SpaceX launched its 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA to the International Space Station on Sunday, using a brand new variant of its Dragon capsule spacecraft. This new cargo Dragon has greater carrying capacity and can dock fully autonomously with the Space Station, both improvements over the last iteration.
This is the first launch for this redesigned cargo Dragon, and also the first mission for SpaceX’s new series of CRS missions under a renewed contract with NASA. It’s carrying 6,400 lbs of both supplies for the Space Station and its crew, as well as experimental supplies and equipment for the research being done on the Station. This version of Dragon can carry 20% more than the last cargo spacecraft from SpaceX, and it also has twice the number of powered lockers for climate controlled transportation of experimental material.
The new cargo Dragon is a modified version of the Crew Dragon that delivered astronauts to the ISS during May’s Demo-2 mission, and during last month’s Crew-1 flight. Its modifications include removal of the Super Draco engines that are equipped on the crew version, which provide propulsion to carry the capsule quickly away from the Falcon 9 in case of the need for an early abort to protect the astronauts on board. It can also be reused up to five times, versus just three for the last cargo version.
This launch was SpaceX’s 100th successful Falcon 9 take-off, and the company has flown 43 of those on recovered and refurbished boosters. Today’s mission also included a recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage, which has now flown four times in total. This marks the 68th successful booster landing for SpaceX so far.
Next up for CRS-21 is a rendezvous between the cargo Dragon and the ISS, which is set to take place Monday evening. The capsule will autonomously dock with one of the Station’s new international docking adapters, which are designed specifically to make this automated docking procedure possible. It’ll be the second Dragon docked at the station when it arrives, since SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is still there from last month’s crew mission.