A SpaceX cargo craft packed with more than 6,400 pounds of research equipment and crew supplies is soaring toward to the International Space Station.
Roughly eight minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s reusable first stage was returned successfully to a Cape Kennedy landing pad not far from where the rocket lifted off. Booster landings have become almost commonplace for SpaceX, but video images of the maneuver still brought loud applause from employees gathered to watch the launch webcast at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
About 10 minutes after launch, the Dragon reached its preliminary orbit and two minutes later deployed its solar arrays. The craft is expected to dock at the orbiting space lab Aug. 16.
The Dragon’s cargo includes a fiber-optic manufacturing prototyping system, as well as sundry materials needed for some 250 experiments to be conducted on the orbiting space lab. It also will deliver a Hewlett Packard supercomputer designed to process data from space station experiments for up to a year.
SpaceX’s previous most recent ISS cargo mission came in June.
SpaceX and Boeing hold NASA contracts to begin astronaut shuttles sometime in the next few years.