A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches to International Space Station
(Image credit: NASA TV)

WASHINGTON — SpaceX launched a cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for the first time in two months on Aug. 29.

After a one-day delay due to weather, the Falcon 9 launched Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:14 a.m. Eastern. About 12 minutes after liftoff, the Dragon spacecraft split from the rocket’s upper stage and is set to dock with the station at 11 a.m. Eastern on Aug. 30 for a one-month stay.

The launch was the first for a Falcon 9 since the Transporter-2 rideshare mission launched on June 30, marking the most extended break between launches since a three-month gap from August to November 2019. One reason for the pause was a delay in Starlink launches to equip those satellites with laser inter-satellite connectivity; Starlink missions have accounted for most Falcon 9 launches this year.

During a prelaunch briefing on Aug. 27, Sarah Walker, director of Dragon mission management at SpaceX, remarked, “We flight when our clients need us to launch.” She said that the corporation took advantage of the lull to search for “minor improvements” in launch processes. “However, nothing significant has changed in terms of launch preparations.”

Another notable alteration is utilizing a new SpaceX droneship called “A Shortfall of Gravitas” to act as the Falcon 9 first stage landing pad. According to Walker, this droneship, the third in SpaceX’s fleet, has “amazing enhancements,” including the capacity to operate totally autonomously. However, unlike previous droneship excursions, this time, the droneship was escorted by a tug.

It joins “Just Read the Instructions” as a supporter of Cape Canaveral launches. “We required a third spacecraft to handle the current high launch tempo at SpaceX,” she explained. “Of Course I Still Love You,” the third droneship, has arrived in California for planned launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The Dragon is transporting 2,207 kilos of payload, with nearly half of it researching fields ranging from materials science to biology. A tiny robotic arm built by the Japanese company GITAI will be tested in Nanoracks’ Bishop commercial airlock. Numerous hardware components for the station are also on the ship.

There is no external cargo in the trunk portion, unlike many past Dragon freight missions. “Supply challenges and other interruptions due to the pandemic,” according to Jennifer Scott Williams, manager of NASA’s ISS program’s applications client support office, caused cargo slated for the trunk on this launch to be pushed to future trips. This includes STP-H7, a payload for the Pentagon’s Space Test Program, which will launch alongside STP-H8 on the next cargo Dragon mission later this year.

This cargo Dragon previously flew the CRS-21 cargo mission in late 2020, and it is the first of the updated cargo Dragons to be reused, which were introduced on the CRS-21 mission and are based on the Crew Dragon spacecraft. According to Walker, modifications to the cargo Dragon allowed SpaceX to reduce its time to refurbish the spaceship to half or perhaps a third of the time it took to renovate the first-generation cargo Dragons.

The Falcon 9 rocket was on its fourth flight, having previously launched the commercial crew missions Crew-1 and Crew-2 and the SXM-8 communications satellite.

Also Read: Astronaut medical problem forces NASA to call off spacewalk outside the International Space Station.


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