SpaceX Dragon's final resupply mission to the space station will launch the Airbus Bartolomeo platform -Watch it live tonight!

SpaceX Dragon's final resupply mission to the space station will launch the Airbus Bartolomeo platform -Watch it live tonight!

Artist’s rendition of the Bartolomeo platform installed outside the International Space Station’s Columbus module. Source: Airbus 

Tonight's mission will be SpaceX's 20th under their Commercial Resupply Cargo Services (CRS-20) contract with NASA. The rocket company is prepared to launch their Dragon spacecraft on a final flight to the International Space Station (ISS) carrying 5,600 pounds of cargo aboard, before retirement. After nearly of decade in operation, Dragon will retire to be replaced with Crew Dragon (Dragon V2), an upgraded version that will be capable of transporting both cargo and astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX plans to begin providing more resupply missions for NASA using the new Crew Dragon in October.



The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with equipment to conduct a variety of science experiments at the orbiting laboratory. It also carries other vital hardware and supplies for Expedition 62 Astronauts.

SpaceX's Dragon will liftoff atop a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket tonight at 11:50 p.m. EST. from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral's Air Force Station in Florida.



By Monday (March 9), Astronauts Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan will use the station’s robotic arm to grab the Dragon spacecraft as it reaches a position of approximately 10 meters. The robotic arm will install the craft into a port on the station’s Harmony module. Then astronauts will unpack the cargo inside Dragon's pressurized compartment. 

Read: SpaceX will carry scientific cargo aboard Dragon to the Space Station this week -Learn more!

Loaded inside Dragon's unpressurized trunk there is another payload, an external deck called Bartolomeo, an Airbus-owned, German-built €40 million euro platform that will be attached outside the space station to host scientific payload. The Bartolomeo unit is folded up to fit inside the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, Andreas Schütte, Bartolomeo’s project manager at Airbus shared:

"We needed to fit […] into the SpaceX trunk. We also had to fold the outrigger boom to attach between the trunnions, so that required some really complex mechanisms, and requires also a lot of robotics activities when Bartolomeo is going to be installed."


Bartolomeo is attached inside the trunk of  Dragon. Source: Airbus

Bartolomeo will be unfolded as it’s connected to the space station's Columbus module. In fact, Bartolomeo is named after the explorer Christopher Columbus' younger brother. The platform will be installed robotically outside of the space station's Columbus module later this month. The robotic mechanisms outside ISS will reach into the Dragon spacecraft's unpressurized trunk to grab the Bartolomeo platform for installation. "We are eagerly awaiting the launch, but this is only one milestone on the way for Bartolomeo," Schütte said. "The most interesting part is eventually the robotic installation of Bartolomeo."

Airbus will rent out Bartolomeo's 12 payload slots to host science projects and research. Each payload slot on-board Bartolomeo will be priced from €300,000 to €3.5 million euros per year. Schütte stated:

"With Bartolomeo, we can offer 12 payload slots available for any organization, be it a research organization, university, or a commercial entity. We sell to anyone to enable science, in-orbit demonstrations, you name it."

Instead of launching satellite's to do research, company's will be able to rent out a cubic slot to do research in an unpressurized environment in outer space. The position in which Bartolomeo will be installed provides clear views of Earth and space. So, imaging company's who are looking to do research of Earth from space may benefit from unobstructed views. Director of Airbus DS Space Systems in Houston Kris Kuehnel, explained:

"Simply put, Bartolomeo is a science and payload hosting facility to be mounted on  the outside of the International Space Station to provide additional payload locations for the external science and research community. Bartolomeo was commercially developed by Airbus in a cooperative agreement with the European Space Agency."

Bartolomeo's slots provide customer payload's with electricity, also data connections that will be beamed to researchers on the ground. Data from experiments will be sent to Earth from ISS's telementary communication services into a cloud storage, where scientist customers will find all the data via a smarphone app; they will also have the capability to send instructions to their experiment. "No astronauts will need to be deployed to retrofit Bartolomeo with scientific payloads," Airbus officials said. "Thanks to the payloads’ standardized dimensions and interfaces, installation is much easier and can be carried out purely robotically via remote control from Earth."




About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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