Friday, April 8, 2016

SpaceX Dragon Returns to Flight Bound for the International Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon capsule has successfully launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a mission to deliver science to the International Space Station.

The Commercial Resupply Services(CRS)-8 launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Time under clear skies carrying science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.
Dragon on its eight flight to the International Space Station launches
atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 p.m. from Cape Canveral in Florida.
credit: SpaceX

Just minutes after first stage separation, the rocket's first stage fell back to Earth, fired its thrusters and deployed its landing legs before successfully landing upright for the first time on a barge at sea. Today marks the second time that Elon Musk's company has accomplished such a feat - the first coming back on December 21.

The vehicle will arrive at the space station on Sunday April 10 loaded with 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms of science and payload to further advance the research capabilities of the International Space Station. From the Cupola, ESA astronaut Tim Peake will capture Dragon with the station's robotic arm, Canadarm-2, before flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston berth Dragon to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module a few hours later.

Today's launch marks the Return to Flight of Dragon having been lost shortly after liftoff on its seventh mission to resupply the complex in June 2015.

Sunday's arrival will be an historic one, as it marks the first time that two commercially-built cargo vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station simultaneously. Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft is currently berthed to the Unity module of the ISS.

On April 15, robotic operators will once again take control of Canadarm-2 and remove the much anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM), and berth it to the aft port of the station's Tranquility module.

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM)

BEAM is an expandable habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace that will remain on station for a period of two years. NASA and its partners are currently investigating the practicalities of using expandable habitats in the near-Earth environment as well as on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

This will be the first time an expandable habitat will be docked to the station, so the procedure will take some time, allowing teams to closely observe the expansion process as well as the safety of the crew and the station. During this time the module will expand from its packed dimensions of 7.75 feet in diameter and 5.7 feet long, to its pressurised size of 10,5 feet in diameter and 12 feet long.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM) being loaded into the
trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral. credit: NASA

The expandable module is made up of soft fabrics instead of metal which allows the habitat to be packed to a small volume during launch and later expanded to its full size in space. Two radiation sensors, temperature and micrometeorite impacts inside BEAM will help scientists and engineers to better understand thermal, radiation and long-term leak performance of expandable habitats.

The habitat will be inflated by the crew at the end of May and it is expected that crew members will enter BEAM twice or three times per six month increment to swap out sensors that need to be returned to Earth for analysis.

The arrival of Dragon on Sunday will bring to an end the recent period of busy traffic to and from the International Space Station. CRS-8 will be the fourth visiting vehicle to visit the laboratory in as many weeks, following the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-20M, Cygnus CRS OA-6 and the Progress 63P.

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