The first commercially funded airlock for the International Space Station is ready for its journey to space. On Saturday, Oct. 10, teams moved the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock to SpaceX’s processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two days later, it was packed in the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk for its ride to the orbiting laboratory.
The airlock will provide payload hosting, robotics testing, and satellite deployment, and also will serve as an outside toolbox for crew members conducting spacewalks.
The Bishop Airlock is launching on SpaceX’s 21st commercial resupply services (CRS-21) mission to the space station. This will be the first flight of SpaceX’s upgraded cargo version of Dragon, which can carry more science payloads to and from the space station.
A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station after launching at 11:50 p.m. EST Friday. Dragon will deliver more than 4,300 pounds of NASA cargo and science investigations, including a new science facility scheduled to be installed to the outside of the station during a spacewalk this spring.
The spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is scheduled to arrive at the orbital outpost on Monday, March 9. Coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival at the space station will begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
Dragon will join three other spacecraft currently at the station. When it arrives, NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan will grapple Dragon, backed up by NASA’s Jessica Meir. Coverage of robotic installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 8:30 a.m.
Dragon is scheduled to remain at the space station until April 9, when the spacecraft will return to Earth with research and cargo.
This delivery, SpaceX’s 20th cargo flight to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations. NASA’s research and development work aboard the space station contributes to the agency’s deep space exploration plans, including future Moon and Mars missions.
Here are details about some of the scientific investigations Dragon is delivering:
New Facility Outside the Space Station
The Bartolomeo facility, created by ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus, attaches to the exterior of the European Columbus Module. Designed to provide new scientific opportunities on the outside of the space station for commercial and institutional users, the facility offers unobstructed views both toward Earth and into space. Potential applications include Earth observation, robotics, material science and astrophysics.
Studying the Human Intestine On a Chip
Organ-Chips as a Platform for Studying Effects of Space on Human Enteric Physiology (Gut on Chip) examines the effect of microgravity and other space-related stress factors on biotechnology company Emulate’s human innervated Intestine-Chip (hiIC). This Organ-Chip device enables the study of organ physiology and diseases in a laboratory setting. It allows for automated maintenance, including imaging, sampling, and storage on orbit and data downlink for molecular analysis on Earth.
Growing Human Heart Cells
Generation of Cardiomyocytes From Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors Expanded in Microgravity (MVP Cell-03) examines whether microgravity increases the production of heart cells from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). The investigation induces stem cells to generate heart precursor cells and cultures those cells on the space station to analyze and compare with cultures grown on Earth.
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations providing opportunities for U.S. government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions to conduct microgravity research that leads to new technologies, medical treatments and products that improve life on Earth. Conducting science aboard the orbiting laboratory will help us learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.
For almost 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. As a global endeavor, 239 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage engines have finished their burn and the first stage has separated from the vehicle. As the second stage continues the flight, the first stage will aim for a landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The countdown continues toward liftoff at 11:50 p.m. EST, an instantaneous window, 10 minutes from now. During this time, the Falcon 9’s engines will be chilled to condition them for launch, the flight computer will run its prelaunch checks and the rocket’s propellant tanks will be brought to flight pressure. Finally, the SpaceX Launch Director will verify “go for launch.”
About three minutes prior to launch, the gantry-like strongback support structure will be lowered away from the rocket. The terminal countdown begins at T-30 seconds.
Hello and good evening from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft stand ready for liftoff, at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch is targeted for 11:50 p.m. EST, with an instantaneous launch window.
The Falcon 9 rocket went vertical this afternoon. Weather is 60 percent favorable at launch time. Dragon’s internal countdown is running and propellant loading is underway.
This evening’s launch is a cross-country effort. Launch controllers at the Florida spaceport are working in concert with teams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and SpaceX’s control center in Hawthorne, California. The launch blog originates from the NASA News Center here at Kennedy, a few miles west of the launch complex. There’s more to come, so stay with us.
During SpaceX’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services Mission to the International Space Station for NASA, the Dragon cargo spacecraft will deliver about 4,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and numerous science investigations to the crew aboard the station. Among the science experiments are:
Bartolomeo, a new commercial research platform from the European Space Agency, set to be installed on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.
Gut-on-Chip is an experiment that could provide a better understanding of how microgravity and other potential space travel stressors affect intestine immune cells and susceptibility to infection, which could protect astronaut health on future long-duration missions. It also could help identify the mechanisms that underlie development of intestinal diseases and possible targets for therapies to treat them on Earth.
Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME) project is a series of six independent studies of gaseous flames that will be conducted in the Combustion Integrated Rack onboard the orbiting laboratory.
Aboard the space station, NASA will use the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) for two new experiments: Thermophysical Property Measurement investigation will study small spheres of metal to provide a better understanding of how to measure liquid metal properties; and the Origin of Fragility in High-Temperature Oxide Liquids experiment will investigate what happens when high temperatures are applied to those same small spheres of various metal oxides.
The Advanced Colloids Experiment Temperature-2 (ACE-T-2) experiment will look at the complex structures of these micron-scale colloidal particles, and how they assemble in microgravity conditions. Using the electron microscope on board the International Space Station, scientists will observe these particle interactions when different temperatures are applied to them.
Biological Research in Canisters-Light Emitting Diode-002 (BRIC-LED)-002 investigation will test whether spaceflight affects the ability of plants to defend themselves against pathogens. Research on plant function in microgravity also contributes to a better understanding of basic plant processes, which could support development of better agricultural practices on Earth.
VEG-PONDS-03 will evaluate how plants, in this case lettuce, grow in a newly developed plant growth system known as PONDS, or Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System. The PONDS units have features that are designed to bypass the lack of gravity in order to distribute water. They also are able to increase the plant’s oxygen exchange and provide sufficient room for root growth. VEG-PONDS-03 is a direct follow-on to the VEG-PONDS-01 and VEG-PONDS-02 hardware and plant growth validation tests.
Research investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory include:
adidas Boost in Space seeks to investigate the flow of nonuniform foam particles to study the mixing and packing behavior in the absence of gravity. Results will help inform manufacturing process of Adidas Boost shoe soles, which contain polymer particles fused together.
Capillary-Driven Microfluidics in Space is a project that aims to perform capillary-driven microfluidics experiments in space. Experiments will include capillary filling of microstructures, particle focusing and plasma separation, and microfluidic flow in thermal gradients.
Spherical Cool Diffusion Flames Burning Gaseous Fuels will seek to increase a fundamental understanding of the physics of cool diffusion flames by observing quasi-steady spherical flames on porous burners in microgravity. Although cool diffusion had been observed in earlier drop tower experiments, cool flames had never been observed as steady spherical flames because drop tower experiments had uneven burn rates.
Droplet Formation Studies in Microgravity will seek to evaluate the water droplet formation, water flow, and pressure of Delta Faucet’s current H2Okinetic show head technology versus the industry-standard use of jet nozzles. H2Okinetic technology allows better control of droplet size and increases the speed of the drops, which creates a feeling of increased pressure for the end user.
The rocket awaiting launch late this evening is the SpaceX Falcon 9, a two-stage vehicle topped by the company’s uncrewed cargo Dragon spacecraft. This will be the Falcon 9 rocket’s second flight. It previously flew on CRS-19 in December 2019. It is the Dragon cargo spacecraft’s third trip to space, having flown previously in support of CRS-10 and CRS-16 missions. The Falcon 9 first stage is powered by nine Merlin engines that ignite at T-0. Its second stage has a single Merlin engine that takes over after separation of the first stage. Merlin engines, also built by SpaceX, run on a combination of cryogenic liquid oxygen and a refined kerosene fuel called RP-1.
Installed atop the rocket, the Dragon cargo spacecraft will deliver about 4,500 pounds of science investigations and cargo to the International Space Station. The Dragon offers a pressurized section as well as an unpressurized “trunk” section for additional cargo. Also located in the trunk are the spacecraft’s power-producing solar arrays, which will open shortly after Dragon arrives in orbit.
This is SpaceX’s 20th and final contract resupply mission under the first Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. It is also the last SpaceX CRS mission to use the Dragon 1 vehicle. Future missions under the CRS-2 contract will utilize the Dragon 2 spacecraft and will return to Earth with a water landing in the Atlantic Ocean.