• The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured just 10 meters away from the space station’s Canadarm2 as it approaches the ISS on Dec. 17, 2017. Credit: NASA
  • The SpaceXDragon CRS-13 cargo vehicle was successfully installed on the International Space_Station at 8:26 a.m. ET, Dec. 17, 2017 where it will stay until returning to Earth on Jan. 13, 2018. Credit: NASA
  • SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vehicle approaches the ISS to deliver almost 4,800 pounds of cargo and scientific experiments on Dec. 17, 2017. Credit: NASA
  • Prototype of Space Debris Sensor (SDS) experiment launching on the SpaceX Dragon CRS-13 mission to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • Research hardware for LaunchPad Medical will investigation use of synthetic bone material to accelerate bone repair in patients suffering from osteoporosis. Credit:Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • Landing of twice 'flight-proven'SpaceX Falcon9 1st stage booster at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) accompanied by multiple extremely loud sound booms racing across the Florida Space Coast just 8 min after successful launch Dec. 17, 2017 of Dragon CRS-13 cargo ship for NASA to the ISS. Credit:Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • Launch of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-13 spacecraft at 10:36 a.m. EST Dec. 15, 2017, from Space Launch Complex 40 onCape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida carrying nearly 2.5 tons of research equipment, cargo and supplies for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS). Some debris hurtles by as seen from pad 40 camera. Credit:Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Recycled SpaceX Dragon Arrives at Space Station with Heavy Cargo and Science Stash, Crew Begins Unloading

Ken Kremer -- Space UpClose -- 19 Dec 2017

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The first recycled SpaceX Dragon cargo ship that launched on a recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 booster successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) early Sunday morning, Dec. 17, two days after blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center carrying a stash of almost 2.5 tons of science and crew supplies on a resupply mission for NASA.

Within several hours of Dragons berthing at the ISS, the resident astronauts opened thehatches to between the spaceship to begin the “fast and furious” task of unloading the precious cargo.

After reaching the vicinity of the orbiting outpost via a post launch series of orbit raising thruster burns, the refurbished SpaceX Dragon CRS-13 cargo freighter maneuvered close by for capture by the crew using the stations Canadian-built robotic arm.

After the unpiloted vessel closed within range of about 10 meters, NASA astronaut MarkVande Hei Dragon grappled the reused Dragon with the end effector snares of the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6 meter-long) Canadarm2 at 5:57 a.m. EST (1057 GMT) as the vehicles were soaring some 252 miles (400 km) above Earth between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Prime arm operator Vande Hei was assisted by NASA astronaut Joe Acaba as both were working at a robotics work station inside the 7-windowed domed Cupola module.

“It’sa beautiful spacecraft,” Vande Hei said.

“We’re looking forward to digging into it and getting some science on-board. Congratulations to the entire ground team for making this such a smooth vehicle.”

Dragons capture came two days after the picture perfect blastoff of the ‘flight-proven’ SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon CRS-13 commercial resupply freighter at 10:36 a.m. EST (1536 GMT), Friday, Dec. 15 from seaside Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with its precious cargo of science and supplies forthe resident crew of the Expedition 54 mission increment.

Ground controllers at Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center then took over and maneuvered the robotic arm holding Dragon closer and closer for berthing to the stations Harmony module.

Finally they moved Dragon to the reach to latch position at 8:09 am. EST.

Dragon was then installed onto the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at 8:11 a.m. by closing the latches to complete first stage capture.

Next up the engineers drove home all 16 A-bolts to complete the 2nd stage of capture and installation - thereby achieving a hard mate between the two vehicles.

NASA’s play by play commentator announced Dragon’s installation on the Harmony’s Earth facing port was declared complete at 8:26 a.m. EST as the vehicles were flying 254 mi (400 km) over the North Atlantic Ocean.

The capture and berthing operations were broadcast live on NASA TV.

CRS-13 was NASA’s first flight utilizing both a ‘used’ SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket and a ‘used’ Dragon cargo vessel.

Top NASA managers have stated they will evaluate future uses of recycled Falcon boosters on a “case-by-case basis” after thoroughly reviewing all pertinent engineering and launch data and telemetry to ensure safe and successful launches into the future.

Overall this was the fourth reflight of a recovered SpaceX booster – with all 3 other re-launches occurring earlier this year from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The Falcon 9 first stage flew earlier this year on the CRS-11 mission on June 3, 2017. The Dragon capsule flew on the CRS-6 mission in April 2015.

The successful second touchdown of the booster back at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the Cape marked the 20th time that a Falcon 9 booster safely soft landed on the ground at Cape Canaveral or on tiny ocean-going platforms prepositioned in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Both the Falcon 9 and Dragon space hardware performed flawlessly.

“The performance of both Falcon 9 and Dragon were totally nominal,” Jessica Jensen, SpaceX Director Dragon Mission Management, told Space UpClose at the post launch media briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“There's no difference. You literally wouldn't know whether it was a brand new booster and a brand new Dragon versus previously flown. And that's the whole point of it!”

The 20-foot high, 12-foot-diameter Dragon CRS-13 vessel was packed with about 4,800pounds (2205 kg) of science experiments, research gear, crew supplies and hardwarefor delivery to the orbiting outpost.

Dragon will stay attached for about one month until returning to Earth on Jan. 13, 2017 by a parachute assisted splashdown off Baja California in the Pacific Ocean with over 3600 pounds of cargo and results of previous experiments including numerous science samples in mid-January 2018.

SpaceX’s Dragon is the only NASA contracted resupply ship capable of surviving reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere and returning tons of research investigation samples to waiting scientists as well as other gear and hardware.

This is Dragons’ 13th cargo mission to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services(CRS) contract with NASA out of 20 scheduled under the CRS-1 contract. At least 6 additional cargo missions are scheduled under NASA’s CRS-2 cargo contract award through 2024.

Details of the Dragon CRS-13 cargo manifest include:
  • Crew Supplies 1080.3 lbs. / 490 kg
  • Science Investigations 1567.5 lbs. / 711 kg
  • Spacewalk Equipment 363.8 lbs. / 165 kg
  • Vehicle Hardware 416.7 lbs. / 189 kg
  • Computer Resources 11 lbs. / 5 kg
  • Total Cargo: 4861.2 lbs. / 2205 kg
  • Total Pressurized Cargo with Packaging: 3439.2 lbs. / 1560 kg
  • Unpressurized Cargo: 1422 lbs. / 645 kg
The science gear on board will support over 300 ongoing research experiments, NASA research hardware aimed at tracking and measuring the Sun’s energy input to Earth (TSIS-1) and panels monitoring potentially harmful space debris (SDS) in the stations orbit, as well as a new spacesuit for EVA spacewalks.

This includes a rookie crew of 40 micestronauts were also aboard who will play a key role in research investigations aimed at potentially mitigating osteoporosis and other ailments afflicting millions of people back here on Earth.

The ZBLAN investigation demonstrating the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. ZBLAN is a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass.

“Results from this investigation could lead to the production of higher-quality fiber optic productsfor use in space and on Earth.

LaunchPad Medical is conducting a bone adhesive experiment for research involving aninvestigation using synthetic bone material to accelerate bone repair in patients suffering from osteoporesis as well as undergoing dental implants - using a material called tetranite based on calcium phosphate. Astronauts will make injections and sample withdrawals in the gear growing bone cell cultures located in a Destiny module experiment rack in the experiment cosponsored by Boeing.

A pair of NASA experiments are loaded in the unpressurized Dragon truck: TSIS-1 and SDS.

NASA's Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS-1,will measure the Sun's energy input to Earth with 3 times more precision than ever before and continues measurements currently obtained by the SOURCE mission launched in 2003.

The data will enable scientists “to study the Sun’s natural influence on Earth’s ozone, atmospheric circulation, clouds and ecosystems. These observations are essential for a scientific understanding of the effects of solar variability on the Earth system.”

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) experiment will detect and record orbital debris impacts measuring 1 mm in size and less in near real time for a period of at least 2 years and potentially much longer. Eventually this research could help lower the risks posed by orbital debris to human life and critical hardware on the ISS and other crew spaceships and satellites.

Astronauts will pluck both pieces of research hardware from the Dragons unpressurizedtrunk using Canadarm2.

SDS will be positioned on the ESA Columbus module. TSIS-1 will be attached to the ELC-3 structure mounted on the stations backbone truss structure.

Two experiments from Budweiser involve barley seeds aimed at ultimately becoming the first beer brewed on Mars. The first experiment will examine the effect of microgravity and radiation on barley seeds. The second will test how barley seeds germinate and grow in microgravity over a period of 2 weeks.

A stash of Christmas presents might also be aboard. But NASA wasn’t exactly saying. So its still very much a surprise!

Following Tuesday’s arrival of the Soyuz MS-07 crew capsule the ISS is back to full strength with a crew complement of six astronauts and cosmonauts representing the U.S., Russia and Japan for Expedition 54.

Read our continuing SpaceX Dragon CRS-13 and Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-8 cargo mission stories here at Space UpClose for further details about ISS mission operations and ongoing science investigations.

Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.