just took one step closer to making reusable private spacecraft seem entirely ordinary. The company has confirmed that its previously used Dragon capsule splashed down on the morning of July 3rd, making it the first commercial spacecraft to re-fly to and from the International Space Station. There wasn’t a lot of drama involved (the biggest challenge was getting the vessel into orbit), but that’s arguably the point — it’s supposed to be a non-event.
The achievement is promising for the space industry at large. When companies like SpaceX can reuse both rockets and capsules, that promises to dramatically lower the cost of each mission. They can fly more often, or accomplish missions without straining tight government budgets.
And that’s a good thing for NASA, since it virtually depends on SpaceX for ISS supply missions like this. The Dragon is the only resupply spacecraft that can return a healthy amount of cargo to terra firma, and NASA probably doesn’t want to pay through the nose just to recover experiments in a timely fashion. This latest flight is bringing back studies on how microgravity affects the heart and stem cells, as well as research into a drug that can overcome bone loss for astronauts. Lower-cost flights could enable more of these experiments, or at least help justify their existence.
Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed—completing first re-flight of a commercial spacecraft to and from the @Space_Station.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 3, 2017
Source: SpaceX (Twitter)