As part of the company’s 22nd cargo resupply mission, a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station today (June 5) to carry new solar arrays, as well as tons of fresh research experiments and NASA supplies.
At 5:09 a.m. EDT (0909 GMT), the unmanned Dragon docked with the orbiting laboratory, docking at the station’s Harmony module’s zenith, or space-facing, side. The Dragon docked almost 40 hours after taking out on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday (June 3). Both spacecraft were travelling about 258 miles (415 kilometers) above the South Pacific Ocean at the time of docking.
“It was a great approach and was awesome watching it come on in, and we’re glad it’s here,” NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough told flight controllers after docking. “Looking forward to all the science and other goodies that it brought up along with our EVA solar arrays. It’s going to be a great few weeks as we get into Dragon and get things out.”
The Dragon CRS-22 mission from SpaceX is the second enhanced supply ship to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) without the assistance of humans, who usually use the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture incoming cargo ships and physically connect them to the station. Two Expedition 65 crew members, Kimbrough and another NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, did, however, keep an eye on the docking from the station’s Cupola observatory.
With the arrival of this improved Dragon CRS-22 cargo ship, SpaceX will have two vehicles on the ground. A separate Crew Dragon spacecraft is now parked, having delivered four people to the space station on the Crew-2 mission in April.
“Hard capture is complete and it’s a great day seeing another Dragon on ISS [International Space Station],” spacecraft communicator Leslie Ringo radioed the station crew after docking from NASA’s Mission Control in Houston.
This Cargo Dragon is SpaceX’s second supply-carrying ship to connect with the space station autonomously. Due to various redesigns made by SpaceX to their workhorse Dragon cargo spaceship, this is a new functionality. The modifications not only allow the vehicle to dock with the station (its predecessor was grasped by the station’s robotic arm and berthed to the station with the assistance of astronauts on board), but they also improve the craft’s cargo capacity by around 20%, allowing more science to be done.
Following a month-long stay tethered to the International Space Station, this Dragon will be the second to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. This update enables researchers to get their valuable cargo shipments much more quickly than before.
There are 7,300 pounds (3,311 kilograms) of supplies and research research on board the Dragon CRS-22 spacecraft, including two brand new roll-out solar arrays that will assist enhance the space station’s power supply. The arrays, which were built by RedWire and Boeing, are the first two of six that will be deployed on the station in the following months.
The first set of flexible solar panels, dubbed iROSA (ISS Roll-Out Solar Array), will be deployed this month as part of a pair of spacewalks commanded by Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet on June 16 and 20. The idea was initially put to the test on a previous resupply trip as part of a technical demonstration.
The solar panels will be utilized on future missions as well, including the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (or DART), which will fly on a SpaceX rocket later this year. It will also be utilized on NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, which is part of the agency’s Artemis moon mission.
More than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of scientific experiments are also on board the Dragon CRS-21 spacecraft, including some unusual creatures like tardigrades (commonly known as “water bears”) and Bobtail squid.
The Dragon CRS-22 mission is the company’s second cargo flight under NASA’s second Commercial Resupply Services contract, known as CRS-2.
In 2008, SpaceX signed their first contract with NASA, promising to fly 12 cargo flights to the International Space Station between 2012 and 2016. In 2015, NASA expanded the contract to include a total of 20 Dragon cargo missions, costing over $700 million. (Northrop Grumman, now Orbital ATK, was also awarded a NASA cargo contract for its Cygnus cargo spaceship.)