A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship loaded with 7,000 pounds of supplies and equipment, including two extra deployable sun blankets, thundered Monday from the Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket, beginning an 18-hour journey to the International Space Station.
After missing launch opportunities on Saturday and Sunday due to weather and unspecified work, the Falcon 9 finally came to life at 11:47 a.m. EDT and quickly climbed away from historic path 39, arcing to a northeastern orbit corresponding to with the orbital orbit of the station.
The first stage, making its fifth flight, propelled the rocket out of the lower atmosphere before separating and flying itself toward an offshore landing craft. The second stage continued the climb to orbit and allowed the unmanned Dragon to fly independently about 12 minutes after launch.
If all goes well, the ship will launch a series of automated rendezvous missiles Tuesday morning to overtake its quarry, and will dock at the Harmony module port at 5:50 a.m.
Packed in the pressurized cabin, the portion of the Dragon accessible to the crew inside the station, are 2,420 pounds of crew supplies, 1,082 pounds of space station hardware, 586 pounds of scientific equipment, and 115 pounds of spacewalk and computing equipment.
Housed in the Dragon’s unpressurized lower trunk area are two ISS roll-out solar panel blankets, or IROSAs, the fifth and sixth to be added to the station to augment the lab’s aging solar panels.
The two new IROSAs will be pulled out of the Dragon’s open trunk by the station’s robotic arm and mounted on the right end of the station’s solar energy beam. Astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg plan to install them during spacewalks on June 9 and 15.
The space station is equipped with four primary solar panel wings, two on each side of the energy beam. Each wing consists of two 11-meter-wide blankets that extend 35 meters in opposite directions. The first twin-decker wing was launched in December 2000, with additional pairs delivered in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
Solar cells degrade over time and NASA is adding six IROSAs, at a cost of $103 million, to the existing power system. Each 6-foot-wide rollout blanket is attached to the base of a pre-existing array, extends 20 feet when fully deployed, and generates more than 20 kilowatts of power each.
Although the IROSAs block portions of the underlying arrays from the sun, the station’s upgraded system will provide a total of about 215,000 watts of power, roughly equivalent to the output the original arrays generated when they were new.
NASA plans to order two final IROSAs in the near future to provide the power needed to support agency-sponsored research, anticipated commercial activities, and the addition of one or more commercial modules between now and the agency’s retirement. station at the end of the decade.
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