One of SpaceX’s Dragon capsules arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, becoming the first reusable spacecraft to reach the station since the space shuttle.
The Dragon capsule is also the first privately built spacecraft ever to reach the ISS more than once.
The capsule delivered almost 6,000 pounds of cargo, including supplies and tools for carrying out various scientific experiments.
Saving millions by reusing boosters and capsules
The Dragon capsule was supposed to take flight on June 1, but due to impending lighting storms, its Falcon 9 rocket had to wait to be launched. The launch was performed two days later, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, becoming the 100th mission to launch from the emblematic Launch Complex 39A, where the Apollo mission and many space shuttle launches have taken place.
It was also the seventh launch of a SpaceX rocket this year. Each time the company flies a reused piece of equipment, they are saving millions in expenses, all towards SpaceX’s goal of making spaceflight affordable. It’s been almost two months since SpaceX successfully employed a used rocket booster.
After less than 10 minutes, the rocket’s first-stage booster detached itself and landed back down on Earth, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Later, the Dragon capsule separated from the rest of the rocket and unfolded its solar panels to fly towards the International Space Station.
The Dragon capsule finally arrived at the ISS on Monday, at 9:51 a.m. Eastern Time. It was secured by the ISS’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, operated by astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson. The capsule delivered materials for around 220 investigations taking place aboard the ISS. According to NASA mission officials, the experiments will cover a wide variety of disciplines, including biology, technology, and human research.
One of the pieces of technology to be tested are the new Roll-Out Solar Arrays, or ROSA, which are lighter and theoretically more efficient than the current panels aboard the ISS. Also, the capsule carried the new Multiple-User System for Earth Sensing, or MUSES, a commercial observatory that was supposed to reach the ISS in 2014.
The capsule also contains live cargo in the form of 40 mice and thousands of fruit flies. The mice will be used to test a new treatment for osteoporosis, a condition that’s common in older women where the bones start losing density. The fruit flies will be studied to see how zero gravity affects the cardiovascular system.
Scientists know that the heart doesn’t work at its full capacity in space, as it has a much lower workload. This can lead to muscle atrophy, which can be of “serious consequences” after astronauts return to Earth.
Coincidentally, the first animals to be put into space were also fruit flies, aboard a U.S. V-2 rocket launched in 1947 to test radiation exposure on living organisms at high altitudes.
This is the fourth cargo mission for this particular Dragon Capsule and the 11th contract flight between NASA and SpaceX.