SpaceX is launching a new spacecraft during its 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for the International Space Station this morning. The launch is set to take off at 11:17 AM EST (8:17 AM PST) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will be the first-ever flight of an updated version of SpaceX’s cargo-specific Dragon spacecraft, which can carry more supplies and experiment materials and which can dock all on its own with the Space Station. Prior Dragon cargo craft required docking assistance from the robotic Canadarm guided by astronauts on board the ISS.
This redesigned version of Dragon can carry 20% more than the one it replaces, and it has twice the amount of powered locker cargo storage, which are used for transferring science experiments that require specific transportation environment conditions. It can also stay at the Space Station for over twice the max duration of the original, and each capsule is made to be reused up to five times. This new cargo craft is a modified version of the Crew Dragon, which SpaceX created to transport astronauts to the ISS. One of those is already docked at the station, so when this cargo Dragon arrives on Monday, there will be two SpaceX spacecraft attached to the ISS at once.
SpaceX realizes a bunch of performance improvements by using the new cargo Dragon design, but it also should mean that its supply chain is simpler as it’s essentially building the same Dragon spacecraft with modifications required depending on whether it’s intended for human crew use, or for a pure cargo mission like this one.
Today’s launch also uses a Falcon 9 first stage, which flew the Demo-2 crew mission for SpaceX back in May, as well as a Starlink launch and the ANANSIS-II mission. It will attempt a landing at sea on SpaceX’s drone landing ship following separation from the second stage, so that SpaceX can reuse it again in the future.