Thursday June 3rd at 1:29 PM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center
With the launch of CRS-22 today NASA & SpaceX have now worked together for twenty-two mission in resupplying the International Space Station. CRS or Commercial Resupply Services is contracted by NASA, and flown by SpaceX using their Cargo Dragon capsule to ferry supplies, equipment, and scientific research both too and from the space station. This was the second flight of the CRS Phase 2 contract between the companies which was signed back in 2016. It’s also the second time we’ve seen the upgraded version of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon capsule which has several benefits to make the process of recovering, refurbishing, and re-flying a lot faster than the previous version. People often ask what the difference between the Crew, and Cargo capsules are, in short they are the same, just a bit different for cargo carrying. There are no SuperDraco abort engines, no seats to hold astronauts, no cockpit controls or life support systems either. With the first version of the Cargo Dragon we also only saw them splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, with the upgraded version we will see their parachutes open over the Atlantic, or even Gulf of Mexico, which helps aid in bringing time sensitive research back to Kennedy Space Center.
With the total mission payload at 3,328kg or 7,337lbs it all breaks down like this. 920kg of scientific research investigations, 345kg of vehicle hardware, 341kg of crew supplies, 52kg of spacewalk equipment, 58kg of computer resources, and 1,380kg of external payloads which include the first new pair of roll-out solar arrays for the ISS (International Space Station). Based on a design tested back in 2017 they will be delivered in the unpressurized trunk of the SpaceX Cargo Dragon. There will be two spacewalks by astronauts required to install these arrays, one to prepare the worksite and the other to actually install them. These spacewalks are as of now scheduled for June 16th, & June 20th of this year. The next pair of new solar arrays will be delivered in April of 2022.
Some other interesting pieces of hardware being sent up are as follows. A catalytic reactor, which will provide critical sparing support for the water production capability for the ECLSS (environmental control and life support system). Also a Commercial Crew Vehicle Emergency Breathing Air Assembly or CEBAA regulator manifold assembly that will complete the first set of emergency air supply capabilities. This integrated system will support up to five crew members for one hour during and ISS emergency ammonia leak. A PWD or Potable Water Dispenser was also sent up today and will be a major water filter assembly which is used to remove iodine from the water consumed by the crew during nominal operations. The cosmonauts are also replacing their Zarya Kurs Electronic Unit during this mission. It’s a critical piece of hardware for remote control docking of Russian spacecraft to the space station.
There’s also a number of small Cubesats being deployed on this mission and some other science and hardware as well, which we’ll cover in another article so lets get to the actual launch. Rain storms splashed the space coast all Wednesday night into early Thursday morning making things very wet. The forecast also called for a 50% chance of rain during launch time on Wed. night. Though when Thursday morning rolled around the weather forecast appeared to be a little better with only 30% chance of rain during actual lift off time. Our newly named Space Launch Delta 45 (formally the 45th Space Wing) gave us a 60% GO for launch forecast. On parts of the space coast the sun shone behind clouds, peaking out briefly at times to warm onlookers, though major storm cells were moving in from the South before the targeted T-0. About forty-five minutes before launch the team polled the GO/NO GO and decided they would have a window of opportunity before the weather worsened over Cape Canaveral. Then the clock struck 1:29 PM and thin clouds hung over the area as the Falcon 9 ignited all nine of it’s engines and lifted off from LC-39A. A short time after lift off the rocket started passing through layers of clouds and it was gone from view by the time Max Q was reached. We were only left with the rumbling of those powerful Merlin 1D engines until it was too far in altitude to hear anything at all from the rocket.
Booster 1067 is the first brand new booster to fly this year, and that’s out of sixteen missions the company has launched so far this year from Cape Canaveral. It’s been a rare thing to see, an all white Falcon 9 with no burn or soot marks created by the reentry flight. When 1067 landed on the autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” around eight minutes after lift off it became the 86th booster to successfully land and it had some fresh new battle scars making it look a little more like the multi-flown boosters we are used to. Another interesting thing we saw this mission, or rather didn’t see was that SpaceX did not conduct a static fire, or a test of the booster on the launch pad where they fire up the engines for a brief time to check that all systems are running smoothly.