On August 29, SpaceX launched a cargo Dragon spacecraft to International Space Station (ISS) for the first time in almost two months. The Falcon 9 launched from Launch Complex 39A, situated at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:14 a.m. Eastern, after a one-day delay due to weather. The Dragon spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage about 12 minutes after the lift-off and is scheduled to dock with this station at exactly 11 a.m. Eastern on 30 August for a month stay.
The Falcon 9’s first mission since the Transporter-2 rideshare mission deployed on 30 June marked the longest interval between launches since a 3-month gap between August and November 2019. A slowdown in Starlink deployments to equip those spacecraft with laser inter-satellite connectivity was one reason for the pause; Starlink missions have accounted for most Falcon 9 launches this year.
“We fly when our clients need us to launch,” Sarah Walker, a director in charge of the Dragon mission management at SpaceX, said during a prelaunch presentation on August 27. She claimed that the company took advantage of the break to look for “small enhancements” in launch processes. “However, in terms of launch preparations, nothing significant has changed.”
Another noticeable change is using the latest SpaceX droneship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” as the first stage landing pad for the Falcon 9. According to Walker, this droneship, the third in SpaceX’s fleet, has “wonderful upgrades,” including the ability to operate completely independently. Unlike prior droneship expeditions, however, this time, a tug accompanied the droneship.
As a backer of Cape Canaveral launches, it follows the “Just Read the Instructions.” She stated, “We needed the third spaceship to accommodate SpaceX’s current high launch tempo.” The third droneship, “Of Course, I Still Love You,” has arrived in California for the Vandenberg Space Force Base launch.
The Dragon carries a payload of 2,207 kilograms, with over half of it dedicated to studying subjects ranging from biology to materials science. In Nanoracks’ Bishop commercial airlock, a small robotic arm created by the Japanese firm GITAI will be tested. The ship also has a lot of station hardware on board.
Unlike many previous Dragon freight missions, there is no external cargo within the trunk segment. As per Jennifer Scott Williams, manager of NASA’s ISS program’s applications client support office, “supply issues and other impediments related to the pandemic forced cargo intended for the trunk on this flight to be postponed to future trips.” STP-H7, a payload for Pentagon’s Space Test Program, will now be launched alongside STP-H8 on the next cargo Dragon flight sometime this year.