Elon Musk's SpaceX becomes first private company to launch a reused rocket on a NASA mission

  • SpaceX becomes the first company to launch a NASA resupply mission on a previously flown rocket.
  • Mission CRS-13 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida.
  • It is the fourth time this year SpaceX launched with what it says is a "flight proven" booster.

Elon Musk's rocket company made NASA history Friday, as SpaceX became the first company to launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station on a reused rocket.

The mission, known as Commercial Resupply Services 13 (CRS-13), launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket previously flown for CRS-11 in June this year.

It is the first time NASA has approved such a mission and the fourth time SpaceX has launched with what it says is a "flight proven" booster. Three commercial missions earlier this year, including the record turnaround from BulgariaSat-1 in June, have reused Falcon 9 rockets.

The Falcon 9's first stage successfully separated from the Dragon capsule — which was also previously flown, on a mission in April 2015. A few minutes later, the booster touched down at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral, gently settling onto the concrete pad.

The mission brings about 2½ tons of crew supplies and scientific payloads to the space station. Dragon will travel for two days before it attaches to the orbiting station, returning about one month later to Earth.

NASA officials announced the CRS-13 would be on a previously flown booster, saying in a press conference before the launch that the administration is "very comfortable that the risk posture on this vehicle is not significantly greater than a new booster."

This was the only launch where NASA has approved the use of a previously launched rocket. SpaceX demonstrated thorough readiness for the rocket after NASA participated "in a broad range" of date assessments and inspections of the Falcon 9.

The launch had been delayed multiple times from its original Dec. 8 target, with today marking the last backup opportunity until Dec. 25.

The 45th Space Wing of the U.S. Air Force said in a tweet before the launch that this was the 19th launch from Cape Canaveral's Eastern Range in 2017. This was SpaceX's 17th launch this year, with one more expected on Dec. 22 to launch more Iridium satellites.

Musk's company is at the forefront of a global shift in rocket launches, with this year the first in history that commercial launches will outpace government-sponsored ones.

While SpaceX is the first private company to achieve this milestone, the U.S. government formerly launched astronauts and supplies aboard its space shuttles. The shuttle was a composite of an orbiter, two recoverable solid rocket boosters and an iconic orange external fuel tank. The shuttle program flew 135 missions and ran for nearly 40 years until 2011, when it was retired.