Today, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was successfully berthed to the International Space Station (ISS), laden with 2,500 kilograms (5,500 pounds) of supplies and experiments. It’s the first time a Dragon vehicle has visited the station since July 2016, and is SpaceX’s tenth scheduled cargo mission to the ISS, called CRS-10.
Dragon was launched towards the station on Sunday, February 19 on a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch took place from the historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, once used to launch the Space Shuttle and Saturn V. This was the second successful SpaceX launch since an explosion in September grounded their fleet.
Following the launch Dragon slowly made its way to the station, with arrival originally set for yesterday. But an incorrect value in the spacecraft’s navigational data caused flight controllers to call off the rendezvous, delaying it 24 hours to today.
Dragon began its approach this morning, and was captured by the station’s robotic Canadarm2 at 5.44am EST (10.44am GMT) by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Capture took place about 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the west coast of Australia.
The arm then brought Dragon into the station, berthing it with the US Harmony module at 8.12am EST (1.12pm GMT) today. A berth is when a space vehicle does not dock independently with another, but rather is grabbed by an arm and docked manually.
Spacecraft do independently dock, though, notably Russia’s manned Soyuz and unmanned Progress vehicles. And there’s actually a latter vehicle already in space, Progress 66, which will be docking with the station tomorrow at 3.34am EST (8.34am GMT) and remaining there till June.
Dragon is going to spend four weeks attached to the station, giving the crew time to unload its cargo. This includes several interesting experiments, such as one that will investigate a pathogen of MRSA on board. This will let researchers see how MRSA evolves in microgravity, helping us tackle it better back on Earth, where it is responsible for 11,000 deaths a year in the US alone.
SpaceX has 10 more cargo missions to the ISS scheduled through to the end of 2019. This year, they’re also expecting to perform an unmanned test launch of their crewed Dragon vehicle, and launch their new giant rocket, the Falcon Heavy, for the first time.