This morning, SpaceX launched its latest batch of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, but the company is using a slightly different spacecraft for this flight than resupply missions of the past. SpaceX is flying its newly upgraded Dragon capsule to transport the goods to space the same vehicle that the company has been using to fly astronauts to the station.
SpaceX has been resupplying the space station since 2012, and for all of its 20 previous missions, the company has used the original version of its Dragon cargo capsule. SpaceX started developing a new Dragon capsule, though, to transport people to and from the ISS. Called Crew Dragon or Dragon 2 the vehicle carried its first crew to space in May. With the new version operational, SpaceX decided to discontinue the use of its old Dragon capsule and use the upgraded version to carry both crew and cargo.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifting the capsule to orbit is the same one that carried astronauts to the ISS during the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission.
Provided everything goes according to plan, this could significantly lower the costs for both supply missions and SpaceX as a whole. As TechCrunch observed, this should simplify SpaceX’s capsule production. The improved capacity and reusability could also reduce the number of capsules SpaceX needs to make and fly. That, in turn, could save money for NASA and the public.