Last night, SpaceX launched its first generation Dragon capsule on its twentieth — and final — resupply run to the International Space Station.
The launch marks the Dragon’s last mission as the capsule makes way for SpaceX’s updated and improved Dragon 2 capsule, which will begin making resupply runs to the space station in October.
Alongside cargo to resupply the ISS, the Dragon will be bringing along payloads for experimental research aboard the space station. Including an Adidas experiment to see how it can manufacture midsoles in space; a project from the faucet maker, Delta, to see how water droplets form in zero gravity; and Emulate is sending up an organ-on-a-chip to examine how microgravity affects intestinal immune cells and how heart tissue can be cultured in space.
It’s been twelve years since SpaceX first won a $1.6 billion contract to resupply the space station, and over that time, the space industry has changed dramatically.
The company’s technical innovations around manufacturing and reusing rocket components revolutionized the space industry and created an environment where entrepreneurs believed in the possibility of competing with industry giants like Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
Since SpaceX first emerged to challenge those longtime government contractors, which had a lock on government space missions, a wave of commercial activity has emerged around the International Space Station, supporting the creation of new industries.
Earlier this week, Axiom Space announced that it would be using SpaceX to ferry the first entirely private crew of passengers to the International Space Station for a ten-day trip (albeit at a cost of $55 million). Axiom’s vision of building a private orbiting space station off of the existing International Space Station is a bold step forward for the commercialization of space — and one which would be less likely if not for SpaceX’s work and the success of the first Dragon.
Boeing launched its Starliner CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time on Friday morning in an uncrewed test, and while an error with the onboard mission clock meant that the Starliner didn’t reach its target orbit as intended and subsequently didn’t have enough fuel on board to actually meet up and dock with the ISS, it’s still doing as much testing as it can to complete other mission objectives. One of those objectives is landing the Starliner spacecraft, and Boeing and NASA have scheduled that landing for Sunday at 7:57 AM EST (4:57 AM PST).
The landing will take place at White Sands, New Mexico, and will involve a controlled de-orbit and descent of the Starliner capsule. The spacecraft will begin its de-orbit burn at 7:23 AM EST if all goes to plan, and NASA will begin a live broadcast of the entire landing attempt starting at 6:45 AM EST (3:45 AM PST) on Sunday morning if you want to tune in to the stream embedded below.
Boeing and NASA held a press conference today to provide updates about the mission status after the unplanned mission timer incident on Friday. Boeing SVP of Space and Launch Jim Chilton said during the conference that the team has managed to successfully run a number of its test objective with the mission despite the setback, including extending the docking system to see that it performs as expected, and testing the abort system on board the crew capsule.
The landing is another key test, and could even be more crucial to crew safety in terms of its execution. Both NASA and Boeing have said that were astronauts on board the Starliner during this mission, the mission clock timer incident that occurred would not have put them in any actual danger at any time. Problems with the automated landing sequence would be a different story, potentially – though astronauts are trained to do everything manually in case of any issues encountered while they’re actually in the spacecraft.
Should anything warrant skipping the first attempt at landing tomorrow, NASA and Boeing have a back-up landing opportunity about eight hours after the first. Tune in tomorrow to see how this spacecraft, which will still hopefully carry its first human passengers next year, does with its landing maneuvers.
NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.
Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.
By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.
SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.
Update: SpaceX aborted the launch with 13 seconds to go, citing the issue with the positioning of an engine nozzle that’s responsible for steering the rocket in the second stage as the cause. The company said it was exercising “an abundance of caution” in postponing the launch, but wanted to be absolutely sure. The next launch window is at 9:38 AM ET on Sunday morning. At… Read More
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