More science, reused Dragon capsule featured on CRS-11
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — SpaceX is continuing its effort to increase its operational tempo and demonstrate spacecraft reusability with its latest mission. While delivering supplies and multiple experiments, the CRS-11 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will also feature the first reuse of a Dragon pressure vessel as well as the return of a Falcon 9 first stage to Landing Zone 1 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Hawthorne, California-based company is targeting 5:55 p.m. EDT (21:55 GMT), June 1, 2017, for the launch of its CRS-11 Dragon atop a ‘Full Thrust’ Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at KSC. The pressure vessel for this spacecraft previously flew on SpaceX’s fourth ISS resupply mission in 2014.
The CRS-11 capsule will carry some 3,800 pounds (1,700 kilograms) of pressurized cargo and 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms) of unpressurized cargo, including crew supplies, scientific research, and hardware for the Expedition 52 and 53 crews, and is the 11th contracted mission by SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
A busy flight
After launch, the spacecraft will spend several days catching up with the orbiting laboratory. Assuming a June 1 launch, takes place, the CRS-11 Dragon is expected to rendezvous with the orbiting lab on June 4. In addition to food for the ISS crew, CRS-11 will also carry multiple science and technology investigations.
The Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload will study the physics of neutron stars, which are ultra-dense cores left behind by massive stars after supernova explosions. The investigation will provide new insights into the stars’ nature and behavior.
Using the embedded Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) demonstration, NICER will also pave the way for a future GPS-like system that would use pulsars as natural beacons to enable spacecraft to navigate throughout the Solar System.
The Capillary Structures for Exploration Life Support (Capillary Structures) experiment will study a new method of using structures with specific shapes to manage fluid and gas mixtures.
At present, life-support systems on the ISS require special equipment to separate liquids and gases, such as rotating or moving systems that could allow contaminants into the station’s interior if they break or fail. The experiment will investigate water recycling and carbon dioxide removal, which will benefit future efforts to design lightweight and more reliable life support systems.
A joint Air Force / commercial technology experiment called the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) will test a new type of solar panel that rolls open in space like a window shade and is more compact than current rigid panel designs. The experiment will test deployment and retraction, shape changes when Earth blocks the Sun, and other physical responses to determine the array’s strength and durability.
MUSES hosts Earth-viewing payloads such as high-resolution digital cameras and hyperspectral imagers. The experiment also provides precision pointing and other accommodations as well as hosting up to four instruments. The system offers the ability to change, upgrade, and robotically service those instruments. It also serves as a test bed for demonstrating and maturing technologies by providing long-term access to space on the ISS.
On the life sciences side, CRS-11 will carry Fruit Fly Lab-02 (FFL-02), which will explore the effects of microgravity on cardiac function, structure, and gene expression by employing Drosophila melanogaster, also known as fruit flies.
The flies provide an established model for human heart health, and the investigation will determine the cellular and genetic mechanisms that cause heart problems during spaceflight. The investigation compares flies that have hatched in space to flies grown on the ground to understand how prolonged spaceflight affects fruit fly heart function.
In addition to the fruit flies, Dragon will also carry lab rats in the Rodent Research-5 (RR-5) experiment. The investigation will study the effects of a new drug, NELL-1, which could counteract the effects of osteoporosis.
People and animals staying in space for extended periods of time lose bone density; current countermeasures include exercise designed to prevent it from getting worse. However, in space and on Earth, current therapies for osteoporosis cannot restore bone already lost. According to NASA, NELL-1 can both rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving health for astronauts and people on Earth.
Video courtesy of NASA Johnson
This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. EDT (17:30 GMT) May 30, 2017, to correct an error made about the SEXTANT demonstration software.
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.