The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off for its CRS-6 mission for NASA

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at the beginning of its CRS-6 mission blasting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket (Photo NASA)
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at the beginning of its CRS-6 mission blasting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket (Photo NASA)

A few hours ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in its CRS-6 (Cargo Resupply Service 6) mission, also referred to as SPX-6. This is the 6th of 12 missions that for the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station with a cargo and its return to Earth, again with a cargo.

With the Falcon 9 rocket version 1.1 the new technology for the controlled landing of the first stage is in the testing phase. SpaceX decided to try again to land the first stage on an automated marine platform called the autonomous spaceport drone ship “Just Read the Instructions”. A ship carrying support staff is at a distance and will approach only after the end of the attempt.

The first stage landed on “Just Read the Instructions” but its lateral speed was excessive to it tipped over. The consequence is that it can’t be reused but it was still a step forward for SpaceX. The next controlled landing attempt could take place at the next Dragon launch.

The Dragon spacecraft’s cargo is “only” about two tons (almost 4,400 lbs) between the pressurized and non-pressurized sections. There are about 500 kg (about 1,100 lbs) of food and other supplies for the crew of the International Space Station but most of the cargo consists of instruments, hardware and various other materials needed 256 experiments and scientific research conducted aboard the Station.

The cargo includes many biological experiments connected to the many medical research conducted on the International Space Station. They cover various fields of medicine investigated in microgravity, from the immune system to research on cells through many others.

Among the biological research is the Rodent Research 2, a small space habitat for mice. A prototype has been tested since last year, carried by the Dragon in its CRS-4 mission. More extensive tests will be carried out on mice to assess their health after being exposed to the microgravity of the International Space Station.

Among the equipment launched on the spaceship Dragon there’s the ISSpresso, a machine to make coffee, tea but also broth and other hot drinks. It was designed in collaboration between Italian company Lavazza and NASA to operate in microgravity testing several technologies which aim to improve the possibilities of producing hot drinks on the International Space Station. In the future it could be used in any space habitat.

Among the technological experiments there OASIS (Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands in Space), which aims to study the behavior of liquid crystals in microgravity. In particular, the investigation will be focused on their movements and the merging of crystal layers. This will help to improve the technologies that use liquid crystals, now present everywhere since LCD TV-sets and computer screens have become standard.

As it’s become normal, the Dragon spacecraft also carries a number of nanosatellites of various types. Among these there are 14 that are to be part of the Flock 1 constellation, therefore the new series is called Flock-1e. Each new series is more advanced than the previous one because it’s a type of nanosatellites still new so there are new improvements continuously made. Even within the same series, there are various differences among the nanosatellites.

The Dragon spacecraft is now en route to the International Space Station and everything proceeds normally. Its arrival to the Station is scheduled for Friday: at about 11.00 UTC the Dragon should be captured by the Station’s robotic arm.

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