SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launches at Cape Canaveral with 3D printer

Image of SpaceX Dragon spacecraft after stage two separation at 06.02.26 into the flight

An eruption of fire and smoke sent a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft skyward laden with 5,000 pounds of scientific equipment and supplies destined for use by the crew of the International Space Station.

Lifting off at 1:52:03 a.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 21, from Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon etched a yellow and white arc across the sky as it flew on a path roughly paralleling the East Coast of America. The nine Merlin 1D engines of the first stage shut down as planned about 2 minutes and 41 seconds into flight and the single Merlin engine of the second stage ignited to carry the Dragon the rest of the way into orbit.

Cheers greeted the video from Dragon as the second stage pushed itself away from the orbit-bound spacecraft and a pair of solar array “wings” unfolded to recharge the Dragon’s batteries.

The launch began a two-day chase of the space station that is to end Tuesday morning when European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman reach out to the uncrewed Dragon with the station’s robot arm and maneuver the capsule to latch onto a port of the station. The station crew later will unload the equipment and supplies inside the Dragon, including a glovebox-sized habitat holding 20 mice that will be used for microgravity research into bone density.

The Dragon is carrying the elements needed for some 255 scientific investigations the crew members of Expeditions 41 and 42 will conduct. A device called ISS-RapidScat that will measure the winds on the Earth’s ocean made the trip bolted inside the unpressurized trunk of the Dragon. It will be connected to the outside of the Columbus module on the space station to make its observations. The readings are expected to improve weather forecasting and hurricane monitoring.

Along with the mice and RapidScat, the Dragon’s payload includes the first 3D printer taken into space. The experiment is to demonstrate the potential to produce parts in orbit cheaply and on-demand instead of having to wait for them to be made on Earth and shipped into orbit on a cargo craft. The technology could be invaluable for future trips into deep space. The microgravity findings are also expected to refine 3D printing on Earth.

A plant experiment carried into orbit will evaluate the growth and development of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings in space where they are not effected by wind, their own weight or other forces they would encounter on Earth. The plants are grown inside a canister called BRIC-19, short for Biological Research in Canisters.

This mission was the fourth cargo flight to the station by a Dragon spacecraft, counting the first test flight in May 2012. The Dragon and Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft have become regular visitors to the space station as they deliver the supplies and equipment that allow groundbreaking research in a wide array of fields to take place. The Dragon is to leave the station in mid-October for a plunge through Earth’s atmosphere and a landing under parachutes in the Pacific Ocean where it will be recovered. (Text by Steven Siceloff/ NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla.)

H/T: Image credit NASA/Photo grab of SpaceX Dragon spacecraft after stage two separation at 06.02.26 into the flight.


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