Weather conditions look increasingly favorable for a trio of launch attempts for SpaceX’s next Cargo Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS), beginning Saturday. Following an initial scrubbed attempt last Tuesday—as poor weather hit the Space Coast, generating violations of the Cumulus Cloud Rule, the Flight Through Precipitation Rule and the Thick Cloud Layers Rule—a brand-new Falcon 9 booster will lift a brand-new Cargo Dragon aloft from historic Pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), no sooner than 2:20 p.m. EST Saturday, targeting arrival at the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony node early Sunday morning.
According to forecasts from the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Space Force Base, there is an 80-percent likelihood of acceptable conditions on Saturday. This is expected to decline slightly to 70-percent-favorable on Sunday’s backup opportunity, before improving to as high as 90 percent in the event of a further slip to Monday.
Following Atlantic showers on Thursday, a quasi-stationary frontal boundary located right across the Spaceport is expected to move southwards late Friday. “However, deep moisture does not look to be present, with only a small chance for showers, a pattern that continues into the primary launch opportunity Saturday afternoon,” noted the 45th in its Thursday morning update.
This is expected to produce a risk of violating the Cumulus Cloud Rule and the Flight Through Precipitation Rule, associated with nearby showers. “Another cold front will move through on Monday, with high pressure building across the Eastern U.S. behind it,” the 45th continued. “With little momentum behind it, it’s unclear if the boundary will completely clear the Spaceport for the backup launch attempt Monday afternoon, however it is expected to come with minimal fanfare.”
In readiness for SpaceX’s fifth launch of November, and the fifth Dragon mission of 2022, the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Just Read the Instructions”, put to sea out of Port Canaveral last weekend, bound for a position about 190 miles (300 kilometers) downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. Already this month, SpaceX has launched four geostationary communications satellites—two for Eutelsat, two for Intelsat—together with the first flight of its triple-barreled Falcon Heavy in over three years.
As SpaceX heads into 2022’s homestretch, it can look back on some remarkable accomplishments. Sixteen boosters (including three brand-new Falcon 9 cores and a brand-new Falcon Heavy suite) logged 53 launches between January and last Tuesday, lofting over 1,600 low-orbiting Starlink internet communications satellites, ten geostationary payloads and three crewed and one uncrewed ISS-bound Dragon.
Added to that list, 2022 has seen a record-breaking number of flights out of Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., doubling SpaceX’ earlier personal-best from 2018. Individual Falcon 9 cores have, for the first time this year, achieved 12th, 13th and 14th launches, with one booster recording seven flights to its name between January and last month.
On three occasions this year, Falcon 9s have flown record-setting six-launch months, with a possibility that November may also close out with six flights. If CRS-26 flies on time tomorrow afternoon, another booster is set to roar aloft from storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., next Wednesday, carrying Japan’s Hakuto-R Moon lander, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Rashid rover and NASA’s water-ice-seeking Lunar Flashlight.
The previously unflown B1076 booster—the fourth new “single-stick” Falcon 9 to fly in 2022—will lift the brand new C211 Cargo Dragon with 7,777 pounds (3,528 kilograms) of pressurized and unpressurized payloads, equipment and supplies to the station.
That load includes 2,341 pounds (1,062 kilograms) of crew supplies, 2,066 pounds (937 kilograms) of scientific investigations, 55 pounds (25 kilograms) of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) gear, 653 pounds (296 kilograms) of vehicle hardware and 26 pounds (12 kilograms) of computer resources for the station’s incumbent Expedition 68 crew.
CRS-26 is targeting a longer-than-usual 45-day stay at the ISS, to accommodate an extensive plate of scientific research and a pair of U.S. EVAs next month. Its range of payloads span the fields of life sciences to technology and in-space construction to tomato cultivation in support of future long-duration missions into deep space.
The Moon Microscope will test a kit for in-flight medical diagnoses, using a hand-held 60x-100x miniature digital microscope whose imagery can be transmitted directly to ground specialists. The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surfaces of the Moon or Mars and may support other tasks, such as testing water, foodstuffs and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar specimens.
The Veg-05 experiment will expand the crop variety of the station’s on-board Veggie facility from its previous emphasis upon leafy greens to Red Robin dwarf tomato plants, which will be grown and tended for four months, with three “harvests”. This new phase of the ongoing Veggie research focuses on the impact of light quality and fertilizer on production, microbial food safety, nutritional value and taste acceptability.
The Extrusion study seeks to demonstrate the extrusion of photocurable liquid resins into customized forms under microgravity conditions, to create new structural geometries not possible on Earth. It may lay the groundwork for additive manufacturing (or “3D-printing”) of more complicated space structures with specifically tailored properties.
And BioNutrients-2 continues a series of experiments to understand and provide adequate nutrition to future space explorers. It will produce specific quantities of key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product, known as “kefir”, and a yeast-based beverage.
Perhaps most visible aboard CRS-26’s large haul of payloads is the second of an eventual three sets of Boeing-built iROSAs, which will be installed onto six of the station’s eight legacy Solar Array Wings (SAWs) to “shadow” and augment their power-generating potential. As previously reported by AmericaSpace, iROSAs will support future ISS expansion and customers’ burgeoning payload needs, increasing the overall electrical power output from around 160 kilowatts to as much as 215 kilowatts.
The two iROSAs heading uphill aboard CRS-26 will be installed next month: the first will outfit Power Channel 3A on the station’s starboard-side S-4 truss, no sooner than 3 December, whilst the second will be added to Power Channel 4A on the port-side P-4 truss, no earlier than 19 December. “We had to wait for the end of a beta-angle cutout,” explained NASA’s Rob Navias of the delayed EVAs, which were previously slated for the late November/early December timeframe.
Veteran spacewalkers Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio, who performed U.S. EVA-81 to install a “modification kit” for a future iROSA earlier in November, have been tapped to perform the two December EVAs, which are internally designated as U.S. EVAs 82 and 83. Both astronauts will be making the second and third spacewalks of their respective careers.
During U.S. EVA-82, Cassada will reprise his earlier role as “EV1”—the lead spacewalker, with red stripes on the legs of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU)—whilst Rubio will serve again as “EV2”, clad in a pure-white suit. The pair will swap for U.S. EVA-83, with Rubio assuming the EV1 role for the first time and Cassada as EV2.
In readiness for U.S. EVAs 82 and 83, Expedition 68 astronauts Nicole Mann and Koichi Wakata spent time earlier this week reviewing the robotics procedures needed to install the next set of iROSAs. A final pair of arrays are expected to head uphill aboard the CRS-28 Cargo Dragon, early next spring.
Following liftoff tomorrow, according to SpaceX’s listed flight milestones, the Falcon 9 will adopt a slightly different ascent profile. B1076’s nine Merlin 1D+ engines will lift the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) stack airborne for the first 2.5 minutes, but a shorter “burn” of the Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine of the second stage—lasting three minutes and 20 seconds, as opposed to the standard six minutes—will deliver the Cargo Dragon to orbit.
This will correspondingly produce a separation of CRS-26 into free flight at 8.5 minutes after launch and the opening of the Cargo Dragon’s nosecone—to expose its docking apparatus and rendezvous hardware—at T+11 minutes and 49 seconds.
An on-time launch at 2:20 p.m. EST Saturday is expected to produce an autonomous docking at the forward port of the station’s Harmony node around 7:30 a.m. EST Sunday. An expected 45-day mission should produce an autonomous undocking and departure from the ISS early in January, after which the Cargo Dragon will parachute to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.