SpaceX‘s powerful Falcon 9 rocket took off to the International Space Station (ISS) in its final flight of the first version of the space company’s Dragon cargo ship. Shortly after launch, the rocket’s first stage booster landed to a site a few miles from its starting location and touched down at Cape Canaveral, making it the 50th time SpaceX has recovered a Falcon booster undamaged since its first-ever successful recovery in 2015.
The launch of the 213-foot-tall (65 meters) Falcon 9 rocket happened at 11:50 p.m. EST on Friday (04:50 GMT Saturday) from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A few minutes after the lift-off, the Dragon spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage and unfolded its power-generating solar panels.
The Cargo Carried Numerous Scientific Tools
SpaceX’s 20 resupply launch to the space station marked the start of the last flight under a $3 billion contract signed with NASA in December 2008. The Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract was made to ensure that the ISS kept receiving regular cargo shipments after the termination of the space shuttle, back in 2011.
The Dragon capsule carried an outdoor science deck that has to be installed outside the space station’s European Columbus module. The external platform, dubbed Bartolomeo, will be fixed to the outer body of the Columbus module sometime this month, and astronauts will carry out a spacewalk in April to link the wire collars in order to make the facility operational.
The spacecraft launched on Friday night is packed with countless scientific experiments in its pressurized cabin, such as biological research analyses observing microgravity’s effect on stem cells, intestinal diseases, and chemical responses. Another experiment included is from Delta Faucet, which will examine water droplet formation in microgravity with the aim of developing better-performing showerheads while lowering the usage amount of water.
It also carries additional parts and replacement hardware for the ISS’ research labs and life support systems.
SpaceX is Ready to Flight Its New Spacecraft
After about a month in orbit, astronauts based at the space station will pack research specimens and other cargo scheduled for return to Earth into the Dragon spacecraft, which is set to leave the orbiting lab and land in the Pacific Ocean on April 6th.
The return of the Dragon capsule in April will mark the switch to SpaceX’s next CRS contract with NASA. The company’s next series of cargo expeditions will use a new Dragon probe design, called the Dragon 2, with cargo missions to the ISS using the Dragon 2 spacecraft set to begin in late October.
The Dragon 2’s human-associated version is known as Crew Dragon, which is expected to fly astronauts to the space station for the first time in the next few months. The first-generation variant of the Dragon spacecraft first flew in 2010 with a test flight in low Earth orbit. The Dragon capsule managed to complete its first trip to the ISS in May of 2012 on a second demo expedition under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
Via the COTS mission, NASA gave SpaceX $396 million to help with the development of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launcher in a public-private collaboration. NASA said that SpaceX gave more than $450 million for the development of the spacecraft.