SpaceX launching last new first-generation Dragon cargo ship
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is set to send its next supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as Aug. 13, 2017. That mission, CRS-12, will mark the end of an era as it will be the last new first-generation Dragon spacecraft to fly.
The CRS-12 mission will bring supplies and science experiments to the Expedition 52 crew currently on board the ISS before bringing cargo and science back to Earth in September. Dragon spacecraft have visited the orbiting outpost 11 times since 2012, carrying well over 40,000 pounds (18,000 kilograms) of cargo and crew supplies to date to the orbiting lab.
The only blemish on the capsule’s record occurred during the CRS-7 flight, which launched on June 28, 2015. After a successful liftoff, and an almost complete Falcon 9 first stage burn, a strut attached to a high-pressure helium bottle in the second stage failed. That failure led to the second stage oxygen tank to over-pressurize, causing it to burst and the entire booster to fail (explode). The Dragon capsule survived the breakup but was destroyed when it impacted with the Atlantic Ocean several minutes later. The payload on this mission has been estimated at costing some $118 million.
All subsequent SpaceX resupply missions since CRS-7 have been completed successfully.
For the CRS-11 mission, SpaceX utilized a thoroughly inspected and refurbished pressure vessel that had previously flown on the CRS-4 mission in 2014. CRS-11 marked the second time that particular vehicle had made a successful delivery of cargo to the ISS and then carried experiments back to Earth. This was the first flight of a previously flown spacecraft since the Space Shuttle’s last mission, STS-135, in July of 2011.
The NewSpace company currently plans to only use previously flown first-generation Dragon spacecraft for future cargo missions to the Space Station. Since SpaceX will no longer be manufacturing complete Dragon 1 spacecraft, resources will be freed up to allow the company to focus more of its efforts on completing the development of the Dragon 2 spacecraft, which will provide crew transportation services to the ISS and for possible other missions.
The long-delayed first flight of the Dragon 2 spacecraft is currently expected to occur sometime in the first half of 2018. The new spacecraft is described as being capable of carrying up to seven people into Earth orbit. For NASA missions taking a crew to and from the ISS, it will likely only carry four astronauts. The remaining area inside of the spacecraft will be used for pressurized cargo.
While SpaceX is developing Dragon 2 for a crew, it is expected to have a cargo-only version for resupply missions to the space station. It is unclear when the Hawthorne, California-based company will make the transition from Dragon 1 to Dragon 2 cargo missions. The company is currently under a contract to send some 20 missions to the outpost, which should be completed with CRS-20 no earlier than 2019. A follow-up contract calls for at least six more cargo delivery missions.
Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.