NASA and SpaceX eye April return-to-flight for Dragon
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA and SpaceX are looking at returning the cargo version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to service and have announced a Friday, April 8, launch attempt under the $1.6 billion Commercial Services Resupply contract SpaceX has with NASA.
Liftoff is currently scheduled for 4:43 p.m. EDT (20:43 GMT) from the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. There is only a one-second (instantaneous) launch window.
Dragon will use the full thrust version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to send an array of cargo, crew supplies, and experiments to the International Space Station in support of Expeditions 47 and 48.
Some of the more notable cargo that will travel to the ISS on CRS-8 is the Bigelow Aerospace expandable habitat module (BEAM). This inflatable habitat will be affixed to one of the station’s ports where the crew will test out the viability of such a design under real-world conditions.
If everything goes according to plan, the CRS-8 Dragon will remain berthed to the ISS for about a month, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in May. When it returns, it will bring with it biological samples that have been collected at the orbiting lab, including those from NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who completed a 340 day stay at the ISS on March 2 of this year.
As noted, this will mark the first time that Dragon has taken to the skies since the June 28, 2015, CRS-7 mission which saw the complete loss of that Dragon as well as the Falcon 9 booster. Everything was going according to plan until about 139 seconds into the flight. At this point, a cloud of white vapor was clearly visible to those gathered below.
The cause of the accident was tracked down to a strut which failed to keep one of the booster’s second stage helium tanks in place. An overpressurization event occurred, caused by the excess helium flooding the liquid oxygen tank. This accident marked the first primary mission failure that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 incurred in the 19 flights of the rocket (at that time).
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.