SpaceX is preparing to launch an upgraded cargo Dragon capsule for NASA's next resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be SpaceX's 22nd cargo mission under the agency's second Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-22) contract to deliver equipment and supplies needed to perform science research at the orbiting laboratory. To date, SpaceX has completed 21 cargo Dragon missions to and from the space station that delivered over 95,000 pounds of supplies and returned 75,000 pounds. “Cargo resupply from U.S. companies ensures a national capability to deliver critical science research to the space station, significantly increasing NASA's ability to conduct new investigations at the only laboratory in space,” the agency wrote in a press release. The CRS-22 mission will be the second resupply mission that will utilize SpaceX's upgraded version of the cargo Dragon capsule, which is capable of carrying 50% more payload mass. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft will lift off no earlier than June 3rd [time pending] from Space Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Dragon capsule will deliver a variety of equipment to ISS during the upcoming flight, as well as supplies to conduct dozens of scientific experiments and research in microgravity. The supplies that will be transported during the CRS-22 launch includes hardware to upgrade the Space Station's power source. The ISS Roll-out Solar Array (iROSA) will be transported inside Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. iROSA is made up of compact solar panels that will unroll like a long rug. The units will be installed by astronauts during upcoming spacewalks.
The CRS-22 mission will also launch tiny creatures to space! Tardigrades, also known as ‘water bears’, and bobtail squids will travel to space inside Dragon’s pressurized capsule to transport them safely and keep them alive. The Tardigrades will aid in a studying how the creatures can survive under extreme conditions. Advancing our understanding of how Tardigrades biology adapts to rough environments, like microgravity, could enable scientists to obtain insight into what affects human biology in space and how could animals and humans adapt. The experiment is officially called ‘Cell Science-04’ it “characterizes the molecular biology of short-term and multigenerational survival of water bears, identifying the genes involved in adaptation and survival in high stress environments,” NASA shared in a press release. “Spaceflight can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, who have evolved to the conditions on Earth,” says principal investigator Thomas Boothby. “One of the things we are really keen to do is understand how tardigrades are surviving and reproducing in these environments and whether we can learn anything about the tricks that they are using and adapt them to safeguard astronauts.”
The bobtail squid is part of a research project called ‘UMAMI’ that will examine the effects of going to space ‘on the molecular and chemical interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts.’ “Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system,” says UMAMI principal investigator Jamie Foster. “We do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions. The UMAMI experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important issues in animal health.” The astronauts at the ISS Laboratory will study symbiotic interactions between the bobtail squid and its microbes in order to figure out whether space environment alters the beneficial relationship between microbes and the animal host. NASA says that finding out if space affects how microbes interact with their host in microgravity could help scientists develop protective measures to preserve astronauts' health in space.
SpaceX’s Dragon will also carry cotton plants that astronauts will cultivate in microgravity at the Space Station. “We are hoping to reveal features of root system formation that can be targeted by breeders and scientists to improve characteristics such as drought resistance or nutrient uptake, both key factors in the environmental impacts of modern agriculture,” says principal investigator Simon Gilroy. “Improved understanding of cotton root systems and associated gene expression could enable development of more robust cotton plants and reduce water and pesticide use,” the agency stated. Watch the video below to learn about more cool science research that SpaceX Dragon will deliver to the Space Station!
Featured Images Source: NASA
About the Author
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.