A SpaceX rocket that flew just two months ago with a Nasa satellite has roared back into action, launching the first orbiting robot with artificial intelligence and other station supplies.
The used Falcon rocket blasted off hauling nearly 2,700kg of cargo, including the spherical AI bot named Cimon; genetically identical mice, or mousetronauts; and super-caffeinated coffee for the crew of the International Space Station.
The shipment – packed into a Dragon capsule that is also recycled – should reach the station on Monday.
It was an especially gorgeous launch, delighting spectators as the rocket plume expanded in the clear night sky like a giant halo, beneath a nearly full moon at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This marked SpaceX’s fastest reflight of a booster.
The same first-stage booster launched the planet-hunting Tess satellite in April, while the capsule flew in 2016.
Aiming to lower launch costs by reusing rockets, SpaceX did not retrieve the booster for another flight and instead ditched it in the Atlantic.
The company is switching to a new and improved line of boosters.
The space station and its six inhabitants were sailing 250 miles above the South Pacific when the Falcon 9 took off.
The Dragon will deliver the robot Cimon, pronounced Simon.
Cimon stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and the name also refers to the genius doctor in the science fiction tale Captain Future.
The round, 3D-printed German Space Agency robot, which is slightly bigger than a basketball, will assist German astronaut Alexander Gerst with science experiments.
Cimon will remain indefinitely on the orbiting lab, continually getting updated via IBM’s Cloud.
IBM provided the AI brain.
Also on board are 20 brown female mice, half of them genetically identical from one strain or family, and the other half identical from another family.
Northwestern University researchers want to study the bacteria in the animals’ guts and compare them to their identical sisters on the ground.
They did the same with Scott and Mark Kelly, Nasa’s former identical twin astronauts, during Scott’s year-long space station mission a few years ago.
There are also 60 packets of Death Wish Coffee from New York state on board.
A former astronaut helped arrange the delivery for the space station’s Serena Aunon-Chancellor, a coffee lover.