SpaceX reaches 31 launches this year with CRS-24

Tuesday, December 21st at 5:06 AM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from LC-39A

Early this morning NASA in partnership with SpaceX has launched their twenty-fourth Commercial Resupply Services mission to the ISS (Internation Space Station). This year has been a considerable year for the NASA and the space station with a total of eight cargo mission, and five crewed missions. Two of those missions being for civilians, Russia sent up an actress and just recently two Japanese “Space Tourists” stayed aboard. Two new solar arrays were also installed along with two new Russian modules. Thirteen space walks took place this year with almost one-hundred combined hours, that’s more than any year of the last ten. In its total years now, the ISS has completed more than 3200 experiments with over 500 publications. That’s a lot of work for the world’s most expensive science laboratory.

photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

For this twenty-fourth resupply via SpaceX there will be over 2000kg of pressurized cargo and over 900kg of other cargo in the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk. This includes over five-hundred hours of research and even some things needed to prepare for the Axiom-1 mission where NASA will host its first four private citizens onboard the space station. That mission is set to launch in the first quarter of next year along with Crew-4 and CRS-25. The year 2022 may be the biggest yet for NASA, SpaceX, and the space station.

Some of the major experiments mentioned in NASA’s press conference about the CRS-24 mission will include a crewed health experiment with a bio-printer. A bio-printer is a handheld device used to create human cell bandages to body parts that are injured or wounded. Think 3D printer, but with actual human cells. This being the first test of the system means there will be no cells used or printed during this mission, but researchers are hoping that future use of this device can better serve space crews health while not just at the space station, but on future missions to the Moon and Mars. It also has Earthly promise as well since the printer has potential use in regions of the world were doctors and emergency services are hard to come by or non-existent.

@kylemontgomeryphoto (NHS)

In true pandemic fashion there will also be a STEM research project led by students where they will be studying bacteria resistant polymers. These materials can better protect astronauts on future missions and like the previously mention experiment help better protect those of us who are stuck in a lower orbit, like on Earth. This goes hand in hand, no pandemic pun intended with an ongoing study about astronaut immune systems. We already know the space travel degrades the human body, astronauts must do physical activity for several hours a day to keep up muscle mass, but their immune systems also become compromised at a more rapid rate than in Earth’s 1g gravity. Astronauts have been giving blood and tissue samples before, during, and after their trips to the space station so scientists may get a better understanding of how to better help future space goers from becoming too immuno-compromised.

The SpaceX patch for this mission.

There is also the MVP-01 study. This is a study around the growing of plants. Researchers are trying to better our farming techniques and learn how to grow better foods and having better seeds and growth rates are a good start. Astronauts grow the plants in orbit at the same pace as scientists on Earth so comparisons may be made, and a better look at how 0g gravity may alter the process. This experiment will completely take place inside the Space station. One seedling will be grown in the 0g, and one will be grown in a centrifuge which simulates earth’s 1g. This way direct Comparisions may be made simultaneously via the astronaut, which will lead to a quicker understanding as to the differences taking place between the two.

As far as bettering life on Earth goes, the Turbine Superalloy Casting Module (SCM) research has the potential to make things easier and safer on the ground. This commercially made manufacturing device will process heat resistant alloy parts in space. researchers are expecting these parts to have more uniform microstructures and improved mechanical properties that the superalloys which are produced on Earth. If that theory holds true, then the potential is an improvement in the performance of engines in the aerospace industry and power production which keeps our lives going.

B1069 on LC-39A ready for flight

Proctor & Gamble is also getting in a little space laundry research. The P&G TeleScience Investigation of Detergent Experiments (PGTIDE), get it, TIDE. Not having to do laundry in space will soon no longer be a perk of being an astronaut. Traditionally astronauts’ clothes are thrown out after use, but P&G is trying to change that. Space on board a cargo spacecraft, and even aboard the space station is hot commodity. New clothes cannot always be brought up with that limited storage capacity, so astronauts typically wear the same outfit for several days. A reformulated laundry detergent is set to be tested in compliance with the ISS systems. This study will test the performance of the detergent. Soon when deeper space missions are a more common occurrence clothes will need to be washed and recycled during these missions. Results from this test may also have real world usage down here on Earth as well.

This launch is not only another milestone for NASA, but a major one for SpaceX as well. It comes on the anniversary of their first ever successful booster landing. SpaceX has now made one-hundred landings successfully. This feat comes as no surprise now but believe it or not just a few years ago many individuals thought this would be an impossibility. SpaceX rarely appears to use brand new Falcon 9 boosters, primarily for NASA mission, this B1069 that is flying this morning is only the second new booster used this entire year. That’s thirty-one launches compared to last year’s twenty-six, and only two of those not being re-flown this entire year. Just this week even the company flew one of their boosters for an eleventh time, passing the estimated ten flights Elon Musk predicted years ago.

This one-hundredth landing took place out in the Atlantic Ocean. On the company’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” which serves as one of their three mobile floating landing zones. About eight minutes after launch the rocket touched down safely on this drone ship, marking its first successful mission. This may be the one-hundredth landing, but it now stands as the one-hundred-thirty-fourth launch of a Falcon 9 rocket, and one-hundred-forty-third launch for SpaceX.

graphic by: Rykllan – NHS

It might be the first flight for the booster this morning, but it’s the second flight of this Cargo Dragon capsule. C209, the official capsule number has previously flown the CRS-22 mission it has been refurbished and refitted, along with an added NASA “worm” logo which is making its second appearance on a Dragon capsule (the first on the capsule for the Crew-4 mission). This capsule will dock at the Agena port which faces away from our planet. Once docked it will remain there for roughly thirty days before it un-docks and splashed back down onto Earth. These second variants of SpaceX Cargo Dragons are now using splash down locations on either coast of Florida. They have numerous locations deemed usable for them, the exact location depending on weather and sea conditions at the time of splash down. This makes getting time sensitive research back in researchers hands a lot easier to do than when SpaceX was using the Pacific Ocean as their target splashdown zone. Scientists now only have to wait a fraction of the time to examine the work. This time can be vital as once experiments are back in Earth’s gravity changes may immediately start taking place.

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