30th Dragon Cargo Mission to the ISS is Launched by SpaceX

This afternoon, March 21, SpaceX launched its thirty-first cargo mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS), delivering three tons of supplies and scientific equipment to the orbiting laboratory.

At 4:55 p.m. EDT (2055 GMT) today, a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida’s Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) launched an unmanned Cargo Dragon spacecraft.

The cargo launch from SLC-40 on the CRS-30 mission was the first since March 2020. Since then, a new launch tower has been installed on the pad, improving the facility to accommodate crewed launches in addition to facilitating more effective cargo loading.

“We loaded cargo while the vehicle was still horizontal using a mobile cleanroom before we would take the vehicle vertical for lunch, but thanks to this new state of the art crew tower, required for our human spaceflight missions, that late-load cargo operation got a massive upgrade, too,” stated Sarah Walker, director of SpaceX Dragon mission management, at a pre-launch press briefing on Tuesday, March 19, in reference to the SLC-40 upgrades.

“It’s much easier to load a huge complement of time-critical NASA science into our Dragon spacecraft in the flight orientation,” she stated.

Approximately eight minutes after launch, the first stage booster of the Falcon 9 returned to Earth as scheduled, landing vertically in SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. As per the SpaceX mission description, this was the booster’s sixth launch and landing.

Less than 12 minutes after launch, the CRS-30’s Cargo Dragon capsule broke apart from the rocket’s upper stage. The spacecraft will travel to the ISS for about two days, and on Saturday, March 23, at 7:30 a.m. EDT, a rendezvous and docking is planned. Thanks to NASA, you can watch the orbital meeting live here at Space.com starting on Saturday at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT).

Dragon on CRS-30 is carrying more than 6,000 pounds (2,721 kilograms) of supplies for science, maintenance tools, two fresh coffee sets, fresh produce, and additional food for the station’s occupants. A brand-new spare pump that was kept in Dragon’s trunk is part of that load and will be incorporated into the exterior thermal loop system of the space station.

Along with supplies for the orbital laboratory’s continuing study, CRS-30 is home to several novel science experiments aimed at deepening our knowledge of how microgravity affects various biological and technical functions.

For instance, the Nano Particle Haloing Suspension experiment will examine how nanoparticles respond to electrical fields and how they might be used to assist in the synthesis of semiconductor material known as “quantum dots,” which has the potential to significantly raise solar panel technology’s efficiency.

The ISS’s current autonomous Astrobee robots will be used in the Multi-resolution Scanner (MRS) experiment to test 3D mapping technologies. The team at NASA’s ISS Program Research Office, according to Heidi Parris, associate program scientist, “The team has big plans for future applications [of this technology] in spaceflight,” “If it works well inside the ISS, this technology could be developed to use for scanning of exterior hull damage on the ISS or other space stations, as well as lunar and Martian surface scanning.”

During Tuesday’s news conference, Parris also reviewed several other studies, such as the APEX-09 experiment to look at the genetic composition of plants in microgravity.

CRS-30 “is also going to launch research into many, many other areas, including cellular microbiology, crystal growth, astrophysics, human research, material science and much more,” stated Parris.

For approximately a month, CRS-30 will stay attached to the zenith (upward-facing) port of the Harmony module before deorbiting and coming back to Earth. Many research materials and other used things are returned from the space station using Dragon, the only cargo vehicle that can resist reentry forces through Earth’s atmosphere at this time.

The Cygnus spacecraft from Northrup Grumman and the Progress vessel from Russia are the other two cargo vehicles currently in operation, and both are intended to burn up upon reentry.

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