Upgraded Cargo Dragon Debuts in flight to ISS

11:17 AM Est Atop a Falcon 9 rocket from historic LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center

Zac Schaul- Next Horizons Spaceflight

With poor weather surrounding the Cape, and rough seas bouncing the automated drone recovery ship in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceX delayed the trip to the International Space Station by one day. At 11:17 AM Est with much sunnier skies than yesterday, all nine Merlin 1D engines fired up, creating about 1.7 million pounds of thrust, moving the rocket full of science and supplies skyward and on it’s way to deliver the goods for the CRS-21 mission. CRS or Commercial Resupply Services, which are a series of flights awarded by NASA to commercially operated companies for them to fly supplies to the ISS. SpaceX got their contract awarded first in the year 2008 to make twelve trips for NASA. This is where the original needed for the Dragon spacecraft came in. In 2012 the company launched their first CRS mission and has flown twenty to date.

Kyle Montgomery-Next Horizons Spaceflight

This was the debut flight of their newest version of the Cargo Dragon capsule. One of the main differences between it and it’s predecessor is the ability of SpaceX personal to use the Crew Access Arm atop of launch pad 39A to late load anything that can not be put into the capsules weeks ahead of time. For example, CRS-19 had live mice on board and when the launch was delayed the rocket would have to be take all the way horizontal so the oxygen could be changed out. Now all the crew has to do is extend the access arm, and open the hatch. This has been the first time the Crew Access Arm has ever been used with a Cargo Dragon, one of the many firsts for SpaceX being made during this mission. If that wasn’t good enough, this version of the Dragon capsule also has double the amount of storage on board. The previous having only six lockers, they now have twelve that are powered and able to safely store science and research.

Steven Keagle- Next Horizons Spaceflight

Before we get to the rest of the “firsts” of CRS-21 lets cover when this Falcon 9 booster first flew. May 30th of 2020, sound familiar? that’s right this is the same first stage that took astronauts Doug Hurley, and Bob Behnken to the ISS earlier this year. It’s most notable for the large NASA worm logo on one side of the booster. It next flew in July, and October of the same year, and after today’s launch it has only been one month and twenty-nine day’s since it last left Earth. Not quite the record for fastest turnaround but pretty close!

Now a few more firsts happening over the duration of the mission. CRS-21 will be the first to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, whereas all the previous Cargo Dragons have utilized the Pacific Ocean for splash down recovery efforts. This will also be the first automated docking of a SpaceX cargo resupply mission, and once it’s docked it will be the first time in history that two Dragon capsules will be connected to the International Space Station at the same time as “Resilience” the Crew-1 Crew Dragon which brought four astronauts aboard last month is still there. This is also the first NASA mission to use a reflown booster from a previous non NASA mission and the first time SpaceX has sent up a payload on a booster that has flown more than once already.

Onboard is over 6,400lbs of science, supplies, and hardware. Here’s a quick rundown of the 698lbs of hardware being sent up.: Nanoracks Bishop Airlock and Installation Hardware: Bishop Airlock assembly with various installation support items to enable to crew to install the new airlock capability.
Exploration Catalytic Reactor: One of the main components of the Water Processor Assembly incorporating newly designed, robust metallic seals, a new catalyst, and oxygen flow regulation. These upgrades will help manage the dynamic temperature environment for a longer period and optimize the ability of the reactor to oxidize organic compounds in the water. Together, these modifications are intended to meet NASA’s performance and reliability goals for a future Mars mission.
Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) Recharge Tank: Supplemental nitrogen flying to support planned cabin repressurization activity aboard the space station.
Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) Spares/Consumables: Critical spares and consumable items to support crew usage of the next generation toilet following the four crew members arriving on Crew-1.
Rodent Research Habitats and Transporters: Live rodents and support hardware required for the Rodent Research-10 through-23 missions to be conducted during the Crew-1 timeframe.
One-handed Tape Dispenser: Through NASA’s HUNCH challenge, high school students designed and fabricated a one-handed tape dispenser to provide astronauts an easily assessable tool for their everyday activities on the space station. This list provided by NASA

Zac Schaul- Next Horizons Spaceflight

Along with that there is to be over 2,100lbs of science investigations brought up to the astronauts for experiments. Convenient that the upgraded Cargo Dragon has double the amount of storage space for science, as it can hold a plethora of experiments with ease. Included in those scientific studies are the following:

A study of the Effect of Microgravity on Human Brain Organoids observes the response of brain organoids to microgravity. Organoids are small living masses of cells that interact and grow. They can survive for months, providing a model for understanding how cells and tissues adapt to environmental changes. Organoids grown from neurons or nerve cells exhibit normal processes such as responding to stimuli and stress. Therefore, organoids can be used to look at how microgravity.

Along with a study of how certain microbes form layers on the surface of rock that can release metals and minerals, a process known as biomining. BioAsteroid examines biofilm formation and biomining of asteroid or meteorite material in microgravity. Researchers are seeking a better understanding of the basic physical processes that control these mixtures, such as gravity, convection, and mixing. Microberock interactions have many potential uses in space exploration and off-Earth settlement. Microbes could break down rocks into soils for plant growth, for example, or extract elements useful for life support systems and production of medicines.

Matt Cutshall- Next Horizons Spaceflight

As the trip concludes after about thirty days, the Cargo Dragon will undock from the ISS and return back to Earth. Unlike the Cygnus capsule the Dragon does not burn up upon reentry and can safely return experiments and other supplies. Among other supplies coming back NASA will be returning an avionics unit that was supposed to support the astronaut treadmill but failed, along with some live mice who’ve finished their stay in orbit.