SpaceX is targeting Sept. 19 for the launch of its next cargo mission to the International Space Station. Launch time is 2:38:44 a.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida The Dragon capsule will fly on a Falcon 9 rocket, both built by the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company. It will carry experiments, supplies and other cargo to the orbiting laboratory where the astronauts living on the station will unload it and put it to use. The Dragon will be loaded with used experiments and other materials no longer needed on the station before it makes its way back to Earth and lands by parachute in the Pacific Ocean.
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. EDT about 300 miles west of Baja California, marking the end of the company’s third contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.
A boat will carry the Dragon spacecraft, which has aboard it about 3,500 pounds of cargo and science samples, to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Some cargo, including a freezer packed with research samples collected aboard the space station, will be removed at the port in California and returned to NASA within 48 hours.
Investigations included among the returned cargo could aid in better understanding the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight while also improving antibiotic development on Earth. Others could lead to the development of plants better suited for space and improvements in sustainable agriculture.
The T-Cell Activation in Aging experiment, which also launched to space aboard Dragon, seeks the cause of a depression in the human immune system while in microgravity. The research could help researchers develop better protective measures to prevent disease in astronauts.
Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft capable of returning large amounts of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida April 18, carrying approximately 5,000 pounds of supplies and science investigations to the space station. The mission was the third of at least 12 cargo resupply trips SpaceX plans to make to the space station through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
One of the new experiments aboard the International Space Station can now be watched live by anyone on Earth with an Internet connection. The research is part of a project called High Definition Earth Viewing, or HDEV. Four commercially available cameras carried to the station on the SpaceX-3 cargo resupply mission have been installed on the outside of the station and viewers can watch the feeds as they automatically scan through various angles to show different views of Earth from the orbiting laboratory.
Although they are enclosed in special cases, the cameras are exposed to the vacuum and radiation of space so researchers on Earth can note whether the pictures degrade over time and how badly. You can watch the live stream online at here. You can read more about HDEV here.
HDEV was one of several new research projects recently carried to the one-of-a-kind science center orbiting about 260 miles over Earth. Numerous experiment aboard the station are conducted daily by astronauts while others are run automatically. You can read more details about station research here.
The fourth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station by SpaceX is to take place in August. A Dragon spacecraft launching on a Falcon 9 rocket, both built by the Hawthorne, Calif., aerospace company, will be loaded with experiments, supplies and equipment for the crew of the station.
The Dragon also will carry the RapidScat instrument which will be mounted to the station and take readings of the ocean surface winds on Earth. The Dragon performing the third cargo mission to the station remains connected to the Harmony module as astronauts unload the fresh supplies and equipment and fill it with spent experiments and other things they don’t need anymore. The uncrewed Dragon is to return to Earth and parachute into the Pacific Ocean off California later this month.
Read our launch feature about today’s liftoff here.
“Looks like everything’s good on Dragon,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said during a news conference following the successful launch of the SpaceX-3 cargo mission to the International Space Station. “I’m feeling pretty excited, this is a happy day,” Musk said.
NASA is also pleased with the launch, said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
“They did a lot of good work,” Gerstenmaier said, noting that NASA’s payload team and SpaceX worked inside tight schedules to get everything ready for flight despite significant weather concerns.
“Weather was our primary concern,” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of Mission Assurance for SpaceX. “It’s a really good day.”
Musk also reported early signs of success in SpaceX’s test to have the first stage of the Falcon 9 reignite its engines and slow the stage to a soft landing on the ocean’s surface a few minutes after liftoff. All data is not in yet, he said, but the slowdown seemed to go well. He does not expect to be able to pick the first stage out of the water, however, because the ocean waves were substantial having been roiled up by days of rough weather. He said the flight encourages him to continue its pursuit of recovering a first stage intact.
“I think we have a decent chance of bringing a stage back this year, which would be wonderful,” Musk said.
The post-launch press conference will begin at about 5 p.m. Watch on NASA TV.
Watch as the Dragon spacecraft loaded with about 5,000 pounds of experiments, equipment and cargo, separates from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket to go into orbit on its own.
Five small CubeSats have been ejected from their carriers on the second stage to perform their missions. The satellites, also called nanosatellites, are as small as 10 inches by 10 inches and are generally built to execute a variety of research goals. You can read more about the CubeSats launched today here and and about NASA’s CubeSat programs here.