NASA and SpaceX are making final preparations for a cargo mission that will carry nearly three tons of supplies to the International Space Station.
This “CRS-21” mission is the 21st cargo resupply mission that SpaceX will launch overall for NASA. But it’s the first under a new supply contract that runs through 2024, and this will be the first to use an upgraded “Cargo Dragon 2” vehicle to deliver food, water, science experiments and other materials to the orbiting lab. to transport.
The new cargo vehicle is a modified version of the Crew Dragon spacecraft that has flown people to the space station twice this year, in May and November. The cargo variant lacks seats and cockpit controls, a life support system and the Super Draco thrusters which are used as an emergency flight system if a problem arises during launch.
Compared to the first SpaceX cargo vehicle, Cargo Dragon 2 features a dozen powered lockers for science experiments, twice as many as previously flown. It is also designed to be recovered and readied for repeat flights more quickly than its predecessor, and the vehicle has the ability to dock autonomously at the station, rather than having to be grabbed by a robotic arm and secured to a gate. .
After launching and reaching the space station, two Dragon vehicles will be attached to the lab for the first time. That’s because Crew Dragon Resistancewhich launched on November 15 with four astronauts, is also docked at the station and will remain there for about another five months.
It’s also worth noting that NASA is getting more comfortable with reusing spacecraft and rockets built by SpaceX. The Falcon 9 first stage used for this mission has already flown three times. In all of the missions SpaceX has flown for NASA before, the space agency has never allowed the company to use a stage one booster that has flown more than once. In the photos above, the dirty and sooty booster contrasts sharply with the gleaming white Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft.
This mission is scheduled to launch on Saturday at 11:39 a.m. ET (4:39 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Weather is a concern both at the launch site and for the recovery of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage. According to the official forecast, there is a 50 percent chance of favorable conditions at the launch site on Saturday. The weather is better for a backup launch on Sunday, so the launch may take a day longer.
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List image by NASA