This morning, SpaceX is preparing to launch 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 previous redistribution missions. SpaceX flies a newly upgraded Dragon capsule to deliver supplies to space – the same vehicle that the company uses to fly astronauts to the station.
SpaceX has been redistributing the space station since 2012, and the company has used the original version of the Dragon Cargo capsule for its previous 20 missions. SpaceX began developing a new dragon capsule to bring people in and out of the RSS. Called the Crew Dragon or Dragon 2, the spacecraft launched its first crew into space in May. With the new version enabled, SpaceX decides to discontinue use of its old Dragon capsule and carry both crew with the upgraded version. And Cargo.
The Dragon 2 capsule includes several upgrades over its predecessor; SpaceX says it can be carried 50 percent more science payloads. It is also capable of docking automatically with the new Dragon space station. The previous version needed to be berth: it would slowly approach the ISS, while a crew member at the station would use a robotic arm to grab the incoming capsule and move it to an open docking port. Dragon 2 does not require any human assistance to dock and attach to ISS.
The mission will bring supplies to the station and the astronauts, as well as bring a number of experiments to the RSS. They include the European Space Agency’s bio-steroid, which will examine how microgravity affects the process of using microorganisms to extract elements from biomining rocks. The mission will also include the first COVID-19 drug research experiment in space to improve the effectiveness of the antiviral drug rimedacivir. There will also be a NanoRock commercial airlock module – basically a large metal cup attached to the outside of the RSS.
Once this capsule arrives at the space station, it will not be the only dragon attached to the RSS. On November 15, SpaceX launched four people on another Dragon capsule into the ISS, which docked with the station a day later. This means that two dragons will be docked on the ISS after the flight lands. “This will be the first time two dragons will be on the space station at the same time,” said Sarah Walker, managing director of Dragon Mission at SpaceX, at a pre-flight press conference. “By the end of 2021, it’s really coming to a season of continuous dragon presence in the near future.”
The mission was rescheduled due to weather concerns, but will now launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:17 AM ET. SpaceX uses one of its used Falcon 9 rockets as a mission, having flown three times before. In fact, it is the same rocket that launched the first crew of two SpaceX stations in May. After the flight, the Falcon 9 will attempt to land on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The Dragon Capsule is expected to dock with the RSS on December 7th. You can see the launch live on SpaceX’s website.