CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Spacex launched its 17th rocket of the year today (June 3), sending a robotic cargo capsule Dragon to the International Space Station before landing at sea.
Two stage Rocket Falcon 9 launched from Pad 39A here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:29 pm ET (5:29 pm GMT), launching the company’s 22nd resupply mission at NASA’s orbiting laboratory. The dragon weighs over 7,300 pounds. (3,311 kg) of materials, scientific experiments and equipment, including two new solar panels for the space station’s power system.
About 9 minutes after liftoff, the first stage of the Falcon 9 returned to Earth, smoothly landing on one of SpaceX’s drones in the Atlantic Ocean. The giant ship called Surely I Still Love You is one of only two evacuation vessels in the company’s fleet that catch falling boosters and return them to port for later use.
Connected: SpaceX will launch cubs of squid and tardigrades into the space station
Dragon is slated to arrive at the station and dock at the Harmony Module space port on Saturday (June 5) at 5 a.m. ET (09:00 GMT). The orbital laboratory already has another SpaceX device: Crew Dragon “Endeavor”, which launched on April 23with a crew of four astronauts. (This is not the first time two Dragons are parked at the same time; this is becoming more common.)
Meteorologists from Meteorological Squadron 45 predicted unreliable weather for today’s launch with the potential for cumulus clouds and flight from precipitation. It’s summer in Florida, which can mean afternoon thunderstorms. But Mother Nature contributed to this, and the rocket was able to get off the ground as expected.
The first stage launch vehicle featured in today’s flight, known as the B1067, was a brand new Falcon 9. The all-white appearance of the launcher stands in stark contrast to the smoky veterans who have sent every other mission into space this year for the California space company. …
Landing today marked the 86th restoration of the first Falcon stage since SpaceX. restored his first booster in 2015…
Transportation of large loads
The recently launched cargo Dragon carries two different animal experiments, including the first one that will take place inside Dragon when it flies to the space station. Called UMAMI, this study examines the symbiotic relationship between animals (in this case, baby squid) and microbes. Another will study a group of extremophiles known as tardigrades to better understand which genes enable them to withstand the stressors of extreme conditions like microgravity.
Hidden inside Dragon’s trunk are two new solar panels that will help boost the space station’s power. Redwire Space is working with Boeing to create flexible panels to be installed later this month. Dubbed ROSA (for solar array deployment), these panels are the first of six new solar panels that will provide power to the space station. These types of solar panels will also be used in future space missions, including NASA’s upcoming Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and the Lunar Gateway.
The Dragon also has crew treats on board, including apples, lemons and avocados. There are over 7,000 pounds in total. (3311 kg) cargo, which will help astronauts carry out various research experiments, as well as help to replenish the station’s supplies.
A new generation of dragons
The droplet capsule is the second upgraded Dragon freighter to travel to the station after SpaceX. ditched its previous iteration Cargo Dragon in 2020…
Designed for 20% more cargo, this model is nearly identical to its crewed counterpart and more on the inside than its predecessor. According to Kirk Costello, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station (ISS), the new iteration contains twice as many electrically powered lockers as the earlier Dragon, which means more critical cargo and payloads for life sciences.
The ship can even store payloads in orbit and can stay at the station twice as long as previous cargo Dragons. Another major update is that cargo ships will now be powered in the Atlantic Ocean (compared to previous flights in the Pacific), bringing faster returns from science.
This means researchers can get their samples and data faster – just four to nine hours after splashdown. And SpaceX can get the vehicle back faster and begin performing inspections and maintenance before Dragon’s next flight. In addition, each new Dragon cargo spacecraft is certified to fly five times, up from the three possible flights of its predecessor.
Dragon and some other commercial vehicles (e.g. Boeing CST-100 Starliner Astronaut Taxi) autonomously docks with an orbital outpost, while other spacecraft (such as Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus freighter) require the assistance of a station robotic arm to dock at the ISS. So where they park at the station depends on their capabilities.
Since there are limited parking spaces at the station, this means that in some cases, ISS crew members will have to move vehicles after others have left. For example, when this freighter Dragon returns to Earth in July, the Crew-2 astronauts will relocate their Dragon spacecraft so the Starliner can park at its current location.
Starliner’s closest flight, named OFT-2, is scheduled for July 30. During a roughly week-long mission, the uncrewed Starliner spacecraft docks with the ISS before returning to Earth. Boeing completed this bareboat test flight for the first time in December 2019; Starliner ran into several problems with this attempt, and impossible to meet with the orbital laboratory as planned.
The flight marks the 17th of 2021 for SpaceX Falcon 9’s workhorse, and marks 101 successful missions following one unsuccessful launch in 2015 (the second occurred at the site in 2016).
Today’s flight was the first this year to showcase the all-new Falcon 9 rocket. Known as the B1067, the booster has its next mission already scheduled to launch the Crew-3 astronauts later this year. SpaceX kicked off a brisk launch last year, launching a record 26 missions. Since then, the company has not slowed down.
SpaceX can keep pace with a range of flight-proven accelerators. This means that instead of having to use a new rocket every time, the company can repeatedly update the remanufactured boosters. In fact, the company set a record last month when the first stage of the Falcon 9, known as the B1051, took off for the 10th time. And the B1051 will fly again soon, SpaceX officials said.
All this is possible thanks to the set Falcon 9 upgrade received in 2018…
The fast launch also allowed SpaceX to optimize its procedures both before and after launch. For example, this mission marks the first time that SpaceX has not launched its new rocket at the launch pad before it takes off into space.
Static fire testing has become a regular part of SpaceX’s launch procedures. During this test, the first stage of the Falcon 9 is held on the launch pad and its nine Merlin 1D engines are briefly ignited. Engineers collect valuable data that tells them if the launcher and its systems are working properly.
In a prelaunch briefing, Sarah Walker of SpaceX stated that the rocket had been tested at the company’s facilities in McGregor, Texas, and that the test provided ample confirmation of its readiness to fly.
So far this year, SpaceX has conducted only a handful of static fire tests, including one for its next flight, which is slated for early Sunday morning.
Just after midnight on June 6, the company sends one of its veteran rockets, a two-time pilot known as B1063, into orbit. Its payload: broadband satellite for Sirius-XM radio. The satellite, dubbed SXM-8, will provide coverage in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
SpaceX’s other robotic drone, Just Read the Instructions, has left port and is heading for the recovery zone for the SXM-8 mission. If all goes to plan, the missiles in both missions will fly again soon.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.