SpaceX launches Dragon cargo capsule to space station, nails rocket landing at sea

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX launched its 21st rocket of the 12 months right now (Aug 29), sending a robotic Dragon cargo capsule towards the International Space Station (ISS) earlier than nailing a landing at sea. A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Launch Complex 39A right here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:14 a.m. EDT (0714 GMT), kicking off the corporate’s 23rd cargo resupply mission to the orbiting lab for NASA. The Dragon is filled with greater than 4,800 kilos (2,200 kilograms) of provides, scientific experiments and {hardware}, together with a brand new robotic arm that shall be examined contained in the space station’s Bishop Airlock.Rather less than eight minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth, landing on one in every of SpaceX’s drone ships within the Atlantic Ocean in a clean landing. The huge ship, referred to as “A Shortfall of Gravitas,” is the latest of three drone ships within the firm’s fleet of restoration vessels that catch falling boosters and return them to port for later reuse. “That is the 90th successful landing of an orbital class rocket and the very first for our newest drone ship, ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas,'” Andy Tran of SpaceX stated throughout a webcast of this morning’s launch. “What a great way to start today’s mission.”Related: How SpaceX’s Dragon space capsule works (infographic) A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the CRS-23 cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA on Aug. 29, 2021. (Image credit score: NASA TV)Launch particularsDragon is scheduled to arrive at the station and dock at the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Monday (Aug. 30) round 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). There’s already one other SpaceX automobile at the orbiting lab: the Crew Dragon “Endeavour,” which launched on April 23, carrying a crew of 4 astronauts. (It’s not the primary time that two Dragons have been parked at the identical time; in reality, there’s been at least one Dragon docked to the space station daily up to now in 2021.)Weather officers at the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted iffy climate for the mission’s first launch try, scheduled for Aug. 28. Unfortunately, poor climate at the launch website prompted a 24-hour delay. Luckily, the forecast improved dramatically in a single day, and Falcon 9 was ready to get off the bottom as anticipated.The first-stage booster featured in right now’s flight, generally known as B1061, was a three-time flier. The launcher now has 4 missions underneath its belt, after lofting its third Dragon spacecraft. The landing right now marked the 90th restoration of a Falcon first stage since SpaceX recovered its first booster in 2015.Related: Watch a SpaceX rocket ace landing on a drone ship in gorgeous new videoSpaceX’s robotic Dragon cargo capsule separates from the higher stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on Aug. 29, 2021. (Image credit score: NASA TV)Cargo haulThe newly launched cargo Dragon is carrying a treasure trove of science investigations to the orbital outpost, together with a brand new robotic arm that shall be examined out contained in the station’s latest airlock. As a part of a know-how demonstration, the robotic arm will flip switches and push buttons in an try to show it has what it takes to perform routine astronaut duties.Also on board are quite a lot of medical payloads that can assist profit astronauts in addition to individuals on Earth. One such payload, referred to as the Nanofluidic Implant Communication Experiment (NICE), will check out a brand new drug-delivery system. The tiny implant may change the way in which individuals obtain their treatment and handle power sicknesses. Traditional technique of drug supply embrace cumbersome pumps, however that would quickly change. The system can be implanted in a affected person’s arm and would ship medication at set intervals, thus permitting the affected person to go about their lives, the researchers have stated. This sort of system can be extremely useful for sufferers like these with rheumatoid arthritis, and those that want to take drugs at all instances of the day. Another experiment, referred to as MISSE-15, will look at completely different supplies and the way they reply to the space surroundings. Samples of issues like concrete, photo voltaic panels and extra shall be uncovered to the tough surroundings of outer space to check out potential supplies for brand new spacecraft and rather more. But that is not all. According to Joel Montalbano, ISS program supervisor for NASA, the crew will even be receiving some particular treats within the type of recent meals and even ice cream. “We’re sending up a good amount of fruit,” Montalbano stated throughout a prelaunch information convention on Friday (Aug. 27). “We have lemons, onions, some avocados, some cherry tomatoes, and also some ice cream. That’s a big hit with our crew.”In complete, there are greater than 4,800 kilos (2,200 kg) of cargo that can assist the astronauts carry out quite a lot of analysis experiments in addition to assist to restock the station. It’s been a busy summer season on station, with the arrival and set up of latest photo voltaic arrays, a brand new Russian science module, and a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship. “Working with SpaceX and working with our other commercial providers has been just an outstanding partnership that we’ve established between NASA and the commercial industry,” Montalbano stated. “We are excited to launch this mission and get this incredible science to the station.”A brand new technology of DragonsThe gumdrop-shaped capsule is the third upgraded Dragon cargo craft to launch to the station after SpaceX retired its earlier iteration of cargo Dragon in 2020. It’s additionally the third to launch on this specific Falcon 9.Designed to maintain about 20% extra cargo, the present mannequin is sort of an identical to its crew-toting counterpart and is larger on the within than its predecessor. The craft may even retailer powered payloads whereas on orbit and might keep on station twice so long as the earlier cargo Dragons. Another key improve is that the cargo ships will now splash down within the Atlantic Ocean (versus the Pacific splashdowns of previous flights), offering a sooner return on science. That means researchers can get their samples and knowledge again sooner — in as little as 4 to 9 hours after splashdown. And SpaceX can get the automobile again extra shortly and begin performing inspections and upkeep earlier than the Dragon’s subsequent flight. Because the newer model of Dragon is best geared up to deal with the stresses of a water landing, the groups at SpaceX are ready to examine and refurbish it sooner, with much less downtime between flights. The Dragon flying right now first launched on CRS-21 final 12 months and now has two flights underneath its belt. When it docks with the orbital outpost on Monday morning, there shall be two beforehand flown Dragons parked at the identical time. SpaceX’s Sarah Walker, who leads the corporate’s Dragon program, says that that is the fourth Dragon to launch this 12 months, with at least yet another anticipated to launch earlier than the top of 2021. In truth, this would be the third 12 months in a row that at least 4 Dragon spacecraft have launched, Walker stated. She additionally stated that at least one Dragon spacecraft has been parked at the ISS daily up to now this 12 months. Falcon ferry This flight is the 21st for SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 up to now this 12 months and marks 105 consecutive profitable missions for the reason that firm’s launch failure in 2015. (A second anomaly occurred on the pad in 2016.) It additionally marks the 90th profitable restoration of a first-stage booster for the corporate. Today’s flight featured a veteran Falcon 9 rocket. The booster, generally known as B1061, now has 4 profitable flights underneath its belt, three of which ferried completely different Dragon spacecraft to the space station. It marks the primary SpaceX flight in practically two months from the Cape. The firm’s final flight, which blasted off on June 30, delivered greater than 80 small satellites into space, on a rideshare mission referred to as Transporter-2.The lull in launches may put a damper on SpaceX’s plan to launch an estimated 40 rockets in 2021, most of which might ferry its personal Starlink satellites into space. Unfortunately, crucial upgrades to the satellites took longer than anticipated, main to a short lived launch hiatus. But now the corporate is again in enterprise with a busy fall forward, together with the launch of the Crew-Three mission to the space station in addition to Inspiration4, which is able to ship 4 personal residents to orbit.SpaceX depends on a fleet of reusable rockets so as to sustain a excessive launch cadence. This implies that as an alternative of utilizing a brand-new rocket every time, the corporate can refly its recovered boosters many instances over.That’s thanks to a set of upgrades the Falcon 9 acquired in 2018, in addition to a fleet of drone ships to catch the returning boosters. SpaceX now has three of those huge ships: “Of Course I Still Love You,” “Just Read the Instructions” and the latest ship on the block, “A Shortfall of Gravitas.”The firm lately despatched “Of Course I Still Love You” on a journey to the West Coast, the place the boat will facilitate restoration operations for missions that launch from SpaceX’s California-based launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. After years of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk promising the arrival of a brand new drone ship, “A Shortfall of Gravitas” arrived at Port Canaveral on July 15. The huge ship is totally autonomous and even able to driving itself out to the restoration zone the place it’ll await returning boosters. (The firm’s different two ships have to be pulled by a tug.) For its first mission, ASOG was pulled by tug to the landing zone, the place it made its first profitable catch lower than eight minutes after liftoff. Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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