Falcon 9 launches Dragon cargo to space station with new solar arrays

WASHINGTON A Falcon 9 launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station in a mission that emphasizes station hardware and supplies over science.

Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A at 11:47 am Eastern June 5. Atlantic Ocean.

The launch of the mission, designated CRS-28 and part of SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, was scheduled for June 3 but was delayed due to inclement weather at the launch site and to provide more time to complete vehicle preparation. A June 4 launch opportunity was canceled due to poor weather for the booster landing.

SpaceX continues to use drone landings for Dragon cargo missions even as it transitions to Cape Canaveral landings for manned launches, starting with Private Astronaut mission Ax-2 on May 21. SpaceX officials then found sufficient additional performance in the Falcon 9 to allow landings at the Cape for Crew Dragon launches.

For each CRS mission, carefully weigh the missions mass needs and performance needs and vehicle performance against opportunities to return to the launch site, said Sarah Walker, director of mission management Dragon at SpaceX, during a pre briefing. – June 2nd launch.

The CRS-28 mission is carrying approximately 3,300 kilograms of cargo to the station, and is expected to dock at about 5:50 am Eastern June 6. Its biggest payload is a third pair of ISS Roll-Out Solar Panels, or IROSAs, that will boost the stations’ ability to generate power. Those arrays will be installed during a pair of spacewalks currently scheduled for June 9 and 15.

These arrays will join four IROSA arrays installed on other spacewalks, completing the planned station power system upgrade. In a June 1 briefing, Dina Contella, NASA’s ISS operations integration manager, said the agency is considering a fourth pair of IROSA arrays, but needs to identify funding for them.

Cygnus delays

In addition to the solar arrays, Dragon is delivering nearly 1,110 kilograms of crew supplies, 490 kilograms of vehicle hardware and 266 kilograms of science. That’s far less science than previous Dragon cargo missions: March’s CRS-27 mission carried about 975 kilograms of science investigation, compared to 745 kilograms of supplies and 440 kilograms of vehicle hardware.

In a May 30 science briefing on the mission, NASA ISS chief scientist Kirt Costello said more supplies were being carried on CRS-28 due to delays on Northrop Grumman’s next Cygnus cargo mission, NG-19. It’s also offsetting the delays we’ve had in our NG Cygnus vehicle arriving at the station, so we’re sending a lot of extra logistics, crew supplies, for the crew to keep them going through the end of the year, he said.

That Cygnus mission, once scheduled to launch in the spring, has been postponed to late summer, though NASA officials have yet to announce a launch date for that spacecraft. Our partners at Northrop Grumman have been working to determine when the vehicle is ready for flight, NASA ISS transportation integration manager Phil Dempsey said during the June 2 briefing. That was not yet ready for the previous occasion.

The previous Cygnus mission, NG-18, launched in November. It successfully arrived at the ISS and performed its mission despite the failure of one of its two solar arrays to deploy after launch. Northrop said at the time that an acoustic blanket from its Antares launch vehicle lodged in the array mechanism and prevented it from deploying, but neither NASA nor Northrop has disclosed any further information about the incident.

When asked whether the readiness issue had anything to do with the Cygnus or the Antares, Dempsey said it was a bit of both. The main problem, he said, was understanding the launch anomaly on NG-18 and making sure it didn’t happen again on NG-19. He’s really making sure that he has a completely healthy vehicle, from the launch vehicle and the Cygnus vehicle both.

He added that there are other things the Northrop Grumman team is working on and communicating with NASA for NG-19, but did not disclose these other issues.

NG-19 will be the last launch of the current version of Antares, which uses a Russian RD-181 engine in its Ukrainian-built first stage. Northrop announced last August a partnership with Firefly Aerospace to produce a new first stage, using engines under development by Firefly. Northrop will launch several Cygnus missions on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets until the new version of Antares is ready.

CRS-28 science

Despite limited space on the Dragon for science, Costello said at the May 30 briefing that there is still a great mix of biological science, earth science, and technology demonstration payloads on the mission. Among these are experiments to study the growth of plants in space and the observation of lightning directed upwards during thunderstorms.

The spacecraft also carries five cubesats built by Canadian universities and sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency. Among them are ESSENCE, a cubesat that will monitor the thawing of permafrost in Arctic regions, and Iris, which will expose a range of minerals in space and train a camera on them to monitor how they are affected by the space environment.

CRS-28 will remain docked to the ISS for approximately three weeks. There are no plans to extend spacecraft stays on the ISS, officials said at the June 2 briefing, though delays in launching the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on a manned test flight have eliminated the urgency to free a docking port for that mission.

Costello said NASA is looking forward to the CRS-29 Dragon cargo mission later this summer along with the delayed NG-19 Cygnus. Those missions, he said, will unearth a large collection of science that we’ve amassed in the field, ready to go.

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