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Dragon capsule reaches space station with three tons of cargo – Spaceflight Now

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The Dragon spacecraft approaches the Worldwide Area Station on Monday, hovering over the Nile River Delta in Egypt. Credit score: NASA/Ricky Arnold

A industrial cargo provider owned and operated by SpaceX pulled into port on the Worldwide Area Station on Monday, three days after launching from Cape Canaveral with a NASA Earth science instrument, a spare hand for the lab’s Canadian robotic arm, and an AI-powered helper bot for the analysis lab’s six-person crew.

Finishing a high-flying cargo supply with a leisurely laser-guided closing method, the Dragon spacecraft arrived on the area station at 6:54 a.m. EDT (1054 GMT) Monday because the lab’s robotic arm grasped the provision ship.

The link-up occurred because the Worldwide Area Station and Dragon cargo freighter soared 256 miles (412 kilometers) over Quebec, each rushing round Earth at a velocity of 5 miles (eight kilometers) per second.

“Houston, station, seize full,” radioed astronaut Ricky Arnold. “Go for post-capture reconfiguration. Trying ahead to some actually thrilling weeks forward as we unload the science and get began on some nice experiments.”

Floor controllers commanded the robotic arm to maneuver the Dragon capsule to a berthing port on the station’s Concord module, the place a sequence of latches and 16 bolts closed create a agency connection between the outpost and the visiting provide ship round three hours later.

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule joins a Cygnus industrial provide ship from NASA’s different cargo transportation supplier, Northrop Grumman, berthed on the close by Unity module.

The Dragon cargo freighter launched Friday from Cape Canaveral on high of a Falcon 9 rocket. Its arrival on the area station Monday marked the second go to of the identical capsule to the orbiting analysis advanced, following a cargo supply mission in July and August of 2016.

SpaceX refurbished the spacecraft’s pressurized compartment and flew it once more.

SpaceX has a contract with NASA price $three.04 billion for 20 resupply missions to the Worldwide Area Station. The mission that reached the analysis lab Monday was the 15th below that contract, together with one flight that suffered a launch accident in June 2015.

NASA has awarded SpaceX a follow-on contract for at least six extra resupply missions starting in 2020, and a $2.6 billion deal to finish improvement of an upgraded crew-rated model of the Dragon spacecraft, which might fly its first unpiloted demonstration mission to the area station later this 12 months.

SpaceX says it intends to fly the remainder of its cargo missions below the primary contract, which runs by way of early 2020, with reused Dragon capsules. After 2020, the corporate’s resupply flights will fly aboard the identical “Dragon 2” automobile design being developed for astronaut crews, changing seats and cockpit controls with cargo lodging.

Astronauts deliberate to open hatches resulting in the Dragon spacecraft Tuesday, then start unpacking the ship’s pressurized cabin.

The mission delivered 5,946 kilos (2,697 kilograms) of apparatus, experiments and provisions to the orbiting analysis laboratory. About three,774 kilos (1,712 kilograms) of that tally had been carried inside Dragon’s inside cabin, together with:

  • 2,718 kilos (1,233 kilograms) of scientific investigations
  • 452 kilos (205 kilograms) of crew provides
  • 392 kilos (178 kilograms) of auto
  • 139 kilos (63 kilograms) of spacewalk gear
  • 46 kilos (21 kilograms) of pc assets
  • 27 kilos (12 kilograms) of Russian

The cargo loaded inside Dragon embody mice to be examined by scientists upon return to Earth. Researchers will examine the results of microgravity on microorganisms within the animals’ gastrointestinal tracts.

There may be additionally an experiment aboard the Dragon cargo capsule which can assist scientists examine how algae grows in area. Algae might present fundamental vitamin and assist take up carbon dioxide on future area missions, and algae oils might cut back the adversarial results of cosmic radiation on people.

European Area Company astronaut Alexander Gerst, who launched earlier this month to start a half-year on the area station, can also be getting a speaking assistant enabled by synthetic intelligence.

Often called CIMON — quick for Crew Interactive Cell Companion — the robotic will assist Gerst full duties, conduct experiments, and restore and improve parts contained in the area station.

CIMON, the area station’s new robotic assistant. Credit score: DLR

“CIMON a free-floating synthetic intelligence, and when he can be activated, that is form of a historic second,” mentioned Christian Karrasch, CIMON’s undertaking lead at DLR, the German Aerospace Heart. “We’re very blissful that CIMON would be the first manmade intelligence in area.

“For us, it is a piece of the way forward for human spaceflight. In the event you exit to the moon or to Mars, you can not take all (of) mankind and engineers with you, however with an manmade intelligence, you’ve got, immediately, all of the information of mankind,” Karrasch mentioned.

Developed in partnership between DLR, Airbus Protection and Area, and IBM, CIMON is a spherical gadget concerning the dimension of a medication ball. The whole construction of CIMON, primarily metallic and plastic, was 3D-printed, based on Airbus.

Robots like CIMON might assist area crews do their work extra effectively, enhance security, decrease crew stress, and assist the general public higher perceive spaceflight, based on undertaking officers.

CIMON’s “neural” AI community and skill to study, together with human-like traits reminiscent of a face and voice, will make it extra of a companion than simply an experiment to Gerst and different station crew members, officers mentioned.

The AI-enabled helper was paired with Gerst, a German-born astronaut, utilizing voice samples earlier than his flight. Which means CIMON will finest talk with him, however officers mentioned anybody might work with the robotic.

“If Alexander Gerst has sure inquiries to the experiment he’s engaged on, CIMON has fairly maintain information on that experiment, so he can actually get contained in the experiment, and he can ask questions which are past the process,” mentioned Philipp Schulien, an engineer on CIMON from Airbus.

CIMON learns with the assistance of IBM Watson AI expertise.

“In the course of the occasions when there’s connectivity, all of the communications return by way of the cloud,” mentioned Bret Greenstein, IBM’s world vp of Watson and Web of Issues choices. “So all of the AI work is being processed on the cloud, precise language, all of the coaching and the tailoring we did, occurs within the cloud, which additionally means we will improve it from the Earth anytime, and make it smarter continuously to assist Alexander and the staff to make use of it.”

Kirk Shireman, NASA’s area station program supervisor, mentioned astronaut crews touring deeper into the photo voltaic system will should be extra autonomous as a result of communications delays inherent in such journeys.

“You may consider all of human information, you would possibly have to entry components of that,” Shireman mentioned. “So having AI, and having that information base and the power to faucet into it in a means that’s helpful for the duty that you simply’re doing, is basically vital for having people farther and farther away from the planet.”

A number of CubeSats had been additionally carried inside Dragon’s pressurized module for deployment outdoors the area station within the coming months. Three of the nanosatellites are a part of the Biarri program, a partnership between protection authorities in the US, Australia, the UK and Canada.

Three CubeSats developed below the auspices of the Birds program, led by the Kyushu Institute of Know-how in Japan, had been additionally delivered to the area station Monday for later deployment. The Birds CubeSats inside Dragon had been constructed by college students in Bhutan, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Representatives from CubeSat groups in Bhutan, Malaysia and the Philippines pose with their nanosatellites earlier than launch to the Worldwide Area Station. Credit score: JAXA

In sum, the cargo mission will assist allow 27 scientific experiments on the area station, based on David Brady, the Worldwide Area Station’s assistant program scientist at NASA’s Johnson Area Heart in Houston.

Recent meals, together with crab, lobster and maple-smoked salmon, pouches of sturdy espresso from Loss of life Want Espresso, an iPad Air, and spacesuit gloves are additionally among the many objects stowed contained in the Dragon spacecraft.

The gear launched to the area station contained in the Dragon’s trunk included a spare Canadian-built latching finish effector for the analysis lab’s robotic arm, plus a 1,213-pound (550-kilogram) instrument developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to be mounted outdoors the station’s Japanese Kibo lab module to measure the temperature of crops from area.

The spare latching finish effector, or hand, for the robotic arm can be saved outdoors the area station, prepared to switch one of many arm’s two finish effectors with the assistance of spacewalking astronauts, if wanted.

Astronauts changed each fingers of the robotic arm in a sequence of spacewalks late final 12 months and earlier this 12 months. Each latching finish effectors confirmed indicators of ageing and wear-and-tear after practically 17 years on the area station, and the replacements left the station with out a spare hand for the arm, also called Canadarm 2.

“It’s a vital system,” mentioned Ken Podwalski, the Canadian Area Company’s area station program supervisor. “We at all times need to have the ability to defend for a failure.”

The robotic arm is significant for the area station to obtain cargo deliveries by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo provider, and Japan’s HTV provide ship. It’s also used to maneuver astronauts across the area station on spacewalks, and for transferring experiments and different gear across the exterior of the practically million-pound science outpost.

Canadarm 2 is Canada’s major contribution to the area station. It makes use of the latching finish effectors to inchworm between a number of host adapters outdoors area station module and on the station’s truss spine, and the arm’s fingers are able to routing knowledge, video and electrical energy.

“General, I’d dare say that we’ve gotten distinctive efficiency out of our area robotics, simply because (we’re) 17 years into the sport for a system that was designed for a 10-year operational life — and 15 years on orbit — with the only a few points that we’ve had,” Podwalski mentioned.

“I believe our largest issues have actually been about cameras. We’ve modified a lot of cameras. We’ve bought new cameras within the works, and people are literally very good as a result of we will really change them out robotically,” he mentioned. “In order that’s a case the place we’re utilizing our personal robots to repair our personal robots. It’s form of the best situation.”

The Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Area Station, or ECOSTRESS, will measure warmth power coming off Earth’s floor. The temperature measurements will inform scientists concerning the well being of the crops, how a lot water they’re utilizing, and the resiliency of crops to excessive circumstances like warmth waves and droughts.

“When a plant is so pressured that it turns brown, it’s usually too late for it to get better,” mentioned Simon Hook, ECOSTRESS principal investigator at JPL. “However measuring the temperature of the plant allows you to see plant is pressured earlier than it reaches that time.”

Developed below a value cap of $30 million, the ECOSTRESS instrument is a pathfinder for future missions, and it’ll accumulate knowledge from its mounting fixture outdoors the area station for about one 12 months.

“ECOSTRESS will permit us to observe fast modifications in crop stress on the discipline stage, enabling earlier and extra correct estimates of how yields can be impacted,” mentioned Martha Anderson, an ECOSTRESS science staff member with the U.S. Division of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland. “Even short-term moisture stress, if it happens throughout a vital stage of crop progress, can considerably affect productiveness.”

The thermal sensitivity of ECOSTRESS may even make it helpful for detecting and finding out hotspots, reminiscent of wildfires and volcanoes.

The Dragon spacecraft will depart the area station Aug. 2 and return to a splashdown within the Pacific Ocean with practically two tons of apparatus, cargo and analysis specimens for evaluation by engineers and scientists on the bottom.

The Dragon capsule will come again to Earth with one among Canadarm 2’s previous latching finish effectors, which can be inspected and repaired by Canadian engineers for an eventual re-launch to the area station.

After Monday’s arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, the area station crew will put together for the launch and docking of a Russian Progress resupply and refueling freighter July 9. The Progress MS-09 spacecraft is about to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:51 p.m. EDT (2151 GMT) subsequent Monday.

The Russian cargo provider will try the shortest rendezvous ever tried on the area station, with docking scheduled lower than 4 hours later at eight:39 p.m. EDT (0039 GMT on July 10).

The Cygnus provide ship already on the area station is scheduled to conduct a brief re-boost of the analysis lab’s orbit July 12, the primary time such a maneuver has been tried by a U.S. industrial cargo automobile. Three days later, on July 15, the Cygnus spacecraft is about to depart the area station loaded with trash for disposal throughout a damaging re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

However the Northrop Grumman-owned cargo craft will first climb into a better orbit to launch a number of industrial CubeSats carried in a deployer outdoors the automobile.

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Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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