A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched to the International Space Station on Monday, marking the 12th time the space company successfully launches one of its resupply missions to the outpost.

The Dragon capsule bolted on top of the Falcon rocket was stocked with more than 6,400 pounds (2,900 kilograms) of supplies, including groceries and a series of scientific experiments.

NASA engineers prepared a Falcon 9 for an ISS resupply mission. Image Credit: NASA
NASA engineers prepared a new Falcon 9 for an ISS resupply mission. Image Credit: NASA

The 213-foot-tall (65 meters) Falcon 9 rocket departed from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT.

SpaceX launches and lands Falcon 9 rocket in few minutes

The rocket pushed into the stratosphere before the first stage switched off and fell at an altitude of 40 miles (65 kilometers). The Dragon capsule reached orbit after a six-and-a-half minute maneuver, and then the first stage flipped around before reigniting three of the rocket’s Merlin engines and boosted itself back forward Cape Canaveral.

Two braking maneuvers were also required to slow down the descending rocket, until it finally landed on a concrete target at Landing Zone 1 less than 8 minutes after the launch, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of the rocket’s departure point in pad 39A.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s right on the bullseye and [had a] very soft touchdown, so it’s a great pre-flown booster ready to go for the next time,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of flight reliability, according to Spaceflight Now.

The Falcon 9 used for this launch was brand new, although the company has reused two of its recovered first stage boosters to date, and SpaceX engineers are reportedly preparing another previously-flown rocket for a mission this fall.

Koenigsmann also noted that while the Falcon launched Monday was a fresh vehicle; although its landing legs came from a rocket flown on a previous mission. The upper stage continued flying into orbit, it turned off its engines after nine minutes into the flight, then deployed the Dragon capsule on a target about 175 miles (280 kilometers) above Earth.

The Falcon 9 used in the mission was a fresh vehicle. Image Credit: NASA
The Falcon 9 used in the mission was a fresh vehicle. Image Credit: NASA

“The second stage went into a near-perfect orbit [and] deployed Dragon,” said Koenigsmann during a media briefing after the launch. “Dragon primed propellant and has performed the first co-elliptic burn at this point in time.”

The capsule will reach the ISS on Wednesday when NASA astronaut Jack Fischer will take command of the outpost’s robotic arm to capture the commercial spaceship at 7 a.m. EDT.

Dragon capsule carries multiple research supplies and a supercomputer

The Dragon capsule is packed with all kinds of groceries necessary to maintain the station’s six-person crew, including clothing, food, and ice cream. Wired reports the supplies also include toilet paper and noted that the Russians prefer rougher textures while the Americans prefer softer paper— and tortillas. Apparently, Mexican food is a must in the space station.

Along with the groceries, the spaceship is carrying an espresso machine, a 3D printer, and an inflatable module. The Dragon will also deliver resources to aid in over 250 research projects, including a NASA-funded experiment looking into cosmic rays named CREAM (Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass), the origin of Parkinson’s disease, and the utility of small satellites. The CREAM payload will spend at least three years sampling particles sent through the universe by cataclysmic supernova explosions. Mice will also be delivered to the astronauts, to study the effects of long-duration spaceflight on joints and vision, and several seeds to continue growing plants in microgravity.

A Dragon capsule while in orbit.  Image credit: SpaceX
A Dragon capsule while in orbit. Image credit: SpaceX

The crew will also work with an experimental radiation-tolerant supercomputer that was built by Hewlett Packard, as NASA wants to assess if an off-the-shelf computer hardware can properly operate in space.

Hewlett Packard said its “space-borne computer” was hardened with software to reduce the time, money, and weight of the supercomputer. The supercomputer passed over 146 safety tests and certifications to gain NASA approval for the voyage to the ISS. If it works correctly, it could help future space missions have the latest computer technology, according to Hewlett-Packard

SpaceX will soon attempt to launch a massive triple-booster rocket

SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family has accomplished 39 mission since its debut in 2010, and 38 of those missions have succeeded. The only mission that failed its primary objectives was one in which the Falcon 9 rocket exploded before lift off during testing on the launch pad, destroying in the process and Israeli communications satellite.

The company, owned by controversial billionaire Elon Musk, has been the only space company, either private or governmental, that has successfully reused a first stage booster. In fact, SpaceX is working to reduce the time in which the boosters can be reused to 24 hours.

SpaceX is also looking to launch the maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy –a triple-booster rocket, which Musk says is the most powerful in operation—from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The space company leased the historic spot from NASA for 20 years.

SpaceX will attempt to launch the massive rocket in November, though Musk has said it could be risky. Musk also said that it would be a “win” if pad 39A is not damaged or destroyed after the rocket takes off.

Source: Spaceflight Now