SpaceX makes cargo run to space station carrying water bears, solar arrays and supplies

Falcon 9 launches from Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – SpaceX launched its Cargo Dragon spacecraft Thursday from Florida, carrying dozens of experiments, fresh food and supplies to the International Space Station.

The Falcon 9 launched at 1:29 p.m. from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A. The mission marks the 22nd cargo resupply mission, known as CRS-22, by SpaceX for NASA.

During a pre-launch briefing Wednesday, SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management Sarah Walker said she when she started 10 years ago it was right before the company’s first cargo supply launch.

“I feel like I blinked and here we are talking about the 22nd one,” she said.

SpaceX also recently delivered four astronauts to the space station during its third Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station. Those astronauts -- European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide -- are now waiting at the station to receive the Cargo Dragon, which will have more than 7,500 pounds in supplies and experiments.

Some of those experiments include a batch of baby squid, some chili peppers and more than a dozen student-led research items headed into low-Earth orbit.

“Chili peppers are one of our more difficult food crops to cultivate. They have a really long germination time, so this is also somewhat of a demonstration to see how long our facilities can support these experiments. It’s going to grow for 120 continuous days,” NASA’s ISS Deputy Chief Scientist Jennifer Buckley said.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, will be going up for a biology experiment.

“Really fascinating organism that we call extremophiles so they can survive in a variety of conditions, including extreme temperature pressure,” Buckley said. “And we’re going to be taking a look at how they adapt to that kind of stress and spaceflight to see which genes are turned on and off to see what we can learn about that.”

The Cargo Dragon will also be delivering two new solar arrays that Pesquet and Kimbrough will install during two spacewalks later this month. The new Roll-Out Solar Arrays, or ROSA, are much smaller -- but more powerful with new technology -- and will eventually provide 120 kilowatts, or 120,000 watts, of power during the daylight hours.

The rolled up arrays could be seen on the back of the Cargo Dragon in space after it separated from the rocket’s second stage.

Boeing project manager Rick Golden, who oversees the structural mechanical development projects for the space station, explained that the way arrays are rolled up it looks like a big carpet and the power source can be deployed in minutes, immediately ready to start turning sunlight into energy.

“The rollout technology has these two fiber composite booms that look like giant straws, they’re seven and a half inch diameter and 60 feet long, and it just pulled this blanket out. Much like you’d see, you know, a roll of carpet rolling out, it just pulls it out,” Golden said.

Dragon is making a grocery delivery bringing fresh foods for the crew to enjoy, including Gala apples, Navel oranges, cherry tomatoes, lemon and avocados.

Launch Weather Officer Mark Berger with the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron said Thursday was a typical Florida summertime afternoon, which normally means showers and storms.

Berger said forecasts showed there should be enough “real estate” between showers to “thread the needle and get in a good launch opportunity.” Sure enough, Falcon 9 launched between the clouds after a few showers along the coast.

Notable for this mission, SpaceX launched a brand new Falcon 9 booster and Cargo Dragon spacecraft. In March 2017, SpaceX flew a recovered booster for the first time and it has been the standard for the company ever since.

“Here we are just a few years later, and flying a booster for a second, third, even 10th time --last month we flew a 10th flight booster-- isn’t the exception anymore it’s the baseline, and so we’re actually surprised when we get to emission like today’s we’re finding new booster I think that’s really neat,” Walker said.

The CRS-22 booster landed on a droneship at sea and fly again during the Crew-3 mission in October.

The Cargo Dragon will arrive at the ISS on Saturday with its bounty of supplies.

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