Cargo Dragon, SpaceX’s space freighter was due to depart from the International Space Station on January 11, but the weather at the recovery site did not allow it to undock.
Florida laboratories are eagerly awaiting the return of samples after a trip optimized to reduce the journey.
Retrospective: the excellent spatial assessment of 2020
The automated undocking of the Cargo Dragon capsule was to take place two minutes later… Until the end, the NASA teams waited for the latest weather forecasts to form their opinion. But despite their hopes, the “Daytona” recovery site in the Atlantic, off Florida, will not have sufficient conditions to recover the capsule safely. The countdown to Dragon’s return has therefore been stopped.
It must be said that the CRS-21 capsule should have landed under parachutes in the ocean at around 10 p.m. local time, so the sea conditions were essential to locate and quickly recover the material. Therefore, the teams will reprogram this undocking and set a new meeting point, knowing that Cargo Dragon can land in the Atlantic (east coast of Florida) or the Gulf of Mexico (west coast of Florida).
Long trip, shortstop
Science labs at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) are eager to get their hands on “fresh” samples. Indeed, the Dragon capsule has been able to bring back cargo since the start of its missions on the ISS in 2012, but until then it landed in the Pacific Ocean, several hundred kilometres from Los Angeles. The new Dragon V2 version lands much closer to shore, and the crew of the recovery vessels is trained to act and recover samples quickly.
Samples that need to be critically analyzed quickly are first extracted on the boat before being transported by helicopter to the former shuttle runway at KSC. A journey ends a few kilometres with a final segment of the trip in a pick-up or truck. For scientists, this “door to door” of less than a day is essential and will allow more feedback on the experiments (particularly biological and medical) carried out on the station.
The new generation Cargo Dragon capsule also has a return capacity of 3 tonnes, including 12 “thermal chambers”. The temperature and pressure are controlled twice as much as in older vehicles.
Within CRS-21, this capability is exploited for many experiments. First of all, samples of blood, bones, skin, muscles, urine from the astronauts themselves come back for in-depth study … But also models at the heart of “Cardinal Heart” studies (cardiovascular cells printed in 3D), “Space Organogenesis” (growth of stem cells to observe their gene expression). “Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion” (examination of bacteriological growth on different surfaces and supports treated in 0g), as well as the production of optical fibres.
Finally, let us add that several dozen mice will return to Earth with this flight, to observe the results of treatments on the appearance of premature osteoporosis during space flights.