Spaceflight Insider

CRS-15 Dragon brings science experiments, artificial intelligence to ISS

CRS-15 rendezvous with the International Space Station on the morning of July 2, 2018. Photo Credit: Ricky Arnold / NASA

CRS-15 rendezvous with the International Space Station on the morning of July 2, 2018. Photo Credit: Ricky Arnold / NASA

SpaceX’s CRS-15 Dragon cargo resupply ship has been attached to the International Space Station. the spacecraft rendezvoused with the orbiting outpost in the early-morning hours of July 2, 2018, and is expected to remain berthed for about a month.

Capture took place at 6:54 a.m. EDT (10:54 GMT) by the 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) Canadian-built robotic Canadarm2, which was under the control of Expedition 56 NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel at the robotics work station in the station’s cupola window. The vehicle was grappled while the station was flying 256 miles (412 kilometers) over Quebec City.

CapCom Pooja Jesrani congratulates Expedition 56 for the 30th visiting vehicle capture of the International Space Station program. Photo Credit: NASA TV

CapCom Pooja Jesrani congratulates Expedition 56 for the 30th visiting vehicle capture of the International Space Station program. Photo Credit: NASA TV

“Looking forward to some really exciting weeks ahead as we unload the science and get started on some great experiments,” Arnold said.

CapCom Pooja Jesrani concurred from Mission Control in Houston and congratulated the crew for “making it look easy.” She added that this was the 30th spacecraft captured using Canadarm2 since the Japanese HTV-1 mission in 2009.

“It’s hard to believe,” Arnold said. “As we were watching Dragon climbing up the R-bar, [we were] just thinking how far we’ve come. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

Several hours later, the arm—this time controlled by ground-based operators—moved the capsule to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at the forward end of the ISS where it was carefully positioned for a series of bolts to turn, firmly attaching it to the outpost at 9:52 a.m. EDT (13:52 GMT).

Hauling the science

The rendezvous came about three days after the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The pre-dawn launch occurred at 5:42 a.m. (10:42 GMT) June 29, and utilized the final block 4 Falcon 9 rocket.

The vehicle contains some 5,900 pounds (2,700 kilograms) of cargo. Inside Dragon’s pressurized capsule, this includes 452 pounds (205 kilograms) of crew supplies, 2,718 pounds (1,233 kilograms) of science investigations, 139 pounds (63 kilograms) of spacewalking equipment, 392 pounds (178 kilograms) of vehicle hardware, 46 pounds (21 kilograms) of computer resources, and 27 pounds (12 kilograms) of Russian hardware.

According to NASA, the unpressurized trunk contains the 1,213-pound (550-kilogram) Earth science instrument called the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS), and a 959-pound (435-kilogram) latching end effector in the event a spare is needed for Canadarm2.

After a month aboard the ISS, the spacecraft is expected to be filled with equipment and experiments to be returned to Earth. Once unberthed in early August, CRS-15 Dragon is expected to slowly drift away from the ISS over several hours, perform a 10-minute de-orbit burn and perform a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Baja California.

CIMON "floating" on a mock-up of the International Space Station. Photo credit: Airbus

CIMON “floating” in a mock-up of the ISS. Photo Credit: Airbus

Open the pod bay doors please, CIMON

Among the science experiments aboard CRS-15 Dragon is a new artificial intelligence computer called the “Crew Interactive MObile companioN”—CIMON (pronounced “Simon”) for short.

Roughly spherical and about the size of a basketball—some 12.6 inches (32 centimeters) in diameter—CIMON is designed to be an AI assistant for astronauts and cosmonauts in space.

“We have first this as technology demonstration, but we hope in the future to elaborate on this as a kind of evolution,” Christian Karrasch, CIMON project manager at the German Aerospace Center, told SpaceFlight Insider. “This is the first step of an artificial intelligence into space”

Developed by Airbus for the German Aerospace Center, the technology demonstrator is expected to explore AI as a way to mitigate crew stress and workload during long-duration spaceflight, according to NASA.

It is expected to be set up and tested by Expedition 56 flight engineer and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst before the conclusion of his flight in October 2018.

According to Airbus, the whole structure of CIMON is made of plastic and metal that was 3D printed.

Using 12 fans as air jets, the device can move and rotate in any direction and, according to the German Aerospace Center, “turn to an astronaut if it is addressed, not and shake its head, and independently follow the user on command.”

Jim Siegel contributed to this story

Video courtesy of Space Videos



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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

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