Featured Image Source: NASA
After nearly a decade in operation, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will conduct one final resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) tonight. It will be the 20th mission under Commercial Resupply Cargo Services (CRS-20) contract with NASA. The contract, which was signed in 2008, was valued at $1.6 billion. Dragon has been in operation since 2010, the company is getting ready to retire the craft to replace it with an upgraded version Dragon V2, also known as Crew Dragon. Throughout the years, SpaceX has successfully delivered vital equipment as well as science research that includes live animals and plants. Overall, Dragon has conducted 21 cargo missions to space ever since its maiden flight. Its successor Crew Dragon will be capable of carrying astronauts aboard. Its first manned flight is slated for May this year. Tonight's mission will close a SpaceX chapter to open a path for a new era in spaceflight.
CRS-20 Mission badge. / Source: SpaceX
A pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to liftoff on Friday, March 6 at 11:50 p.m. EST. from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Meteorologists with the United States Air Force 45th Space Wing predict a 60% chance of favorable weather for liftoff, "Skies will clear through the day Friday, and winds will become gusty out of the north as a high-pressure area moves east. The primary weather concern for launch is liftoff winds with the tight pressure gradient behind the front." If for any reason the launch is delayed, a backup opportunity is available on Saturday, March 7 at 11:27 p.m. EST.
Falcon 9 will carry the Dragon spacecraft with over 5,600 pounds of cargo for the Expedition 62 NASA astronauts working in the orbiting laboratory. Dragon will deliver new science experiments and vital supplies. Including over 250 scientific experiments and investigations that will occur in the orbiting laboratory. Read about scientific research aboard Dragon: SpaceX will carry scientific cargo aboard Dragon to the Space Station this week -Learn more!
During its time in operation, Dragon achieved many reusability milestones, each cargo craft is certified to fly 3 times. The spacecraft that will fly during today's CRS-20 mission will fly a third time to space. The same Dragon successfully performed the company's previous CRS-10 and CRS-16 resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA.
The Falcon 9 rocket that will fly today was also previously flown during one previous resupply mission, the rocket company announced: "The Falcon 9 booster supporting this mission previously flew in support of our most recent launch to the Space Station, CRS-19." Spacecraft reusability lowers the costs of spaceflight. Falcon 9 is expected to be recovered a second time in order to be reused on future flights. SpaceX will attempt to perform a controlled landing of the Falcon 9's first-stage by bringing it back from space to land it vertically on Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral. Tonight's CRS-20 launch will also be SpaceX’s first rocket landing attempt on the ground since July 2019. The company has been mostly landing rocket boosters on autonomous droneships at sea. Rocket recoveries are always fun to watch!
WATCH IT LIVE!
NASA TV will livestream the launch beginning at 11:30 p.m. EST. tonight.
Dragon is expected to arrive to the International Space Station on Monday, March 9. NASA TV will share live coverage at for 5:30 a.m. EST. The spacecraft will attach to the station's robotic arm at approximately 7:00 a.m. Then, at 8:30 a.m. EST. live coverage begins of Dragon's installation to the port of the Harmony module where it will remain parked for about four weeks before returning to Earth.