For the second time in three days, SpaceX has launched two, separate and used Falcon 9 rockets from opposite sides of the United States on two different missions — Friday’s launch in California delivered 10 Iridium satellites into lower-earth orbit and Monday’s mission in Florida propelled a used Dragon capsule loaded with supplies and materials to the ISS. The latter was SpaceX’s 14th resupply mission to the ISS.
The Easter weekend marked the sixth and seventh launch by SpaceX in 2018, and with that, you can’t help but realize that launching rockets full of cargo to humans on an international space lab is a reality and has been a thing for decades. Only now, we’re experiencing two launches by one company over one long weekend.
At 4:30 p.m. roughly 5,800 pounds of scientific materials and supplies were launched towards the ISS via a used Falcon 9 and used Dragon capsule. While we’ve seen autonomous landings of Falcon 9 rockets in the past, this mission will not attempt to land it’s rocket back on Earth — just like it’s four predecessors. SpaceX is using this opportunity to test new landing and burn techniques, with the Falcon 9 set to land in the ocean.
One reason for the lack of autonomous landing is that the Falcon 9 rockets are older models. As SpaceX engineers developed each iteration of their “Block” series of rockets, they realized that the risk of errors and failure are more likely to occur upon rocket reusability. The final version of the Falcon 9 rocket, Block 5, has potential to launch on April 24 where it will carry the Bangabandhu-1 satellite from Bangladesh.
A wide range of scientific materials and experiments were included in the Dragon capsule, but without a doubt my favourite has to be the two CubeSats being used as artificial debris targets. They’ll assist in developing net capture, harpoon capture and vision based navigation.
- A new facility designed by Alpha Space will provide an environment to test materials, coatings and machinery on the exterior of the ISS in the brutal conditions of space including ultraviolet radiation, atomic oxygen, ultrahigh vacuum, electromagnetic radiation and micro-meteoroids.
- “Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White.” A study by the Canadian Space Agency that will study how microgravity has an effect on bone marrow and the blood cells that are produced. According to NASA, this is an effect likened to that of long-term bed rest on Earth. If we’re going to Mars, we need to have all of our bases covered — with health taking the primary focus.
- The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM), an Earth observation facility that studies severe thunderstorms and their roles on Earth’s atmosphere and environment. It’ll monitor gravity waves, how thunderstorms develop electrical discharges and observe atmospheric events.
These are just some of the materials that were launched — over a dozen of the components sent towards the ISS will assist in over 250 missions on the space station.
ISS astronauts will use the Canadarm to capture the Dragon capsule at roughly 4 a.m. PST on Wednesday, April 4. The Dragon capsule will spend the next 30 days attached to the ISS before heading back to Earth with a loaded capsule packed with, you guessed it, scientific materials.
Science has to go back and forth from Earth to the ISS somehow. For now, SpaceX is the only active U.S company to ferry cargo to and fro, with a contract for 20 resupply missions worth over $1.6 billion.