A little while ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station. Ricky Arnold, assisted by his colleague Drew Feustel, 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. As in various other resupply missions, there’s a group of mice whose health in microgravity conditions will be studied. After a period on the Station, they’ll be sent back to Earth.
Alexander Gerst of ESA will take care of the CIMON artificial intelligence robot, which was programmed to recognize German astronaut’s voice. CIMON is based on IBM Watson machine learning technology, which has been used in a growing range of activities over the past few years. CIMON can move and help Gerst in his tasks but could also work with other astronauts. It also has a shutdown switch in case there was some malfunction and it started saying something like: “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I ca’t do that.” 😉
The Dragon will be docked with the Station for a few weeks with a departure date currently scheduled for August 2. 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-15 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.
By now SpaceX reuse has become normal, meaning a used Dragon spacecraft was launched again on a Falcon 9 rocket with a used first stage. It was the last launch with a version of the first stage known as “Block 4” but SpaceX has already started using the “Block 5” version, which offers more possibilities for reuse. The first stages in the “Block 4” version were used no more than twice, the ones in the “Block 5” version will be used at least ten times.