The crew of the ISS is preparing for the arrival of a SpaceX rocket next week carrying equipment crucial to future NASA missions. NASA will be televising the July 18 launch live as well as a pre-launch briefing on Saturday, July 16, at 2 p.m.
NASA and SpaceX cooperation has been key to the functioning and continued mission of the International Space Station. The ninth SpaceX mission to the ISS is of particular importance. It will bring an International Docking Adapter or IDA, essentially a large metallic ring that will allow spacecraft to automatically dock at the ISS in the future.
Once the SpaceX rocket reaches the ISS, a robotic arm will remove the IDA from the Dragon's cargo capsule and place it near its installation port on the Harmony node. Later this summer, ISS astronauts will spacewalk to the IDA to perform the installation.
NASA, SpaceX and 'Space Taxis'As reported in Verge Magazine, this is the second attempt to deliver an IDA to the ISS. In June 2015, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that was carrying an IDA exploded less than three minutes after launching from Cape Canaveral.
The IDA is an important component of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which looks to private companies like SpaceX to both manufacture and operate rockets and possibly other spacecraft that will bring crew members to and from the ISS. Along with SpaceX, Boeing is also developing what Verge Magazine calls "space taxis" for NASA. Elon Musk's SpaceX is currently developing an adapted version of its Dragon cargo capsule, named the Crew Dragon. Boeing's version will be called the CST-100 Starliner.The manned crew launches are expected to begin in late 2017 and early 2018. The space taxis will use sensors on the IDA to navigate and guide them automatically to the docking bay without involving the ISS astronauts. The IDA was built according to international standards established in 2010 with the future in mind. Any future spacecraft that follow the same standards will be able to use the IDA to dock at the ISS.
Even if this launch is successful, this SpaceX mission was to have been the second such installation of an IDA. The idea was to have two installed as a fail safe in case of malfunction once Commercial Crew Flights actually begin. The loss of the first rocket put those plans in a state of flux. However, NASA is actively planning on another IDA launch before the Commercial Crew launches commence. Kirk Shireman, NASA's ISS Program manager, spoke to Verge Magazine at a press conference.
"It's not required to have both IDAs on orbit prior to the launch of the first Commercial Crew test flight. But we are actively monitoring the schedules of the Commercial Crew vehicles. We're planning to launch on SpaceX 16, or a little earlier if we have to."
The ISS Crew PreparesThe ISS crew is preparing for the Dragon Rocket capture next week with an expanded crew. The new members of what is known as Expedition 48 include Kate Rubins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Kate Rubins will be key to the rocket capture operation, serving as the backup to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams while ground control will be coordinating the movements of the 57.7-foot (or 17.6-meter) robotic arm.
ISS Experiments In SpaceAlong with the IDA, the SpaceX Dragon rocket will be carrying about 3,800 pounds of cargo and equipment related to experiments that will be conducted on the ISS. The experiments include equipment that will allow NASA astronaut Kate Rubins to sequence DNA in space for the very first time in human history.
The DNA sequencer will be largely used to help evaluate the health of crew members, including identifying microbes, but has the potential to be used to study any DNA-based life forms that exist within our solar system. Other experiments include examining bone loss in space.
The SpaceX Launch To ISS TelevisedThe SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft will be launched via a Falcon 9 rocket on 12:45 a.m. on July 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Live coverage of the launch will begin on 11:30 p.m. on July 17. About 10 minutes after liftoff, the Dragon spacecraft will reach its preliminary orbit and begin the journey to the ISS.
According to the NASA blog, the Dragon cargo rocket will arrive at the ISS about two days after its launch on July 20. If the scheduled launch does not take place on July 18, the next possible liftoff date is July 20.
To view the SpaceX launch to ISS, visit NASA TV at NASA.
[Image via NASA]