A SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule encountered the International Space Station (ISS) Saturday, July 16, delivering more than 5,800 pounds (2,630 kilograms) of supplies to the orbiting laboratory.
The robotic dragon launched atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket Thursday night (July 14) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 delivered Dragon to low Earth orbit, and the rocket’s first stage descended for a successful landing on the SpaceX A Shortfall of Gravitas drone.
Dragon’s orbital pursuit ended on Saturday: the capsule docked with the ISS at 11:21 a.m. EDT (1521 GMT), while the two spacecraft flew 430 kilometers above the Atlantic South.
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The current mission is SpaceX’s 25th cargo flight to the ISS for NASA, so it’s known as CRS-25. (CRS stands for “Commercial Resupply Services.”) The number has grown at a slow but steady rate of about two a year since the company’s first operational ISS cargo mission in 2012.
SpaceX’s overall launch rate is of course much higher: CRS-25’s liftoff was on the 30 Falcon 9 launched so far this year. In contrast, SpaceX launched just 31 missions in 2021. According to Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight at SpaceX, the company is on track to double that number by the end of this year.
“It takes my breath away,” Reed told reporters on a conference call shortly after Thursday night’s launch. “To think that we’ve already launched three Dragons to the station this year is pretty cool,” Reed added, “including the first fully commercial mission to the station and a NASA crew mission as well.”
The other two Dragon missions that took off this year – both in April – were crewed. One, called Axe-1, carried paying customers to the orbital laboratory on a flight organized by Houston-based company Axiom Space. The other was Crew-4SpaceX’s fourth contracted astronaut mission for NASA.
About half the weight Dragon transported to the ISS by CRS-25 is dedicated to scientific research. The mission is contributing to nearly 40 ongoing research projects at the orbiting lab and has filed a handful of others, NASA officials said.
A study, from the European Space Agency and the University of Florence in Italy, investigates the effects of microgravity on the healing process of sutured wounds. Another, from the University of California, San Francisco, will study the relationship between the immune system and aging and the body’s ability to heal itself. There is also an investigation to study a special type of biopolymer concrete, which could help in the search for future construction materials on the moon.
Loaded into Dragon’s trunk, the EMIT experiment – short for Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation – will be pulled from its storage compartment using the ISS robotic arm and mounted on the ExPRESS 1 logistics carrier, a bay exposed external payload used for experiments and storage. EMIT will spend the next year studying the mineral composition of dust in arid regions of Earth to help scientists better understand the planet’s global climate system.
Some of the CRS-25’s cargo, although not part of other ongoing investigations, serves as a symbol of the science that sustains daily life on the space station – and also highlights how miraculous it is that we can operate a science lab in space at all. Dina Contella, NASA operations integration manager for the ISS, highlighted other hardware on board Dragon.
“One item is a spare metering pump, which is essential for toilets,” Contella said during Thursday’s press call. Dosing pumps are used to treat urine before the filtering and collecting process to convert it back into drinking water – in case you forgot there is no water in space and astronauts have to drink their own recycled pee.
“Additionally, we launched brine processor assembly bladders,” Contella said. “These allow us to recover even more water from urinary effort [than] normal treatment. So the new bladders further increase our ability to catch as much water as possible.” She added that two filters for the station’s drinking water dispensers were also included in the Dragon’s manifesto.
Dragon is expected to remain docked to the ISS for about a month and be filled with station hardware before splashing back down to Earth off the coast of Florida in mid-August.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 11:55 a.m. EDT July 16 with news of the successful docking.
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