After a little over a month of delays, NASA and SpaceX are ready to launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station, which includes more than 5,800 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific investigations.
The mission was previously scheduled to launch on June 10, but was delayed after engineers discovered a possible leak in the Dragon’s propulsion system. It's now scheduled to launch on July 14 at 8:44 pm ET.
NASA ultimately said that the issue, which caused elevated vapor readings of mono-methyl hydrazine, was due to a “valve inlet joint” in the Draco thrusters. That joint was replaced ahead of this mission.
The leak marked a rare hiccup for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule program, which until now has conducted a number of missions ferrying crew and cargo to and from the ISS with little issue. This mission is part of SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) contract with NASA, which the company landed in 2016. SpaceX completed 20 missions under is previous CRS contract with the agency, receiving around $3.04 billion, or $152 million per mission, for doing so.
The Dragon capsule on this mission has been to the ISS twice before.
Experiments to improve life on Earth and in space
The cargo package includes a new NASA investigation to monitor climate change, called Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT). Mineral dust is generated from the Earth’s arid regions, and it affects nearly every aspect of our planet’s ecology: When emitted into the atmosphere, this dust can absorb and reflect sunlight, and so heat or cool the planet; it can accelerate melting if it lands on snow; or can generate algae blooms in the ocean.
For that reason, it’s critical to understand how dust and the dust cycle interacts with the planet, but scientists don’t have a great way to measure it. “Right now, the dust cycle is constrained by only 5,000 measurements of mineral samples for the entire planet,” Dr. Robert Green, NASA, explained during a media briefing. Once EMIT launches, it will use spectroscopy to make more than one billion observations.
“There are big error bars,” he said. “Once we have this information we can also run these models into the future to see how things might change under various climate scenarios, 1,500 years from now. EMIT is going to close the gap in our knowledge of what types of minerals are on the surface that get launched into the atmosphere.”
It’s closing the knowledge gap on variables like this one that will help scientists better model much more complex processes, like global climate change. EMIT’s measurements will also support the search for natural minerals, as it will be able to detect signatures of certain minerals on the Earth’s surface.
Other experiments include one that will attempt to produce an alternative to concrete, a material that’s great for shielding spacecraft from radiation but that’s heavy and expensive to send to space; a study on the behavior of sutured wound models in microgravity, which were generated from real human skin and blood vessel biopsies; and a project investigating immune cell aging that builds on previous research conducted on the ISS. Tissue from this last experiment will eventually be received back on Earth for further study.
“SpaceX missions are specifically helpful in their ability to return samples developed in space to researchers on the ground for further analysis,” Kirt Costello, ISS chief scientist, said. He explained that that accounts for the large amount of biology and biotechnology investigations on this mission.
The mission is also sending up a number of investigations under NASA’s In-Space Production Applications program, which provides funding to businesses wishing to test the manufacturing of goods in a space environment. That includes an investigation to produce stem cell therapies and others.
“NASA and the ISS National Lab is investing in these initiatives as part of our investment in the commercial [low-Earth orbit] marketplace,” Costello said.
The cargo package will be launching in a SpaceX Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX and NASA are targeting July 14 at 8:44 PM EST for lift-off.