A few hours ago SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in its CRS-11 (Cargo Resupply Service 11) mission, also referred to as SPX-11. After just over ten minutes it separated successfully from the rocket’s last stage and went en route. This is the 11th mission for the Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station with various cargoes and then return to Earth, again with various cargoes.
This launch also represents SpaceX’s debut in reusing a Dragon spacecraft that had already carried out a previous mission. Actually, a part of it is new because the back trunk burned during its return phase on Earth. The refurbished pressurized section is the one that accomplished the CRS-4 mission in 2014.
This new development was decided by working with NASA to obtain a specific approval for the reuse because the contract requires a new Dragon to be used for each mission. Reusing most of a spacecraft allows SpaceX to focus more on the development of the Dragon V2, the new version that will also be used for crew transportation.
The Dragon’s spacecraft cargo is almost exactly 2,700 kilograms (almost 6,000 lbs) between the pressurized and non-pressurized sections. There are about 242 kilograms (533 lbs) of food and other supplies for the International Space Station crew but most of the cargo consists of instruments, hardware and various other materials needed to science experiments and research conducted aboard the Station.
About 1,000 kilograms is contained in the non-pressurized section and consists of three cargoes. Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) is a new type of solar panels that can be rolled out and therefore more compact in the launch phase than the rigid ones used now. Neutron Star Interior Composition Explored (NICER) is an instrument that will be installed outside the International Space Station to study neutron stars.
The third cargo consists of Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES), an Earth Observation Platform that will allow to install digital cameras and other instruments. The goal is to have instruments that can remain focused on their target and that can also be used for commercial services, for example to help farmers keep an eye on their crops’ situation.
The Dragon Spacecraft is now en route to the International Space Station and everything proceeds normally. The arrival at the Station is scheduled for Monday: at about 14 UTC the Dragon is scheduled to be captured by the Station’s robotic arm. Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage landed successfully at Cape Canaveral but by now almost no one notices anymore.