Image Source: NASA
Early Tuesday morning, will mark the end SpaceX's 19th mission under their Commercial Resupply Cargo Services contract with NASA, known as CRS-19. They successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket to conduct the deployment of their Dragon spacecraft on December 5, 2019. This was the third voyage for this particular Dragon spacecraft, it is the second time SpaceX has reused the same Dragon craft three times for a NASA cargo mission, demonstrating the craft is capable of being reusable and still reliable to send cargo safely again. Dragon arrived with over 5,700 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). After a month long stay, Dragon will return carrying about 3,800 pounds of the previous scientific experiments Expedition 61 Astronauts conducted on the orbiting laboratory, as well as tools that are degraded, or not occupied anymore.
To begin a 5-hour journey back to Earth, the spacecraft will be released from the International Space Station's robotic arm January 7 at 5:03 A.M. EST (2:03 A.M PST / 4:03 A.M CST).
After drifting a safe distance away from the space station, Dragon will fire its engines to conduct a deorbit burn that will take the craft into Earth's atmosphere to then conduct a parachute-assisted splashdown at around 10:41 A.M. EST. along the Pacific coast southwest of Long Beach, California.
To watch live coverage of the craft being released from the ISS, you can tune into NASA TV early Tuesday morning at 4:45 A.M. EST. Video below:
A variety of tools and cargo will be sent back to Earth, one important component the Dragon will be carrying back to Earth is a faulty battery charge-discharge unit known as BCDU. The BCDU was replaced by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir during a ISS spacewalk on October 18 last year, as part of the station's ongoing power system upgrade. The BCDU failed to activate, now the unit will be returned to Earth onboard Dragon, so NASA engineers can assess the problem and repair it.
Dragon will bring back to Earth the results of various scientific experiments, including live animals! A total of 40 mice will travel back on this mission. These mice were used to conduct a scientific experiment that aimed to figure out if blocking myostatin in mice can prevent muscle loss in space. Myostatin can be used to treat a variety of muscle-wasting disorders. The mice lived in four habitats on the space station and will be compared with 40 other mice in similar habitats on Earth after returning. All 40 mice are expected to return to Earth alive. Astronauts lose muscle and bone mass during spaceflight, so this experiment will help aid in the creation of a potential solution for muscle degradation. Read more about other scientific experiment results that will be brought from the orbiting laboratory: SpaceX Dragon will depart on Tuesday from the Space Station carrying Cargo, Mice, and tiny Aquatic Creatures onboard!
Since 2012, SpaceX has flown the Dragon spacecraft(s) on a total of 19 CRS resupply missions to the space station under their contract with NASA. This version of the Dragon craft will be retired soon, it will preform CRS-20 -a final resupply mission for NASA in March. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, wrote last month:
"Hard to believe it's almost time to retire Dragon after a decade of solid service."
SpaceX plans to replace the spacecraft with a more technologically advanced version this year, Dragon Version 2, also known as Crew Dragon. The craft was updated to carry both cargo and up to 7 astronauts. SpaceX and NASA aim to conduct their first manned mission this year!