The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off for its CRS-5 mission for NASA

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft lifting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket in its CRS-5 mission (Photo NASA)
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft lifting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket in its CRS-5 mission (Photo NASA)

A little while ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft blasted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in its CRS-5 (Cargo Resupply Service 5) mission, also referred to as SPX-5. This is the fifth of 12 missions that for the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station with a cargo and its return to Earth, again with a cargo.

With the Falcon 9 rocket version 1.1 a new technology for the controlled landing of the first stage is in its testing phase. This time SpaceX decided to advance to the next development step: to land the first stage on an automated marine platform called the autonomous spaceport drone ship. A ship carrying support staff is at a distance and will approach only after the end of the attempt.

The cargo of the Dragon spacecraft is more than 2.3 tonnes (more than 5,100 lbs) between the pressurized and non-pressurized sections. There are almost 500 kg (about 1,100 lbs) of food and other supplies for the International Space Station crew but most of the load consists of instruments, hardware and various other materials needed 256 experiments and scientific research conducted aboard the Station.

One of the most important instruments carried by the Dragon, also for its 500 kg (about 1,100 lbs) in weight, is CATS (Cloud Aerosol Transport System). It uses a Lidar system to measure the position, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere. It will be mounted on the Japanese Kibo science module of the International Space Station, where it’s supposed to work for a period of at least six months. The Station’s orbit makes it suitable for an instrument such as CATS, better than the orbit it would have on an autonomous satellite.

Among the scientific experiments there are also some biological ones. One concerns flatworms and will be focused on their extraordinary regeneration skill. In particular, the cells of these creatures will be studied to understand their cellular regeneration mechanisms and how gravity influences them.

Other biological experiments will address bugs and bacteria. Fruit flies will be studied as a model of the human immune system to understand the biological effects of space flight. The Micro-5 experiment concerns the interaction between bacteria and their hosts, again in order to understand the influence of space flight.

The Sabol (Self-Assembly in Biology and the Origin of Life) experiment is part of the research on Alzheimer’s disease and other similar degenerative diseases. Its purpose is to study the way in which certain protein fibers grow in the absence of gravity, where they can become much larger than on Earth. This study could give an important contribution to research on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

As it’s become normal, the Dragon spacecraft also carries a number of nanosatellites of various types. Among them there are some that will be part of the Flock 1 constellation. The new series, called Flock-1d, was launched in October 2014 on the Cygnus spacecraft but the failure of the Antares rocket and its explosion caused their destruction.

The transport of some duplicates of experiments and instruments that were destroyed last October is one of the goals of the mission CRS-5. The Dragon was filled as never before to be able to carry as much cargo as possible. SpaceX personnel had to work hard to do it!

The Dragon spacecraft is now en route to the International Space Station and everything proceeds normally. It was a routine launch but last October’s mishap showed us in a very tough way with that in rocket science nothing can be taken for granted. The arrival to the Station is scheduled for Monday: shortly after 11 GMT the Dragon should be captured by the Station’s robotic arm.

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