The unmanned Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:36 a.m. EST on Dec. 15.
The rocket’s first stage — previously used for an ISS cargo shuttle in June — was returned to a landing pad near the launch site about eight minutes after liftoff.
“That marks the second visit to and from space for this particular booster,” said a SpaceX commentator over video images of the first-stage landing shown on the company’s website.
The launch was the first at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Pad 40 since SpaceX executed a $50 million refurbishment to repair major damage from a rocket explosion in September 2016. The latest launch had been scheduled for Dec. 12 until being scrubbed to remove particles detected in a second-stage fuel system.
The Dragon cargo capsule reached its preliminary orbit 10 minutes post-launch and is expected to reach the space station on Dec. 17. The science gear and equipment being delivered by the SpaceX cargo craft, to be used in several science experiments, includes a NASA instrument called Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS-1, and a fiber-optic payload.
The mission represents the 13th time the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has delivered cargo to the multi-nation space lab.
SpaceX and Boeing hold NASA contracts to begin astronaut shuttles sometime in the next few years.
The latest SpaceX cargo shuttled followed by four days the signing of a directive by President Trump for NASA to continue to partner with the commercial space industry, first on an unspecified new lunar mission and eventually on a first-ever manned mission to Mars. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation lauded the Trump directive.
“The U.S. commercial space industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in private capital to develop innovative capabilities for lunar transport, operations and resource utilization,” Federation president Eric Stallmer said. “CSF recommends that the Administration challenge NASA to leverage these commercial capabilities to generate greater efficiency and to partner with industry through flexible, innovative contracting approaches to achieve the goals set out in Space Policy Directive 1 as quickly as possible.”
The White House directive formalizes an Oct. 5 policy recommendation by the National Space Council.