Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX performed a historic rocket launch last night! A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Pad 40 at around 11:50 p.m. EST. Lightning up the sky as its nine Merlin 1D engines ignited. It carried the original Dragon spacecraft on a final journey to the International Space Station (ISS), with 5,600 pounds of supplies for Expedition 62 NASA astronauts who work at the orbiting laboratory. Dragon will deliver vital equipment to conduct 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!
Launch marks the 20th mission under Commercial Resupply Cargo Services (CRS-20) contract with the agency.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/0Z4dCIu5Hw— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 7, 2020
What made last night's rocket launch one for the history books is that CRS-20 will be the final mission the first version of the Dragon spacecraft will conduct before retirement. Also, SpaceX accomplished their 50th Falcon 9 rocket first-stage recovery! No other aerospace company has achieved that in history!
After dropping off Dragon into orbit, the Falcon 9’s first-stage rocket booster returned from space, it landed at Landing Zone-1 in Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 used during this mission was previously flown on another resupply mission CRS-19, in December 2019. Recovering rockets is what sets SpaceX apart from other companies; they aim to develop spacecraft that could be as reusable and reliable as airplanes.
Falcon 9 booster has landed on Landing Zone 1 – our 50th landing of a rocket booster! pic.twitter.com/RGwOyJs1Sl— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 7, 2020
The Dragon spacecraft used during CRS-20 mission, is also reused. It traveled to the space station twice before, during CRS-13 in February 2017, and CRS-16 in December 2018. This weekend the craft will be heading to the station. Engine burns will direct the craft, upon arrival it will use an automated laser-guided rendezvous before it is captured using ISS's robotic arm. It will arrive for the third time Monday morning, March 9. at approximately 7:00 a.m. EST. Astronauts Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan will install Dragon to the port of the Harmony module at about 8:30 a.m. EST. where it will remain parked for about four weeks before returning to Earth.
Dragon has been in operation since 2010. In 2012, it became the first private spacecraft to reach orbit, twenty flights later the craft will be retired when it returns from the space station. SpaceX announced:
"Since its first mission in 2012 – when it became the first private spacecraft to visit the Space Station – Dragon has spent over 520 days attached to the orbiting laboratory, delivered over 95,000 pounds of cargo, and returned over 76,000 pounds back to Earth."
Since its first mission in 2012 – when it became the first private spacecraft to visit the @space_station – Dragon has spent over 520 days attached to the orbiting laboratory, delivered over 95,000 pounds of cargo, and returned over 76,000 pounds back to Earth pic.twitter.com/7wVBIlLhL6— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 6, 2020
Dragon will be replaced with an upgraded version Dragon 2, also known as Crew Dragon that will be capable of flying astronauts aboard. The first manned flight to the orbiting laboratory is planned for May this year. CRS-20 is the final resupply mission for NASA under SpaceX’s first contract with the space agency. NASA awarded SpaceX a second contract to launch cargo missions to ISS with the upgraded Dragon 2 beginning in October 2020 through 2024. Unlike Dragon 1, Dragon 2 will be capable of docking autonomously to the space station and provide life support for astronauts. SpaceX will ignite a new era where astronauts launch from American soil!