The target launch date for SpaceX’s first resupply flight to the International Space Station has been tentatively set for Sunday, October 7. Designated CRS-1, it’s the first mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. For now, the mission is scheduled to launch at 8:34pm EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral with a back up launch opportunity the following day.
CRS-1 is an unmanned cargo mission, the first of 12 flights by SpaceX to resupply the space station. But it’s the second time a Dragon will have made the trip; in May SpaceX made a successful demonstration flight (the COTS 2/3 mission) with a Dragon rendezvousing and docking with the ISS before safely splashing down.
The Dragon set for the October 7 launch will carry about 1,000 pounds of material. It will approach the ISS gradually over three days, finally rendezvousing with the station on October 10. Then, NASA’s Sunita Williams, Expedition 33’s Commander, and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will use a robotic arm to grapple Dragon and attach it to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module.
Among Dragon’s cargo will be materials for the crew to use on 166 planned experiments including some studying plant cell biology, human biotechnology, and a host of technology demonstrations. Two experiments will return to Earth with Dragon in late October: “Micro 6” that will examine the effects of microgravity on a strain of opportunistic yeast called Candida albicans, and “Resist Tubule” that will evaluate how microgravity affects the growth of cell walls in a plant called Arabidopsis.
In addition to the Micro 6 and Resist Tubule experiments, Dragon will bring about 734 pounds of scientific materials back to Earth and about 504 pounds of space station hardware.
This mission is the first in a series that will gradually restore the nation the ability to launch cargo and astronauts to Earth orbit, something we haven’t done since NASA retired the shuttle in 2011. If all goes well, we might see dependence on the Soyuz spacecraft for launches waning in the near future.