SpaceX Launches 25th Dragon Supply Mission to Space Station - Spaceflight Now

SpaceX Launches 25th Dragon Supply Mission to Space Station – Spaceflight Now

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin the 25th Dragon resupply flight to the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo ship Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center bound for the International Space Station, transporting a $118 million climate instrument, fresh food, experiments and other supplies for the lab crew of seven.

The 5,881 pounds (2,668 kilograms) of cargo made its way on a day and a half pursuit of the space station with a successful launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Thursday at 8:44:22 p.m. EDT (0044:22 GMT Friday). ). The 65-meter-tall Falcon 9 rocket launched from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center and directed the thrust of its nine Merlin engines northeast to align with the space station’s orbital aircraft.

After the Falcon 9 broke the sound barrier and shot into the stratosphere, it jettisoned its 15-story first stage booster about two and a half minutes into the mission. The separation of the first stage allowed the second stage to fire its single Merlin engine to continue flight into orbit.

Meanwhile, the first stage pulsed its cold gas nitrogen thrusters to rotate into a tail-first orientation, where three of its thrusters were fired for “backward thrust” to offset some of the rocket’s downward velocity. The dueling plumes of the Falcon 9 first and second stages collided at the edge of space, where sunlight illuminated the exhaust particles.

As the launch took place near the ground about 20 minutes after sunset, the brilliant white exhaust plumes appeared like a celestial mist visible from hundreds of kilometers away. The first stage later performed an entry burn and then fired a single engine for a final braking maneuver to slow the vertical landing on a SpaceX drone ship nearly 200 miles (about 300 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral.

The landing marked the completion of the fifth flight for this booster – tail number B1067 – and the 130th successful landing of a SpaceX Falcon rocket booster since 2015.

The Falcon 9 upper stage burned for about six minutes to accelerate the Dragon cargo ship into orbit. The unmanned supply ship separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage after nearly 12 minutes of launch. An onboard camera on the upper stage showed the capsule detaching from the rocket.

The launch launched SpaceX’s 25th cargo mission to the International Space Station as part of a series of commercial utility service contracts with NASA. Dubbed CRS-25, this mission is the fifth cargo mission under SpaceX’s latest supply contract.

Docking with the space station is scheduled for Saturday at 11:20 am EDT (1520 GMT). NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins and Bob Hines will oversee the final automated approach and docking of the Dragon spacecraft from the station to send hold or abort commands in the event of a problem.

SpaceX is under contract with NASA for at least 10 additional resupply flights to the station, carrying the Dragon cargo program through the CRS-35 mission planned some time in 2026.

NASA’s other operational cargo supplier is Northrop Grumman, which has launched 17 resupply missions on its Cygnus spacecraft. Sierra Space plans to begin launching cargo missions to the station with its Dream Chaser spacecraft in 2023.

The Dragon cargo ship launched Thursday night with about 5,800 pounds of supplies and payload, including a NASA climate instrument to be mounted outside the space station.

The Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation or EMIT instrument was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It will be attached to a mounting post outside the space station to measure the mineral content of the world’s desert regions, the source of global dust storms that can affect climate and weather around the world.

The data collected by the instrument will help scientists learn more about how dust entering the atmosphere from deserts affects Earth’s ecosystems and human health.

Dust storms can spread from the continent, where they can raise or lower temperatures, form clouds, provide nutrients for marine and terrestrial organisms, limit visibility and pose a health hazard to humans.

“This is an important cycle in the Earth system,” said Rob Green, principal investigator at EMIT and senior research scientist at JPL.

The EMIT instrument, after docking with the Canadian-built space station’s robotic arm, will be removed from the Dragon spacecraft’s fuselage and placed on a bracket on the lab’s port truss. EMIT will measure the mineral composition of desert soils using a visible and near infrared spectrometer.

According to Green, EMIT, designed for at least 12 months of observation, will “fill a knowledge gap about mineral dust source regions of our planet.” A NASA spokesman said the EMIT instrument, part of the agency’s Earth Venture program, cost about $118 million.

“At the moment our knowledge comes from about 5,000 mineral analyzes where minerals have been collected and analyzed. When EMIT completes its mission, we will have over a billion direct observations of the mineral composition of Earth’s dry land,” Green said.

The space station’s orbit will carry the EMIT instrument over most of the world’s deserts, including the Sahara deserts of Africa, the Middle East and the deserts of Asia, Australia and Western America.

“Whether it’s an iron oxide, similar to rust, or a carbonate or a clay, these different mineral molecules leave fingerprints in the light that we can measure,” Green said.

The CRS-25 mission was scheduled to launch in early June, but officials grounded the Dragon spacecraft after finding a leak in the ship’s propulsion system. SpaceX detected “elevated vapor levels” of monomethylhydrazine, or MMH, fuel in an “isolated region” of the Dragon spacecraft’s propulsion system during prelaunch propellant loading in early June, NASA said in a statement.

The Dragon spacecraft carries hydrazine and nitrous oxide propellants to power its Draco thrusters for in-orbit maneuvers, including rendezvous burns to approach the space station and deorbit burns at the end of the mission to return to Earth to return.

Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs, said the vapor leak in the Dragon propulsion system was caused by “imperfections in the sealing surface where a valve connects to the system.”

Technicians replaced the valve and confirmed the leak had been stopped, allowing preparations for the CRS-25 launch from Cape Canaveral to resume. SpaceX’s ground team also replaced the four main parachutes already stowed on the capsule “out of a precaution,” Reed told reporters Wednesday.

Read more about the leak in our mission preview story.

Mission CRS-25’s reusable cargo ship Dragon flies to the space station for the third time.

The Dragon spacecraft will also deliver five NASA-sponsored CubeSats to the space station for use by Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. All in all, the CRS-25 mission is carrying equipment to support about 40 research surveys, according to Heidi Parris, NASA associate scientist for the space station program.

Additional experiments from the CRS-25 mission will investigate how the immune system changes in microgravity, plant growth in space, and a study investigating an alternative to concrete that could be used to build structures on the Moon or Mars.

Also located in the Dragon trunk next to the EMIT instrument is a charge/discharge unit for spare batteries for the station’s power system. As with EMIT, the propulsion unit is robotically extracted from the Dragon’s rear cargo hold and placed in a stowed position outside the station.

Astronauts in the space station will get to work unpacking supplies in Dragon’s hyperbaric chamber.

“This is going to be a very busy mission for us,” said Dana Weigel, NASA’s deputy program manager for space stations. “It’s full of science. The planned duration is about 33 days.”

At the end of the mission, the Dragon cargo ship will undock from the station and head for the splashdown off the Florida coast with tons of equipment. A SpaceX recovery boat will be in position to recover the capsule from the sea and return it to Cape Canaveral for unpacking and overhaul.

The cargo, scheduled to return to Earth with the CRS-25 mission in mid-August, includes a space suit worn by European astronaut Mattias Maurer on a spacewalk in March. Astronauts found water in Maurer’s spacesuit helmet after he returned safely to the station, a similar problem to the problem that caused a spacewalk emergency in 2013 when European astronaut Luca Parmitano had to abort a spacewalk because of a water leak.

Parmitano had trouble breathing and lost vision when water filled his helmet, but he escaped injury in one of the most dangerous spacewalking incidents in modern space history.

Maurer didn’t notice his water leak until he was back in the ward. But NASA officials don’t want to conduct non-emergency spacewalks until an investigation into the water leak is complete.

“We need to get this suit home and look at it as part of the investigation to really try to understand what happened to the suit and that will be part of what we need to do in our assessment for our eventual readiness to review the return to nominal EVAs (spacewalks),” Weigel said.

The next scheduled spacewalks on NASA’s calendar are scheduled for later this year, when the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission will deliver a new set of solar arrays to the station. The astronauts will help install the new solar arrays, which will require at least two spacewalks to complete the work.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @Stephen Clark1.

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