The SpaceX Dragon capsule made history in May when it became the first commercial spacecraft to berth with the International Space Station. With its qualification complete, Dragon is ready to begin its real work. On October 7, Dragon will launch on commercial resupply mission CRS-1 carrying supplies to ISS Expedition 33.
The launch date was announced on September 20, after a delay in the Soyuz TMA-06M launch cleared a window for Dragon in early October. The Soyuz, carrying the remainder of Expedition 33, was scheduled for an October 15 launch, but an onboard equipment failure pushed the launch back to October 23. Details on the failure, which seems to involve the descent stage, have not been released. The equipment is being replacement before the flight that will carry Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin and US astronaut Kevin Ford to join their colleagues aboard the station.
The Dragon will launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral at 8:30 PM EDT aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. There is a backup launch opportunity on October 8 should the October 7 launch be delayed. The capsule will arrive at the station on October 10, when it will be grappled using the robotic arm operated by astronauts Sunita Williams and Aki Hoshide.
For many, Dragon’s resupply capabilities are less exciting than its ability to ship equipment from ISS back to Earth. Several expendable resupply vessels currently travel to the station, including JAXA’s HTV which just ended its third mission, ESA’s ATV whose third vessel is slated to undock from ISS on September 25, and the Russian Progress whose next mission lifts off on October 31. All of these vessels are destroyed during atmospheric reentry. Since the Space Shuttle’s retirement in mid-2011, it has not been possible to ship anything from ISS to Earth except what can fit in the Soyuz capsule with returning crew.
Dragon will be bringing back 333kg of scientific materials and 229kg of station hardware when it departs the station in late October. The capsule is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean from which it will be recovered by barge on this first of twelve contracted supply missions.
Below, highlights from Dragon’s May qualification flight: