The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off for its CRS-18 mission for NASA

The Dragon cargo spacecraft starting its CRS-18 mission blasting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket (Image courtesy SpaceX)
The Dragon cargo spacecraft starting its CRS-18 mission blasting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket (Image courtesy SpaceX)

A few hours ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in its CRS-18 (Cargo Resupply Service 18) mission, also referred to as SPX-18. After just over ten minutes it separated successfully from the rocket’s last stage and went en route. This is the 18th mission for the Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station with various cargoes and then return to Earth, again with various cargoes.

The Dragon spacecraft’s cargo is a little more than 2,300 kg (almost 5,100 lbs) between the pressurized and the non pressurized section. There are about 530 kg (about 510 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.

The Biorock investigation aims to examine the interaction between microbes, rocks and liquids in microgravity conditions. It’s a research that aims to assess the possibility of using microorganisms in mining operations in space, in particular in asteroids, on the Moon or on Mars.

The BioFabrication Facility (BFF) investigation aims to test a truly special 3D printer as it can generate organic tissues. This is a type of task that is proving difficult in the Earth’s gravity so tests in microgravity will help develop the possibilities of creating various organs and tissues in lab.

Other biological experiments related to microgravity are Space Tango-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, which aims to examine cells of patients with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis to understand changes in gene expression, Space Moss, which concerns mosses, and MVP Cell-02, which concerns various microorganisms.

In addition to the various experiments, aboard the Dragon cargo spacecraft there’s the International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3), part of the new docking system that will be used by the new American spaceships that are expected to start operating in 2020. IDA-1 was supposed to be connected to one of the two Pressurized Mating Adapters (PMAs) on the Station’s Harmony module but was destroyed along with Dragon in the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket in June 2015. IDA-2 was regularly transported to the Station during SpaceX’s CRS-9 mission and installed. IDA-3 was built using mainly spare parts produced during the construction of the other two IDAs.

Scientific research is crucial on the International Space Station and in some cases it’s aimed at very practical results also from a commercial point of view, as in the case of the Goodyear Tire investigation, which aims to look for improvements in tire materials.

The Dragon spacecraft is the same that was already used in the CRS-16 mission, started on April 8, 2015, and CRS-13, started on December 15, 2017. It’s the first time that a cargo ship is used for the third time, another step forward in SpaceX’s reuse policy.

Now the Dragon cargo spacecraft is en route to the International Space Station and everything proceeds normally. The first stage regularly landed on the Cape Canaveral pad. The arrival at the Station is scheduled for tomorrow: at about 14 UTC the Dragon is scheduled to be captured by the Station’s robotic arm.

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