This Saturday, SpaceX successfully launched a new cargo mission to the International Space Station. For the occasion, the company has deployed a new version of its Crew Dragon capsule. It is also the first time that two of these vessels have been docked to the ISS.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off this Saturday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 5:17 p.m. PT, marking the company’s 21st cargo mission on behalf of the US agency and its 24th launch of the year .
About nine minutes later, the Falcon’s first stage successfully returned to Earth, landing on one of the company’s ships deployed off the Atlantic. This booster, named B1058, had already flown three times before this mission. It is also the first time that NASA has relied on a booster with more than one flight to its credit. Proof, once again, that the American agency is more and more comfortable with the reuse of SpaceX components.
A new improved capsule
That said, this new “CRS-21” mission was also and above all marked by the first flight of SpaceX’s new “improved” cargo capsule: the “Cargo Dragon 2”. This, like the previous one, aims to transport food, water, science experiments and other materials to the orbiting laboratory.
As part of this mission, the payload of over 2.9 tonnes included samples of crushed asteroids for a biomining study, and a new medical device to deliver rapid blood test results for astronauts in the space. Forty mice were also delivered to study the effects of microgravity on bone density and ocular degradation, two weak points of astronauts during long space stays.
The ship is a modified version of the one deployed to transport humans to the space station. Here the seats, cockpit controls, life support system and Super Draco thrusters used as an emergency evacuation system in the event of a problem during launch have been removed. Instead, you will find a dozen motorized lockers containing all the material to be delivered. This is twice as much as before.
This new ship is also designed to be recovered and prepared for repeated flights faster than its predecessor. It is also able to independently connect to the station, rather than having to be grabbed by a robotic arm and attached to a port as was the case previously.
Two Crew Dragons in orbit
As the spacecraft has since docked to the ISS, there are now two SpaceX capsules attached to the orbiting laboratory. This new cargo capsule, therefore, and the Crew Dragon “Resilience” launched on November 15 with four astronauts on board.
This new cargo capsule will leave the station in about a month, bringing back to Earth all the equipment that astronauts no longer need. It will then land in the middle of the Atlantic. Again, this is another change. Until now, SpaceX cargo ships have indeed landed in the Pacific. Landing closer to Cape Canaveral will save time.