A SpaceX Dragon cargo pod touched down with the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday (July 16) and delivered more than 5,800 pounds (2,630 kilograms) of supplies to the orbiting laboratory.
The Robot Dragon launched on a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday evening (July 14) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 launched Dragon into low Earth orbit, and the rocket’s first stage successfully landed on SpaceX’s A Shortfall of Gravitas drone ship.
Dragon’s orbital chase ended on Saturday: the capsule docked with the ISS at 11:21 am EDT (1521 GMT) while the two spacecraft flew 267 miles (430 kilometers) over the South Atlantic.
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The current mission is SpaceX’s 25th cargo flight to the ISS for NASA, hence it is known as CRS-25. (CRS stands for “Commercial Resupply Services.”) The number has been slowly but steadily increasing by about two a year since the company’s first operational ISS cargo mission in 2012.
SpaceX’s general launch cadence is, of course, much higher: the launch of CRS-25 was April 30 falcon 9 Start so far this year. In contrast, SpaceX launched only 31 missions throughout 2021. The company is poised to double that number by the end of this year, according to Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight at SpaceX.
“It kind of blows my mind,” Reed told reporters during a conference call shortly after launch Thursday night. “To think that we’ve already brought three Dragons to the station this year is pretty cool,” added Reed, “including the first purely commercial mission to the station and also a NASA crewed mission.”
The other two Dragon missions launched this year – both in April – were manned. One named Ax-1, carried paying customers into the revolving lab on a flight arranged by Houston firm Axiom Space. The other was Crew-4SpaceX’s fourth contracted astronaut mission for NASA.
About half of it dragon which will be transported to the ISS by CRS-25 is dedicated to scientific research. The mission contributes to nearly 40 ongoing research projects taking place in the orbital laboratory and has dropped a handful more, NASA officials said.
A study by the European Space Agency and the University of Florence in Italy examines the effects of microgravity about the healing process of stitched wounds. Another, from the University of California, San Francisco, will examine the immune system’s relationship to aging and the body’s ability to heal itself. There is also an investigation looking into a special type of biopolymer concrete that could help in the search for future building materials on the moon.
The EMIT experiment – short for Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation – will be loaded into Dragon’s trunk and pulled out of its stowage using the ISS’s robotic arm and mounted on the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 1, an exposed external payload bay used for experiments and storage is used. EMIT will spend the next year studying the mineral composition of dust in Earth’s dry regions to help scientists better understand the planet’s global climate system.
Some of the CRS-25 cargo, while not part of other ongoing investigations, serves as a symbol of the science that powers day-to-day life on the space station — and also underscores how wonderful it is that we have a science lab everyone can operate in space. Dina Contella, NASA operations integration manager for the ISS, highlighted other hardware packaged aboard Dragon.
“One item is a replacement dose pump, which is vital to the toilet,” Contella said in Thursday’s news conference. Metering pumps are used to treat urine before the filtering and recovery process to turn it back into drinking water – in case you forgot there is no water in space and astronauts have to drink their own recycled pee.
“We also released some brine processor mounting bladders,” said Contella. “This allows us to recover even more water from the urine output [than] normal processing. So the new bubbles increase our ability to reclaim as much water as possible.” She added that two filters for the station’s drinking water dispensers are also included in the dragon’s manifesto.
Dragon is expected to remain docked with the ISS for about a month, packed with equipment from the station, before returning to Earth with a splashdown off the Florida coast in mid-August.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated July 16 at 11:55 am EDT with news of the successful docking.