SpaceX will launch its latest addition to the fleet of Cargo Dragons on t resupply mission CRS-26 to the International Space Station on November 22. This will also be the last time a brand-new Cargo Dragon is launched.
The launch slipped from its original date of November 21 due to a leak in the Cargo Dragon’s thermal control system. The necessary troubleshooting and repairs “put us a shift behind” the original schedule, says SpaceX mission management director Sarah Walker.
Cargo that will go up on CRS-26 include new hardware like solar arrays and valuable science experiments. The new solar arrays are an upgraded version that can be “rolled out” like you would roll out your sleeping bag on a camping trip (assuming, of course, that you are wearing an EVA suit and floating in weightlessness while doing it).
Researchers are sending an experimental new mini-microscope kit that could be used for medical diagnoses on future interplanetary space missions. The International Space Station crew will also grow dwarf tomatoes to test how light conditions and fertilizers affect fruit production in microgravity.
Weather forecasts for the Space Coast predict a 30% chance of favorable weather for launch on November 22 – something that is, of course, out of NASA’s and SpaceX’s control. If SpaceX and NASA have to delay it again, the next available launch windows will be on November 26 and November 27. If NASA and SpaceX do launch on November 22, they will livestream the launch in the below video.
SpaceX typically reuses its spacecraft and first stage rocket boosters with a little refurbishing between missions. This helps bring the cost of each launch down, making it competitive against long-standing aerospace contractors like Boeing and Northrop Grumman.
Its operational fleet includes four Crew Dragons and (now) three Cargo Dragons. SpaceX had been alternating between two Cargo Dragons with the serial numbers C208 and C209 for its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract.
SpaceX anticipates that each Cargo Dragon capsule could fly as many as 15 times. Some parts will, of course, be replaced as necessary between flights.
SpaceX recently decided to build one more Crew Dragon. At a press conference, Walker cited increased demand for missions using the Crew Dragon as a major reason for the decision.
NASA added several missions to SpaceX’s Commercial Crew contract to compensate for delays in Boeing’s Starliner and ensure continued access to the International Space Station in the wake of diplomatic tensions with Russia. Demand for private spaceflight that will use the Crew Dragon includes a series of flights to the ISS organized by Axiom Space and the Polaris Program.
The Polaris Program will involve a Gemini Program-like series of flight tests that will test new EVA suits and send the Crew Dragon to altitudes that take them “above” the International Space Station’s altitude. Inspiration4’s Jared Isaacman will command the first mission, called Polaris Dawn.
SpaceX is currently the only American private company that has a crew-rated spacecraft. (Boeing, probably: “We’re trying, we’re trying!”)
If the weather cooperates, it will get CRS-26 to the International Space Station before everyone goes home for Thanksgiving.