Mission CRS-18: the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has reached the International Space Station

The Dragon cargo spacecraft captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm in its CRS-18 mission (Image NASA TV)
The Dragon cargo spacecraft captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm in its CRS-18 mission (Image NASA TV)

A little while ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station. Nick Hague, assisted by his colleagues Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan, managed the operation then started moving the Dragon to the berthing point at the Harmony module. The cargo spacecraft blasted off last Thursday.

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. In this occasione the Dragon still arrived earlier than the scheduled time.

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.

The Dragon will leave the International Space Station with its new cargo. The CRS-18 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.

In August the operation required for the installation of the International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3) transported by the Dragon space cargo ship is scheduled. The Canadarm2 robotic arm will be required again to bring the IDA-3 from the Dragon’s non-pressurized section to the Harmony module, where the astronauts will connect it to the module, adding it to the IDA-2 installed in 2016.

Having two IDAs is important to allow the simultaneous docking of both American spaceships that are expected to enter service in 2020: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner. In the crew rotation, this will allow to send new personnel to the Station and have the personnel who finished their service come back after a few days, without leaving only 3 people on the Station.

The first part of the CRS-18 mission had no problems, with the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage, already used to launch the CRS-17 mission, which worked perfectly from the launch to its controlled landing, and the Dragon space cargo ship in its third mission.

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