SpaceX sent its final new first-generation Dragon capsule into space Aug 14, 2017. Launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida, the CRS-12 Dragon cargo ship was sent on its way toward the International Space Station.
The spacecraft is loaded with over 2,900 kilograms of equipment, science experiments and food to the orbiting laboratory. It will spend 36 hours fine-tuning its orbit before rendezvousing to and berthing with the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.
Liftoff took place at 12:31 p.m. EDT (16:31 GMT) from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The weather was nearly perfect with only some clouds and a blue sky. The 45th Space Wing, which oversees launches on the Eastern Range, predicted the launch would have an 80 percent chance of favorable weather.
About two minutes into flight, the first stage separated from the second stage. As the second stage engine ignited to finish the job of placing Dragon into its initial orbit, the first stage immediately pitched around and began a boostback burn to place it on a trajectory back to Florida to land for eventual reuse.
The first stage landed some seven minute after launch several miles south of Launch Complex 39A at nearby Landing Zone 1 (formerly known as Space Launch Complex 13). The successful recovery marked the 14th time the company has recovered a first stage, the sixth on land.
Meanwhile, with Dragon successfully inserted into orbit following a successful second stage burn and twin solar panel deployment, the vehicle can now begin its trek to the station to deliver its cargo, three-quarters of which is purely science.
According to NASA, the science experiments aboard Dragon include a crystal growth experiment called Crystallization of LRRK2 Under Microgravity Conditions. LRRK2 is leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, a protein believed to be the greatest contributor to Parkinson’s disease. The experiment was developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundations, Anatrace and Com-Pac International, and will use the unique microgravity environment to grow more perfectly-shaped crystals for analysis on Earth.
Kestrel Eye is another investigation being sent to the ISS. This is a microsatellite with an optical imaging payload. It will test the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support Earth imagery in time-sensitive situation, such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.
By far the largest single experiment on the CRS-12 Dragon capsule is the Cosmic ray Energetics and Mass instrument, also known as CREAM. It is an external payload that will be attached to the Japanese Kibo module’s Exposed Facility.
CREAM's three-year mission will collect data that addresses questions about the origins and histories of cosmic rays to build a stronger understanding of these high energy particles.
Dragon is slated to arrive at the outpost on the morning of Aug. 16, 2017. There it will be grabbed by the robotic Canadarm2, which will be controlled by Expedition 52 astronauts Jack Fischer of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency. It will remain attached to the ISS for about four weeks.
NASA TV coverage of Dragon's grappling is expected to begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT.
Video courtesy of NASA