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SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon is preparing for first entry and exit

SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon spacecraft is just a day or two away from the first take-off of the International Space Station (ISS), re-entry into Earth and take-off into the ocean.

The developed Dragon capsule (known as the C208) and its baggage allowance are currently scheduled to depart from the ISS no earlier than the morning of January 12 (EST) – for the first time a detached US cargo spacecraft is detached autonomously from an outpost orbit. Previous US cargo vehicles – including SpaceX’s own Cargo Dragon – relied on mooring, ISS renditioning and holding nearby, while a giant robotic arm was used to capture and secure each spacecraft.

Cargo Dragon 2 will not be the first straight to do so: unwrapped European vehicles ATV and Russian Progress have used the Russian Docking System (RDS) to deliver cargo to the ISS for the past two decades. Dragon̵

7;s CRS-21 departure, however will will be the first time that an unloaded cargo spacecraft has completed a full mission using NASA ‘s new International Docking Adapter (IDA), and the third use of IDA to date.

As early as Tuesday, January 12, the Cargo Dragon C208 capsule should re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burst into the ocean for the first time. (NASA)

In fact, SpaceX is solely responsible for the four common uses of the space station’s dual IDA ports – both properly delivered by Cargo Dragons in 2016 and 2019. In March 2019, Crew Dragon – flying without astronauts on its Demo-1 mission – became the first a spaceship that once docked and disconnected from the IDA port. In May and August 2020, a separate Crew Dragon spacecraft repeated the feat, hooking up and unplugging autonomously with two NASA astronauts on board.

SpaceX’s Demo-1 Crew Dragon became the first spacecraft to successfully use NASA’s international docking adapter in March 2019. (Oleg Kononenko)
The Crew Dragon C206 became the second to dock with the IDA – and the first with astronauts on board – about 14 months later. (NASA)
Crew Dragon C207 (right) finished third in November 2020, followed by Cargo Dragon C208 (left) less than a month later. (NASA)

In November 2020, SpaceX launched Crew Dragon on its first operational ferry mission with four astronauts. The spacecraft docked safely on the ISS and is scheduled to remain there until at least March or April 2021. SpaceX recently launched its first Cargo Dragon 2 on December 6, 2020, and the spacecraft docked without a problem a day later. Now scheduled to disengage on January 12, the successful take-off, re-entry and exit will really mark the beginning of a new era of autonomous spacecraft SpaceX.

The Cargo Dragon 1 spacecraft were captured and chained by hand by ISS astronauts with Canadarm2. (NASA)

Unlike the manual attachment method used by Japanese spacecraft HTV, Orbital ATK Cygnus, and SpaceX Cargo Dragon, SpaceX Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon 2 crews took advantage of IDA’s mechanical differences to greatly automate the delivery process. of cargo and crew. Using LiDAR, cameras, sophisticated software, SpaceX’s new dragons effectively jump, ultimately requiring less training and work for the station’s astronauts, who would otherwise have to support manual mooring operations.

Used to maintain refrigerated or otherwise energy-intensive cargo, the Cargo Dragon 2 has twice as many “power cabinets” as its predecessor and is scheduled to return an impressive ~ 2360 kg (5200 lb) of cargo – including dozens of scientific experiments – to Earth. More than a decade after the Dragon became the first private spacecraft to successfully return to Earth, the Cargo Dragon is still the only spacecraft. in the world, capable of delivering significant loads from Earth to orbit and from orbit to Earth.

An artist’s depiction of a Crew Dragon capsule re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. (SpaceX)

After separating from its baggage compartment and re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the Cargo Dragon C208 will become the first cargo spacecraft to burst into the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico thanks to SpaceX’s decision to consolidate its operations for rebuilding California and Florida on the East Coast.

Also used to rebuild the Crew Dragons, SpaceX’s GO Searcher left Port Canaveral for its central role in the upcoming CRS-21 takeoff. Once the Cargo Dragon C208 bursts into one of the four available recovery areas, SpaceX recovery teams will pick up and secure the spacecraft and open its hatch. The uniquely time-sensitive cargo can then be transferred to a waiting helicopter for an unprecedented return to researchers back to land,

Stay tuned for the live broadcast of SpaceX and NASA for the first departure and recovery of ISS Cargo Dragon 2 on January 12 or 13.

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