SpaceX, with its new Dragon capsule, completes CRS-21, another launch mission by meeting the supply of cargo to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft was launched on December 6th from NASA’s Kennedy space center in Florida and successfully docked at its destination on December 7th. SpaceX used a different approach for this mission as it sent the same Dragon capsule for supplies that were used to carry astronauts back in May. The capsule was sent to resupply astronauts with science work and food.
Dragon is now upgraded to include the ability to dock itself with the ISS automatically. In contrast, the older version required a robotic arm to be used by a crew member. Also, the new capsule carries fifty percent more science payloads. This launch proved to be the hundredth successful launch for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 out of a hundred and one attempts. The one launch failure was seen in 2015. SpaceX has supplied ISS for almost eight years now, with its first being in 2012, completing 20 missions in this time.
During the CRS-21 mission, the Dragon was supported by Falcon-9, which is a lift launch vehicle powered by an in-house Merlin engine. Falcon-9 has previously supported missions where Dragon was used to carry astronauts to ISS.
The cargo carried to space by the craft weighed around 3000 kgs. It was full of food supplies and science investigations for the crew. The research gear mainly included work in life sciences and regenerative medicine along with other fields. The mission is also expected to carry Remdesivir, the drug heavily researched as a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The purpose is to try and improve its efficiency by better understanding how the drug interacts with its delivery substance cyclodextrin under zero gravity.
Kenny Todd is NASA’s Deputy program manager for the International Space Station. During a prelaunch news conference on December 4th, he said, “The crew is going to get some type of Christmasy food on orbit, but I don’t think that will be any surprise to them.”
However, for all these missions, SpaceX used the original Dragon Cargo, which was made for this purpose. Now, SpaceX has successfully created its new Dragon capsule, the Dragon 2, also called the Crew Dragon, to transport astronauts. After the capsule reached the ISS, it was for the first time that two Dragons were docked there simultaneously.
About Dragon 2
Dragon 2 is SpaceX’s upgraded capsule to carry astronauts to space. It has two variants: Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon. The former is a space capsule for transferring astronauts to the space station, and the latter is the new version of the original Dragon spacecraft.
The new capsule carried its first set of astronauts to ISS in May 2020. The spacecraft is capable of carrying up to seven passengers to the space station. Out of all the spacecraft, Dragon has the operational capability to bring back cargo and humans to earth from the ISS.
Dragon 2 is the first private spacecraft that carried humans further than the earth’s orbit, and it can also carry private passengers to the ISS or even beyond that. The spacecraft launches with its 16 Draco engines’ power and slows with parachutes’ help on its return. There are two drogue parachutes to stabilize and balance the craft, whereas four main parachutes open up before landing to slow it down.
Featured image: NASA