SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft set to return to service on Friday
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — CRS-8 is a flight more than ten months in the making. Ever since a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 exploded some 139 seconds into the CRS-7 mission for NASA, the question has been, when will the Dragon fly again? That answer could be April 8, at 4:43 p.m. EDT (20:43 GMT).
NASA and SpaceX are planning on sending an estimated 7,000 lbs (3,175 kg) of crew supplies and experiments to the International Space Station (ISS) via the CRS-8 mission. As is the case with missions to the orbiting lab carried out by SpaceX, the company will only have one second to get the stack (the integrated Falcon 9 FT rocket and Dragon spacecraft) off of the pad at Space Launch Complex 40 and on its way to orbit.
Of all the supplies that the cargo version of Dragon will carry, perhaps of most interest to the public is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). Building on the Las Vegas, Nevada-based company’s experience with its Genesis I and II habitats (which are currently on orbit), the firm is flying BEAM to the ISS where the habitat will be affixed to the rear port of the space station’s Node 3 for about two years.
When it is fully expanded BEAM should measure some 13-feet (4 meters) in length and approximately 10.5 feet (roughly 3 meters) in diameter.
Crews of the various expeditions that will be at the ISS during this two-year period will visit the module about three times per year for stints of about 3-4 hours each. They will then assess how the habitat is handling the space environment as well as to collect other data. While this might not seem like much, it will actually represent a huge step forward in the technology’s development. This is due to the fact that astronauts will interact with it.
BEAM will not be the sole experiment that will ride the wings of the Dragon to orbit; however, as is always the case, the payloads sent to the orbiting lab will be diverse.
Rodent Research-3 Eli Lilly will use rodent test subjects to provide more data concerning molecular and physical changes in the musculoskeletal system that happen in space. Astronauts encounter conditions similar to those of people afflicted with muscle wasting diseases during long-duration missions on orbit. As such, NASA, CASIS (the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space), and other space agencies have invested heavily into research of this particular problem.
Entering what had been the realm of science fiction until very recently, the Microchannel Diffusion experiment will research the use of nanotechnology in terms of the types of surfaces that best interact with these technologies.
CASIS, NASA, and other partners involved with the International Space Station are always looking at ways to use the unique scientific platform that the ISS represents. As such, the CASIS Protein Crystal Growth 4 (CASIS PCG 4) experiment will study drug design and development. All of these experiments will find their way to orbit via the latest version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The FT (Full Thrust) version of the Falcon 9 that will be used to launch Dragon is the baseline for the company’s new Falcon Heavy booster, which is slated to be launched from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A as early as the third quarter of this year (2016).
Weather conditions at the launch site in Florida simply could not be better with mostly clear skies providing a 90 percent chance of favorable weather come launch time.
SpaceX completed the static test fire of the Falcon 9 FT tasked with sending the CRS-8 Dragon on the first leg of the journey on Tuesday, April 5.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.