WASHINGTON — An all-new SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched a new Dragon cargo spacecraft Nov. 26, carrying supplies, experiments and new solar panels for the International Space Station.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time. The rocket’s upper stage deployed the Dragon spacecraft into low Earth orbit 12 minutes later. The first stage of the rocket, making its maiden flight, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch was previously scheduled for November 22, but canceled due to bad weather. SpaceX waited until after the Thanksgiving holiday for the next launch attempt, in part because of efforts to limit airspace restrictions during the busy travel period, as well as to refresh cargo on the spacecraft.
The Dragon spacecraft, which is also making its first flight, is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Nov. 27 at around 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time. It will deliver 3,528 kilograms of cargo to the station, including station crew supplies, research experiments and equipment.
This hardware includes two ISS Roll-Out, or iROSA, solar panels. The arrays will be installed on two upcoming spacewalks by astronauts from the space station, joining two others installed last year. NASA plans to eventually install six iROSA arrays to augment the station’s power supply as the station’s original arrays age, ensuring sufficient power to operate the station until its planned retirement in 2030. .
Experiments delivered to the station on Dragon include the latest version of a plant growth payload called Veggie that will attempt to grow dwarf tomatoes in microgravity. The Dragon also carries a portable microscope that will be tested on the station to see how it could be used to study blood samples during future missions to the Moon and Mars.
The Dragon carries four cubesats for NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative which will be deployed from the station. Two of the cubesats, petitSat and SPORT, were built by NASA’s Goddard and Marshall Space Flight Centers respectively. A third, MARIO, comes from the University of Michigan, while TJREVERB was built by students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia.
The Dragon will remain at the station for approximately 45 days, longer than a typical mission that remains docked at the station for a month. During a pre-launch briefing on Nov. 18, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager, said the extended stay will give astronauts time to complete the spacewalks required for the installation. ‘iROSA and meet scientific requirements. Dragon will land off the coast of Florida to return science payloads as well as ISS hardware.
SpaceX said before launch that this mission would be the first flight of the third and final Dragon cargo spacecraft it plans to build. It will join four Crew Dragon spacecraft currently in service and a fifth under development. These spacecraft, capable of flying up to 15 times each, will be sufficient to meet NASA’s requirements under commercial cargo and crew contracts until the end of the decade.