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SpaceX’s CRS-29 cargo Dragon launches to space station

SpaceX's CRS-29 Dragon launches atop a Falcon 9 toward the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

SpaceX’s CRS-29 Dragon launches atop a Falcon 9 toward the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

SpaceX’s autonomous CRS-29 cargo Dragon is on its way to resupply the International Space Station and its seven-person Expedition 70 crew.

Liftoff atop a Falcon 9 rocket occurred at 8:28 p.m. EST Nov. 9 (01:28 UTC Nov. 10) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is the 29th cargo Dragon mission for NASA by SpaceX under the Commercial Resupply Services program.

The ILLUMA-T payload in a cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA

The ILLUMA-T payload in a cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA

Aboard is some 6,500 pounds (2,900 kilograms) of cargo bound for the orbiting laboratory. It’s set to dock with the ISS at around 5:20 a.m. EST (10:20 UTC) Nov. 11 following a 34-hour rendezvous profile. The spacecraft is expected to dock with the forward port of the Harmony module where it will remain for about a month.

The inbound cargo includes crew supplies, experiments and technology demonstrations, including NASA’s ILLUMA-T, which stands for Integrated Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Low-Earth-Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal.

According to NASA, ILLUMA-T is hardware that the agency is using to test high data rate laser communications from the ISS to Earth via the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, or LCRD, which is a payload attached to a U.S. Department of Defense satellite called STPSat-6 that was launched in December of 2021.

LCRD transmits data to one of two ground stations, either Table Mountain, California, or Haleakalā, Hawaii. When ILLUMA-T is installed on the exterior of the space station, it will send data via infrared lasers to LCRD, which will then relay to one of the ground stations.

NASA currently relies on various radio frequencies to transmit data, something that has been done since the beginning of the space age. Laser communications allow for more data, images and video to be sent during the same transmission. Think of it like the difference between dial-up and broadband for the internet.

Additionally, the hardware requires precise aiming as well as minimal cloud coverage, but is also lighter and uses less power. NASA plans additional demonstrations with this technology, including one that will fly with the crewed Artemis 2 mission around the Moon in late 2024 or early 2025.

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.

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