Minimize ISS: SpaceX CRS-20

ISS Utilization: SpaceX-CRS-20 mission

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Launch: The SpaceX-CRS-20 (Commercial Resupply Service) logistics mission to the ISS was launched on 7 March 2020 (04:50:30 UTC) on a Falcon-9 Block 5 vehicle from the Cape Canaveral SLC-40 (Space Launch Complex-40) Air Force Station. The mission is contracted by NASA and was flown by SpaceX using the Dragon capsule. This was SpaceX's last flight for Dragon CRS and concludes the NASA CRS-1 contract extension. The second contract (CRS-2) was awarded in January 2016 and will begin with the SpaceX CRS-21 mission planned for October 2020. 1)

Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~ 400 km, inclination = 51.6º.


Figure 1: A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:50 p.m. EST March 6, 2020 (photo credit: NASA)

• A few minutes after lift-off, Falcon 9’s first stage booster returned to a site a few miles from its starting point and landed at Cape Canaveral, marking the 50th time SpaceX has recovered a Falcon booster intact since the California rocket maker’s first successful recovery in 2015. 2)

- The first stage’s nine Merlin 1D engines powered the launcher toward the northeast from Cape Canaveral, and the booster shut down and separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage around two-and-a-half minutes later.

- Three of the booster’s engines ignited to steer the rocket back toward the launch site, and three engines fired again minutes later to help the rocket stage slow down and target a return to Landing Zone 1 at the Florida spaceport.

- The back-to-back spectacles of a rocket launch and landing have become somewhat routine as SpaceX recovers and reuses Falcon boosters, but Friday night’s mission was a turning point for the company’s Dragon program, which ferries cargo — and soon astronauts — to and from the space station.

Some scientific investigations Dragon is delivering:

Dragon will deliver 1977 kg of NASA cargo and science investigations, including a new science facility scheduled to be installed to the outside of the station during a spacewalk this spring. Of the payload, 1509 kg are being transported in the pressurized capsule. This includes 273 kg of crew supplies, 53 kg of equipment required to support future spacewalks, 219 kg of vehicle hardware, 1 kg of computer equipment, and 960 kg of scientific experiments. 3)

New Facility Outside the Space Station: The Bartolomeo facility, created by ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus, attaches to the exterior of the European Columbus Module. Designed to provide new scientific opportunities on the outside of the space station for commercial and institutional users, the facility offers unobstructed views both toward Earth and into space. Potential applications include Earth observation, robotics, material science and astrophysics. The Bartolomeo facility has a size of 2 x 2.5 m and a mass of 484 kg. A separate file of Bartolomeo is on the eoPortal at

Dragon’s unpressurized trunk contains the Bartolomeo research platform which will be mounted on the forward-facing side of the European Columbus module, and will offer thirteen payload sites – twelve being active and one remaining passive – to host external commercial scientific payloads and experiments.

Studying the Human Intestine On a Chip: Organ-Chips as a Platform for Studying Effects of Space on Human Enteric Physiology (Gut on Chip) examines the effect of microgravity and other space-related stress factors on biotechnology company Emulate’s human innervated Intestine-Chip (hiIC). This Organ-Chip device enables the study of organ physiology and diseases in a laboratory setting. It allows for automated maintenance, including imaging, sampling, and storage on orbit and data downlink for molecular analysis on Earth.

Growing Human Heart Cells: Generation of Cardiomyocytes From Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors Expanded in Microgravity (MVP Cell-03) examines whether microgravity increases the production of heart cells from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). The investigation induces stem cells to generate heart precursor cells and cultures those cells on the space station to analyze and compare with cultures grown on Earth.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations providing opportunities for U.S. government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions to conduct microgravity research that leads to new technologies, medical treatments and products that improve life on Earth. Conducting science aboard the orbiting laboratory will help us learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.

For almost 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. As a global endeavor, 239 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries.

Secondary payloads:

• G-Satellite (”Go-to-space Satellite”) is a 3U CubeSat designed by the One Team Project at the University of Tokyo. The project is supported by the Olympic and Paralympic organization committee and JAXA to promote the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 4)

- This CubeSat is designed for transmitting visual data, messages for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in three languages, from space to the ground. These messages are displayed on an electric bulletin board attached to the CubeSat. And, two popular figures of a world-famous animation, Mobile Suite Gundam and Char's Custom Zaku, will be shot together with the messages with the seven onboard cameras. These images will be downlinked to the ground before and during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 5)

• Quetzal-1 (Guatesat-1) Guatemala's first satellite. The 1U CubeSat was built by students and faculty at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) of Guatemala City, Guatemala. The objective is to acquire images of Earth at different wavelengths via an in-house developed payload. A monochromatic camera, alongside a rotating mechanism that holds and changes between four optical filters, will be used to test the remote sensing capabilities of the satellite. — In September 2017, this project was selected as the winner of the KiboCUBE program of the United Nations Office of Special Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), providing UVG with a free-of-cost launch to and deployment from the ISS. 6)

- On 3 December 2019, the UVG team delivered the Quetzal-1 CubeSat to JAXA to be deployed from the KiboCube facility on the ISS. Quetzal-1 is the winner in the second round of the KiboCUBE Program between the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and JAXA to be deployed from Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station. 7)

Status of SpaceX-CRS-20 flight

• March 10, 2020: NASA delivered upgraded life support hardware to the International Space Station March 9 aboard SpaceX's 20th resupply mission. Improving life support with reliable systems will help enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. Building on experience gained at the space station over the last 20 years, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 through the Artemis program and prepare to extend humanity farther into the solar system. 8)

- The station’s water recovery system provides clean water by reclaiming wastewater — including water from crew members’ urine, cabin humidity condensate and water from the hydration system inside crew members’ spacesuits. The redesigned urine distillation assembly — which boils astronauts' urine to begin purification — will be installed into the space station's urine processor assembly and tested to ensure the hardware functions as intended.

- The recovered water must meet stringent purity standards before it can be used to support crew, spacewalk, or payload activities. Water produced by the urine processor is combined with all other wastewaters and delivered to the water processor for treatment. The water processor sends the water through a series of filtering materials and chemical reactions for purification. The water purity is checked by electrical sensors in the systems, and unacceptable water is reprocessed until it meets purity standards. Clean water is sent to a storage tank — ready for the crew to use.

- Observing the urine processor assembly in action since its installation in 2008 has revealed some weak points in the system -- specifically concerning the long-term reliability of the hardware.

- "One of the most important things we've learned in the last 12 years of the hardware's orbital operation is that the hardware is vulnerable in its steam environment," said Jennifer Pruitt, Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) urine processor assembly project manager at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "We took those lessons learned and upgraded our urine distillation assembly to create a more reliable system equipped to travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond."

- These upgrades focus on internal redesigns — including a new toothed belt drive system, bearing seals, Teflon spacer and liquid level sensor -- all of which will aid in controlling the hardware's steam and fluid environment to provide the crew with the cleanest water possible.


Figure 2: Marshall's ECLSS team completes critical updates to the space station's water recovery system two months ahead of schedule (image credit: NASA/Emmett Given)

- The ECLSS team has spent the last two years updating components of the space station's water recovery system. To conserve costs and manage size constraints, Marshall's ECLSS team came together to think of creative ways to address known issues and improve the system's reliability without entirely replacing the components. After several rounds of brainstorming, iterative design and testing, the team completed the hardware build two months ahead of schedule — landing the hardware on an early resupply mission for a technology demonstration aboard the space station.

- "This team sees the importance of the project for Marshall, the space station, the astronauts and for furthering deep space exploration," Pruitt said. “They embody what I love about working here: taking pride in your work, really caring about something and making it happen."

- Deep space missions in the future will rely heavily on efficient use of resources. The great distances traveled and the limited space on the vehicles will limit water resupply.

- "Improving the efficiency and reliability of the current system will diminish the need for an excess of spare parts on board," Pruitt said. "With less maintenance required, the crew can focus on the science at hand."

- Marshall and other NASA field centers will continue working to develop regenerative life support hardware to maximize recycling of water and oxygen to sustain life and allow humans to travel deeper into space than ever before.

• Provides oxygen for breathing

• Removes carbon dioxide from the cabin air

• Recovers and recycles oxygen from carbon dioxide to resupply the crew

• Filters particulates and microorganisms from the cabin air and maintains cabin pressure, temperature and humidity levels

• Removes volatile organic trace gases, such as ethanol, that are color-less, odorless and can build up over time

• Distributes cabin air between each room, or module, of the station

• Provides potable water for consumption, food preparation and hygiene

• Purifies recycled water from multiple sources back to potable water

Table 1: The ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support System) for the space station performs several functions

• March 9, 2020: While the International Space Station was traveling at an altitude of ~400 km over the Northeast Pacific near Vancouver, British Columbia, Expedition 62 Flight Engineer Jessica Meir of NASA grappled Dragon at 6:25 a.m. EDT, using the space station’s robotic arm Canadarm2 with NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan acting as a backup. 9)

Ground controllers will now send commands to begin the robotic installation of the spacecraft on bottom of the station’s Harmony module. NASA Television coverage of installation is now scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m.


Figure 3: The 20th SpaceX Dragon resupply mission approaches the space station (image credit: NASA TV)

Dragon is scheduled to remain at the space station until April 9, when the spacecraft will return to Earth with research and cargo.

1) ”SpaceX Dragon Heads to Space Station with NASA Science, Cargo,” NASA, 7 March 2020, URL:

2) Stephen Clark, ”Late-night launch of SpaceX cargo ship marks end of an era” Spaceflight Now, 7 March 2020, URL:

3) Tyler Gray, ”SpaceX launches final Dragon 1 mission to the ISS,” NASA, 6 March 2020, URL:

4) ”Gundam Supports the Tokyo 2020 Games from Outer Space! Special Collaboration with the University of Tokyo & JAXA "G-SATELLITE To Space" Begins!,” Gundam, 15 May 2019, URL:

5) ”Japan's Science Fiction Anime Satellite Promoting Tokyo Olympics Launched,” Satnews Daily, 10 March 2020, URL:

6) Marvin Martínez,Diego González,Diego Rodríguez,Johan Birnie,José Antonio Bagur, Ricardo Paz, Emilio Miranda, Fernanda Solórzano, Carlos Esquit, Julio Gallegos, Eduardo Álvarez, Víctor Ayerdi, Luis Zea, ”Guatemala’s Remote Sensing CubeSat -Tools and Approaches to Increase the Probability of Mission Success,” Proceedings of the 32nd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan UT, USA, Aug. 4-9, 2018, paper:SSC18-WKIX-06, URL:

7) ”The Universidad del Valle de Guatemala handed over Guatemala’s first satellite to JAXA for deployment Under UNOOSA-JAXA KiboCUBE Program,” JAXA Press Release, 4 December 2019, URL:

8) Janet Anderson, Lee Mohon, ”Life Support Upgrades Arrive at Station, Improve Reliability for Moon, Mars Missions,” NASA/MSFC News, 9 March 2020, URL:

9) Mark Garcia, ”Robotic Arm Captures Dragon Packed With Science,” NASA, 9 March 2020, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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