On Sunday, SpaceX launched its 21st NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station, using a brand new version of its Dragon spacecraft capsule. This current cargo Dragon has greater carrying ability and is able to dock with the Space Station fully autonomously, all upgrades over the last version.
This is the first launch for this revamped Dragon cargo and also the first flight under a renewed contract with NASA for SpaceX’s latest series of CRS missions. It holds 6,400 lbs of both the Space Station and its crew supplies, as well as experimental supplies and equipment on the Station for the research being conducted. This version of Dragon can carry 20% more than the last cargo spacecraft from SpaceX, and it also has twice the number of powered lockers for climate controlled transportation of experimental material.
The new cargo Dragon is a modified version of the Crew Dragon that delivered astronauts to the ISS during May’s Demo-2 mission, and during last month’s Crew-1 flight. Its modifications include removal of the Super Draco engines that are equipped on the crew version, which provide propulsion to carry the capsule quickly away from the Falcon 9 in case of the need for an early abort to protect the astronauts on board. It can also be reused up to five times, versus just three for the last cargo version.
This launch was SpaceX’s 100th successful Falcon 9 take-off, and the company has flown 43 of those on recovered and refurbished boosters. Today’s mission also included a recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage, which has now flown four times in total. This marks the 68th successful booster landing for SpaceX so far.
Next up for CRS-21 is a rendezvous between the cargo Dragon and the ISS, which is set to take place Monday evening. The capsule will autonomously dock with one of the Station’s new international docking adapters, which are designed specifically to make this automated docking procedure possible. It’ll be the second Dragon docked at the station when it arrives, since SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is still there from last month’s crew mission.