Spaceflight Insider

CRS-15 resupply mission sending artificial intelligence, diverse science to ISS

The first stage booster that launched NASA's TESS spacecraft is being reused for CRS-15. Photo Credit: Scott Schilke / SpaceFlight Insider

The first stage booster that launched NASA’s TESS spacecraft is being reused for CRS-15. Photo Credit: Scott Schilke / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With the rocket’s static fire successfully concluded, SpaceX appears to be on track for an early-morning launch of the company’s 15th operational mission to resupply the International Space Station—CRS-15.

The weather forecast currently calls for a 90 percent of favorable conditions for the instantaneous window, which opens at 5:41 a.m. EDT (09:41 GMT) on June 29, 2018, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) in Florida. The mission, designated Commercial Resupply Services 15 (CRS-15), is expected to deliver more than 5,900 pounds (2,676 kilograms) of supplies, hardware, and research equipment to the orbiting outpost.

Science Galore

Among its manifest, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is set to deliver an estimated 661 pounds (300 kilograms) under the auspices of the ISS’ U.S. National Laboratory flight allotment. Managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), The U.S. National Laboratory offers conditions—such as microgravity—that are difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce on Earth.

“This launch represents the incredible amount of diversity that resides within the ISS National Lab project portfolio,” said Warren Bates, interim chief operating officer at CASIS, in a release issued by the center. “The breadth of experimentation on this mission showcases the capabilities of station and equally demonstrates the desire by outside funding entities and agencies to invest in research on this incredible learning platform.”

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

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

Featured among the array of scientific studies bound for the space station is an experiment from the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida. The aim of the exercise is to identify strains of algae that may be ideally suited to grow in a microgravity environment, which could provide a natural system for carbon dioxide recycling, along with acting as a base for producing hydrocarbon fuels like ethanol.

Another experiment launching on CRS-15 is a broad-spectrum cancer therapy being developed by Angiex. This therapy may hold the potential to treat up to 90 percent of all cancer.

“If the hypothesis we are to test is correct, microgravity conditions may provide a desirable testbed for development and testing of vascular-targeted pharmaceutical drugs,” said Paul Jaminet, CEO of Angiex, in a release issued by the company. “As cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two leading killers, are both addressable by vascular-targeted drugs, this work could have exciting implications for biopharmaceutical research generally.”

Joining the CASIS-sanctioned payloads is the Crew Interactive Mobile CompanioN (CIMON), which is set to represent the first use of artificial intelligence (AI) on an ISS mission. Roughly the size of a medicine ball, and with a mass of some 11 pounds (5 kilograms), the Airbus-designed free-flying bot is scheduled to be tested by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst between June and October of this year (2018).

“In short, CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system,” said Manfred Jaumann, head of microgravity payloads from Airbus, in a release issued by the company. “We are the first company in Europe to carry a free flyer, a kind of flying brain, to the ISS and to develop artificial intelligence for the crew on board the space station.”

Veteran booster and spacecraft

For the CRS-15 mission, SpaceX has tapped two veteran vehicles: the Block 4 Falcon 9 first stage that launched NASA’s TESS spacecraft just 10 weeks ago, and the Dragon capsule that was used for the CRS-9 mission in 2016. At present, SpaceX stands out as the sole aerospace firm that flies operational missions using flight-proven hardware.

Though the 10-week turnaround will be a speed record for SpaceX, the company hopes to slash that to near-immediate reusability with the Block 5 version of the launch vehicle. That upgraded, and final version, of the Falcon 9 has seen numerous improvements which could allow it to be made available for reuse with minimal refurbishment and refueling.

The Dragon spacecraft is set to arrive at the space station on Monday, July 2, 2018, where it should be captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm, operated by NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold.

SpaceFlight Insider will provide live coverage from the NASA Press Site at Kennedy Space Center.






Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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