A little while ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station. Mark Vande Hei, assisted by his colleague Joe Acaba, managed the operation then started moving the Dragon to the berthing point at the Harmony module. The cargo spacecraft blasted off last Friday.
The Dragon spacecraft’s approach to the International Space Station follows a procedure that has become routine but remains long and delicate. The Station’s safety is the top priority so every little step of the Dragon gets checked. Only if all goes well in the spacecraft’s position and velocity they proceed with the next step and in case of any problems can be aborted at every step.
Tomorrow, the International Space Station crew will open the Dragon spacecraft’s hatch and will start unloading its cargo. In this case the operations could take a little longer than usual because at the moment there are only 3 crew members on board. Three more will arrive next Tuesday after launching a few hours ago.
The Dragon will be docked with the Station for a few weeks. In the course of the next month, a series of experiments and other objects to be brought back to Earth will be loaded into it, which is the only cargo spacecraft that can return to Earth intact.
The Dragon will leave the International Space Station with its new cargo. The CRS-13 mission will be completed with its descent into the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California. This last phase is important as well because various in-depth analyzes of samples can be carried out only in specialized laboratories on Earth.
The CRS-13 mission is important for SpaceX because it’s the second with a used Dragon spacecraft, in this case used for the first time in the CRS-6 mission that started on April 14 2015, but above all for the first time it was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket with a used first stage.
Elon Musk’s company keeps on working, in this case together with NASA, on the technologies that allow an ever-increasing reuse of the various components of the rockets and the Dragon spacecraft. Proving their used vehicles’ reliability is crucial for their use to become routine and the costs of space missions to drop dramatically.