CRS-11 Dragon arrives at International Space Station
After a two-day trek to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX’s CRS-11 Dragon spacecraft arrived at the orbiting outpost and was captured by the robotic Canadarm2. The capsule launched two days before on June 3, 2017.
The flight took place at Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A – which was the 100th time a rocket took to the skies from that location.
Once Dragon was about 33 feet (10 meters) beneath the outpost’s Destiny laboratory, Expedition 52 crew members Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, both NASA astronauts, worked to use Canadarm2 to grab the spacecraft in free flight at 9:52 a.m. EDT (13:52 GMT).
“We want to thank the entire team on the ground that made this possible,” Fischer radioed to Mission Control in Houston, “both in Hawthorne and Houston – really around the whole world, from Canada for this wonderful robotic arm, Kennedy Space Center’s launch support, to countless organizations which prepared the experiments and cargo.”
Fischer said those teams have supplied the orbiting laboratory with experiments, which he called the fuel for the engine of innovation they get to call home, the International Space Station.
“Fifteen years to the day after Peggy’s first flight here, the ISS is continually improving in its mission of discovery,” Fischer said. “So for that, we thank our team. We also want to note the special significance of SpaceX 11, which if we follow the naming convention of artist Prince, could be called the [Dragon] formally known as SpaceX 4. That’s right, it’s flying its second mission to the ISS, launched off a first stage which landed back at Kennedy Space Center for its next flight.”
CRS-11 was indeed using the same pressure vessel used during the CRS-4 mission in September 2014. It is unclear when the next refurbished SpaceX Dragon capsule will fly. But CRS-12 is scheduled for August 2017.
Fischer said the last time the ISS had a return visitor was during the STS-135 mission in July of 2011 when Space Shuttle Atlantis “secured the Shuttle’s legendary place in history.”
“We have a new generation of vehicles now, lead by commercial partners like SpaceX as they build the infrastructure that will carry us into the future of exploration,” Fischer said. “Now we’ve better get back to work. We have a lot of stuff to unload.”
Indeed, Dragon is carrying a hefty 6,000 pounds (2,700 kilograms) of supplies, experiments, and food for the astronauts and cosmonauts on this expedition as well as the upcoming Expedition 53 mission and beyond.
Inside the pressurized section is 3,800 pounds (1,700 kilograms) of supplies, while the external trunk has a number of experiments totaling about 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms).
Over the next several hours, ground controllers will maneuver the capsule to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at the forward end of the station. Once there, the spacecraft will be berthed and the space between the two hatches pressurized.
After several hours of leak checks, the astronauts will open Dragon’s hatch and begin unloading the supplies and other critical equipment and experiments. Among them is the Rodent Research 5 experiment, which is studying bone loss in mice and how to prevent it.
Overall, Dragon will remain at the outpost until July. Then it will be unberthed and detached. Several hours later, after it moves away from the ISS, it will perform a de-orbit burn.
Soon after, the trunk will separate from the capsule. While the trunk will burn up, the capsule, which has a heat shield, will use parachutes to splash down in the Pacific Ocean near Baja California to be recovered.
The June 5 arrival was the 11th time a SpaceX Dragon capsule had arrived at the station (once under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract and 10 under the CRS – with one failure, the CRS-7 mission which was lost in 2014) and the 92nd cargo ship to dock or berth to the outpost since 1998. Overall, it was the 182nd spacecraft to reach the ISS.
Video courtesy of SciNews
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.