SpaceX Successfully Delivered Fifth CRS Dragon to the ISS

On January 10, 2015, SpaceX successfully launched Falcon 9 v.1.1 carrying Dragon cargo spaceship from Cape Canaveral!

On January 10, 2015, SpaceX conducted successful launch of Falcon 9 launch vehicle carrying Dragon cargo spaceship from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for the fifth official Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Two days upon, on January 12, Dragon berthed with the orbiting lab by the robotic manipulator Canadarm2, controlled by NASA's astronaut Barry Wilmore and ESA's Samantha Cristoforetti. However, one more interesting thing that happened during Dragon's flight shall be described apart here.

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Official CRS-5 Mission Logo

CRS-5 mission may have occurred (and probably will) in the history books because, for the first time in history of spaceflight, the launch was marked by an attempt to softly land rocket's first stage, once it was separated from the second, on the custom-built autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean.

While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform was significantly more challenging. During previous attempts, landing accuracy was expected to be within 10 km, whereas during this launch landing accuracy was 10 meters. A key upgrade to enable precision targeting of Falcon 9 first stage was the addition of four hypersonic grid fins placed in an X-wing configuration around the vehicle, stowed on ascent and deployed on reentry to control the stage's lift vector.

Falcon 9 First Stage’s Grid Fin. Credit: Universe Today
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As it was informed, Falcon 9 first stage did landed on the platform, but landed hard, presumably breaking up, damaging some of the equipment on the platform so that, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, it should be replaced. Unfortunately SpaceX weren't able to get good landing video because of the dark and fog, but evaluating invaluable telemetry data, it has already informed that 'grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing'. According to Musk, who was very satisfied by the work of his team, which has made 'huge strides towards reusability on the mission', upcoming flight already planned to have 50% more hydraulic fluid, so there will be plenty of margin during the next landing attempt scheduled for February.

Drone Platform Returns Back in Port. Credit: Spaceflight Now
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Dragon spacecraft, docked to the ISS, filled with almost 2400 kg of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to support 256 science and research investigations that will occur during ISS' Expeditions 42 and 43. Also, Dragon carries 4 CubeSats, to be deployed from the ISS be means of special equipment made and operated by NanoRacks. More detailed information on the cargo, to be delivered to the orbital station, is below:

  • Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a light detection and ranging remote sensing instrument designed to measure the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere. CATS is to be installed on the Japanese Kibo module's external facility and is expected to run for at least six months, and up to three years.
  • SABOL, short for Self-Assembly in Biology and the Origin of Life, a study into Alzheimer's that could advance understanding of Alzheimer's disease and similar conditions — and, scientists hope, ultimately help develop a way to stop them.
  • The Advanced Plant EXperiments on Orbit (APEX) 3 and Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) 20 are designed to help investigate how cells, plants and animals respond to changes in gravity. These experiments will help advance knowledge in the physical and biological sciences that in turn could benefit humans on Earth as well as astronauts on long-duration space missions.
  • NASA's Fruit Fly Lab is making its debut aboard the space station with Fruit Fly Lab-01. The fruit fly is a widely studied biological research model, and this study will help better understand how spaceflight impairs the body's ability to fight infections.
  • Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) Recharge Tank Assembly (RTA), the first flight of this new generation of gas resupply missions, designed to re-fill the station's existing air supply network. Each NORS RTAs is about 90 cm long, 53 cm in diameter and weighs 109 kg, either carrying pressurized oxygen or nitrogen. Each tank is pressurized to over 400 bar, more than twice the pressure of previous tanks. Dragon is carrying a tank containing nitrogen. Overall, 37 tanks were expected to be manufactured to be sent to the station multiple times since the tanks are fully re-usable.
  • Microbial Observatory-1, designed to acquire air and surface samples from various locations of the ISS to observe which bacteria are present to allow scientists to look at the types of microbes that can survive in the space environment and study their changes over time.
  • The Flatworm Regeneration study aims to look at the role of gravity and geomagnetic field on the cell signaling mechanisms that are at work in the regeneration of tissues. Results from the study may reveal how gravity affects tissue regeneration and re-building of damaged organs and nerves which can be used to better understand issues associated with human healing processes in space.
  • Wearable Monitoring will validate a new cloth vest that has built-in systems that measures the astronaut's heart rates and breathing patterns during sleep without waking them up or reducing sleep quality. The vest is a lightweight design with silver wires and sensors embedded into the fabric making it more comfortable to wear than a sensor harness.
  • TripleLux-B is one of two TripleLux Payloads flying to the ISS to study cellular changes in the immune system in the space environment and separate out the specific effects of microgravity and other factors such as space radiation.
  • SERPENS is a Brazilian 3U Cubesat built by the SERPENS (Sistema Espacial para Realização de Pesquisa e Experimentos com Nanossatélites) university consortium. The satellite features a transponder to test VHF and S-band communications for store and forward messaging, a UHF transponder fully compatible with the HUMSAT store and forward messaging system and a pulsed plasma thruster (PPT) built by Mars Space Ltd. and Clyde Space, both from U.K.
  • AESP-14 satellite is a Brazilian 1U CubeSat, which was developed as a scientific and technological cooperation within departments of INPE institute. The mission objectives are to investigate the generation mechanism of the equatorial plasma bubbles (also known as equatorial spread F) through the measurement of their occurrence and distribution characteristics on a global scale and as a function of local time, season and the ambient ionospheric conditions, and measurement of the plasma parameters for observation of dynamic and electrodynamic processes associated with plasma bubbles.
  • 2 Flock 1d' 3U CubeSats of Planet Labs, made by this company to replace 26 Flock 1d satellites that were lost in a launch failure on the Orbital Sciences' Antares/Cygnus CRS Orb-3 mission, when the launch vehicle exploded shortly after lift-off.
  • The mission also delivers students' experiments made within the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, new science equipment of Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and an IMAX camera for filming during four increments and tools that will be used in future spacewalks to prepare the station for the installation of the new international docking adapters.

Dragon, being the only operational spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies, including experiments, back to Earth, is expected to return more than 1300 kg of cargo 4.5 weeks upon its arrival to the ISS during planned parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California.

CRS-5 is the fifth of at least 12 missions to the ISS that SpaceX will fly for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. In December 2008, NASA announced that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft had been selected to resupply the space station after the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. Under the $1.6 billion CRS contract, SpaceX has restored an American capability to deliver and return significant amounts of cargo, including live plants and animals, to and from the orbiting laboratory. The importance of the mission couldn't be underestimated in light of previous CRS mission failure, occurred with Orbital Sciences' Antares/Cygnus on October 28, 2014, as mention above.

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