A little while ago, SpaceX’s Dragon 2 spacecraft docked with the International Space Station’s Harmony module completing the first part of its CRS-27 mission. Astronaut Woody Hoburg monitored the operation, but the cargo spacecraft, which blasted off when it was Tuesday in the USA, completed the maneuvers automatically without any problem. Actually, it arrived about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled.
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. The Dragon 2 carries out all the maneuvers automatically up to the docking and the procedure can be interrupted until the last moment.
The previous missions already provided positive feedback regarding the possibility of reusing the new version of the Dragon space freighter. In SpaceX and NASA’s plans, each Dragon will be used up to 5 times. This is the second cargo spacecraft that is being used for the third time and that’s another routine SpaceX is creating.
The cargo aboard this Dragon includes some nanosatellites. NASA has the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) and CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) programs that allow students to build nanosatellites that will be launched from the International Space Station. An interesting project developed at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is ARKSAT-1, a scientific nanosatellite whose secondary mission is to demonstrate a system to alleviate the problem of space debris. It’s equipped with a system called Solid State Inflatable Balloon (SSIB), a balloon that gets inflated to increase aerodynamic drag also present at those altitudes and helps the satellite to re-enter the atmosphere more quickly to disintegrate without becoming a danger in orbit.
The CRS-27 mission will end in about a month with the return to Earth. NASA continues to maintain this duration for the Dragon 2 space freighter missions even though this new version can stay in space much longer than the first version. The Dragon continues to be the only cargo spacecraft capable of returning cargo to Earth.