Washington — On January 13, SpaceX’s first-generation, new-generation Dragon manned spacecraft completed its mission in a bombing off the coast of Florida.
At 8:26 pm EST, the CRS-21 Dragon spacecraft crashed in the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa. On January 11, after the originally planned stop and launch plan was postponed due to bad weather, it stopped from the station a day and a half earlier.
Long brought back about 2,000 kilograms of research payload and other cargo from the station. The spacecraft was launched on December 6, transporting nearly 3,000 kilograms of cargo to the station, including the Bishop commercial airlock developed by Nanoracks.
The new Cargo Dragon also flew down from the Florida coast. The original cargo “Dragon” mission bombed the Pacific in southwestern California, and it may take a day or more to return to the port. During the CRS-21 mission, time-sensitive cargo from the dragon was transported to the Kennedy Space Center laboratory within six hours by helicopter.
Dragon is the second cargo ship to leave the station in a few weeks. Northrop Grumman’s NG-14 Cygnus spacecraft left the station on January 6 three months after its arrival. The spacecraft is still undergoing experiments in orbit, including a combustion test in a weightless state, and will re-enter on January 26.
“We have indeed made great progress. This is our new normal.” Robyn Gatens, acting director of ISS at NASA headquarters, said at the Human Exploration and Operations Committee meeting of the NASA Advisory Committee on January 13. “A lot of vehicles go back and forth, and there are a lot of activities at the station.”
The seven-person crew currently on the station, including four NASA astronauts, is making what she calls “providing more crew time for use or research activities.” She pointed out that this has always been the goal of the Commercial Flight Attendant Program, which enables the station to support 7 people instead of the traditional situation where only 6 people can be accommodated, and the only way to travel is through the Russian 3-person Soyuz spacecraft.
NASA has not set an end date for the Crew-1 commercial crew mission currently docked there. Gatens said it may end in May, about six months after launch. It will overlap with the next Crew Dragon mission, Crew-2, which will be launched no earlier than March 30.
However, the date may be shortened to accommodate the second non-flight test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Although the launch was originally scheduled for March 29, Phil McAlister, director of commercial space flight at NASA headquarters, said at the same committee meeting that the launch of Starliner may be postponed to March 25.
CRS-21 Dragon brings many scientific experiments back to Earth, from heart tissue cells tested on workstations to optical cables generated by microgravity. It also brought back a very different commercial load: at the end of 2019, the European company Space Cargo Unlimited shipped 12 bottles of red wine to the train station. The wine and 320 vines will also fly over the station and will be transported to a factory in Bordeaux, France, to understand how they are affected by the time spent in space. This will include what the company calls “private, sensory tastings” to compare wines flying in space with wines left on earth.