SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station on Friday afternoon, and at 7:23AM ET on Sunday morning, the crew aboard ISS captured the rocket's payload in space. This marks the first time the company has successfully sent cargo to the station after its last resupply mission failed in June.
The Dragon is filled with nearly 7,000 pounds of supplies for the station
Riding on top of the vehicle was the company's Dragon cargo spacecraft, filled with nearly 7,000 pounds of supplies for the station. Making up more than 3,000 pounds of that cargo is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or the BEAM — an expandable habitat that will provide 565 cubic feet of volume for astronauts to move around. Once at the station, the BEAM will be attached to the Tranquility node of the ISS, and then inflated sometime in the next four months. The BEAM is slated to stay attached to the ISS for the next two years, allowing engineers to gather data about how the module holds up in the space environment.
The Dragon also carried up a number of other science experiments, including a crop of cabbage that will be grown and eventually eaten by the ISS crew members. The capsule also delivered a group of 20 live mice from the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which will help researchers better understand how muscles atrophy, since muscle tissues waste away much faster in space. And a student-made experiment will test out a method for finding any DNA damage that astronauts may develop when in space.
Now that the Dragon capsule is docked, will stay birthed to the ISS for about a month, before returning to Earth on May 11th. At that point the Dragon will be responsible for carrying some important cargo back to our planet. The capsule will be loaded up with the various body samples that astronaut Scott Kelly took during his extended stay in space. Kelly recently spent 340 days on the ISS to help NASA learn how the body reacts to living in microgravity for extended periods of time, and those samples will reveal a lot about how Kelly's body adapted. NASA will get ahold of those samples when the Dragon splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California.
This launch is just one of many ISS resupply missions SpaceX will do
This launch is just one of many ISS resupply missions SpaceX will do over the next eight years. The company holds contracts with NASA to periodically resupply the ISS through the year 2024. So far, SpaceX has sent cargo to the station six times, but its seventh attempt in June failed after one if its Falcon 9 rockets disintegrated en route to orbit. The accident prompted SpaceX to halt rocket launches for the next six months and launch an investigation into the explosion. The cause of the failure was found to be a faulty strut in one of the upper fuel tanks. SpaceX successfully returned to flight in December, after the company updated its rocket and changed its strut system, according to Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance for SpaceX.
After Friday's rocket launched, SpaceX also landed a portion of the vehicle on a floating drone ship at sea.
Update April 10th, 9:34AM ET: Added details of Dragon's successful capture at ISS.