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SpaceX successfully launches Dragon freighter to ISS

Falcon 9 launches Dragon freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched for the first time its upgraded Dragon freighter to ISS.

The first stage was flying its fourth flight, and successfully landed on the drone ship in the ocean. This was also SpaceX’s 100th successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, with about two-thirds of those flights using a used first stage.

In the cargo was also the first privately built equipment airlock, built by Nanoracks for its use in launching private payloads. This will supplement the Japanese equipment airlock on its Kibo module, both used to move equipment (not people) in and out ISS. Dragon will dock with ISS tomorrow.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

32 China
23 SpaceX
13 Russia
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 36 to 32 in the national rankings.

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12 comments

  • MDN

    Watching the video I noted that the second stage appeared to be venting some gas about 45 degrees off axis of its trajectory during the entire burn. It is visible in 2nd view provided starting at about 23:50 into the video. It originates where the engine emerges from the silver insulation blanket and shoots toward the top of the image with the black of space in the background providing contrast. I also noted that the insulation blanket puffed regularly throughout the burn in both views. This obviously did not impair the mission, but it appears there was a minor leak somewhere and it would be interesting to learn more about it.

  • Diane Wilson

    With three more SpaceX launches still planned for December.

    @MDN, the Merlin engines use a separate combustion chamber to drive the turbopumps feeding the main combustion chamber. That exhaust is vented, and may be what you saw. It’s a common design for many rocket engines. Not true for staged combustion engines, such as RD-180 (Atlas V), BE-4 (Blue Origin), RS-25 (Shuttle), and Raptor. Also, that insulation blanket movement is something I’ve seen on many second stage flights. It appears normal.

  • James Street

    @Diane Wilson, what makes an engine a “Merlin” engine? Merlin engines were used in British aircraft in WW2.

  • Mike Borgelt

    @James Street
    Because that is what Musk called it. They had a Kestrel then the Merlin (applies to RR and SpaceX), now Raptor which I think should have been called the Griffon (next RR engine – named after a raptor the griffon vulture).

    Nice tribute to RR anyway.

  • Phill O

    Here I thought the “breathing” was from all the mice on the treadmill powering the thing!

    Sure looked like it had a heartbeat!

  • Diane Wilson

    And a correction: Only two more Falcon launches this month. The next Starlink launch gut moved to January.

  • MDN

    Diane:

    That is a valid point. The reason I mentioned it however is because this is the first time I have seen this (or at least noticed it) in a SpaceX launch video. Thus I felt it worth noting and inquiring about.

  • James Street noted: “Merlin engines were used in British aircraft in WW2.”

    Also in the somewhat obscure P-51 Mustang. American airframe and British engine equaled a decent enough fighter aircraft.

  • Chris

    Hi Bob,

    A question on the manifest items you mention, specifically the Nanoracks airlock. So the Bigelow expandable habitat (Genesis?) did not have an airlock? Or is this a specialized airlock for just equipment?

    For the Reliability Engineers out there: With 100 successful launches, what do you suspect the SpaceX Dragon lifetime is now. If I remember the rudimentary training I had on reliability longer and longer successful stretches of performance drives the expected lifetime out.

  • Chris: BEAM did not have an airlock. Its purpose was to demonstrate for NASA the engineering of Bigelow’s inflatable modules.

    Dragon’s lifetime wholly depends on NASA, and SpaceX. As long as NASA wants to buy its use, SpaceX would be foolish to stop making them. At the same time, if SpaceX comes up with something better (re Starship), then the demand for Dragon will fade.

    The present capsules have a planned life of five flights.

  • mkent

    A question on the manifest items you mention, specifically the Nanoracks airlock. So the Bigelow expandable habitat (Genesis?) did not have an airlock? Or is this a specialized airlock for just equipment?

    No, BEAM does not have an airlock, nor did either of the two Genesis modules Bigelow put into orbit 13 or 14 years ago. The only airlocks on the USOS (non-Russian) part of the station are the crew airlock on the Joint Airlock Module (JAM) and the smaller equipment airlock on the Japanese Exposed Facility (JEF) meant to be able to transfer experiment samples from the interior lab to the exposed section and back.

    Bishop is essentially an end-cap at the end of Node 3. When pressurized, the crew can access the interior of the airlock via the very large Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) port to install tools, experiments, satellites to deploy, etc. They then close the CBM hatch, depressurize the airlock, and use the station arm to move Bishop to wherever it needs to be. They can reverse the process to bring in exterior pieces of equipment for repair or return to Earth.

    What this means is that now anything that can fit trough a CBM hatch can be taken outside or brought inside. Large pieces of exterior equipment can be brought inside for troubleshooting and repair. EVA tools can be setup in a shirt-sleeve environment and then deployed during a spacewalk with Bishop acting as a tool shed. Cubesats can be deployed by the dozen. (While the cubesat deployment mission was Bishop’s original purpose, that’s not needed as much any more with the advent of smallsat launchers and rideshares. I think the other capabilities I mentioned will in the end be more important.)

    People look at raw numbers like cubic feet of pressurized volume, but Bishop is, along with JEF, Bartolomeo, and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), one of the little things that makes the ISS so useful in space. I’m glad to see it launch.

    There’s a five-minute video towards the bottom of this page…

    https://nanoracks.com/bishop-airlock/

    …that highlights some of the deployment possibilities. Definitely worth watching.

  • Chris

    Thank you mkent – very cool video

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