ISS: SpaceX CRS-20
ISS Utilization: SpaceX-CRS-20 mission
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 https://directory.eoportal.org/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/i/iss-bartolomeo.
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.
• 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
• April 12, 2020: SpaceX technicians offloaded a Dragon cargo capsule from its recovery ship Thursday after returning the thrice-flown supply freighter to the Port of Los Angeles, marking the final planned return of a Dragon spacecraft to the West Coast. 8)
- The Dragon capsule was released from the space station’s robotic arm nearly six hours before splashdown. The spaceship launched March 6 from Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and arrived at the station March 9 with 1,977 kg of cargo and experiments.
- The splashdown marked the end of the third flight of this particular Dragon capsule, and the final mission under a 20-flight Cargo Resupply Services contact between SpaceX and NASA.
- The end of the Dragon mission Tuesday also signaled the transition to SpaceX’x next CRS contract with NASA. SpaceX’s next series of cargo missions will use a new Dragon spacecraft design known as the Dragon 2. Cargo flights to the space station using the Dragon 2 spacecraft are scheduled to begin in late October, and they will return to splashdowns in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.
- Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said last month some of the company’s inventory of Dragon capsules that have flown in orbit could be displayed in museums. The Dragon capsule was the first commercial ship to fly to the space station.
Figure 2: Photo of the recovered Dragon cargo capsule (photo credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News)
• April 7, 2020: SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:50 p.m. (11:50 a.m. PDT), approximately 300 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s 20th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. The spacecraft returned more than 4,000 pounds (1950 kg) of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo. 9)
Figure 3: Astronaut Andrew Morgan monitored the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship’s release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Tuesday morning (image credit: @AstroDrewMorgan)
Some of the scientific investigations Dragon will return to Earth include:
- Generating a nutritional meal: Planning ways to supply food for a multi-year mission on the Moon or Mars may require making food and nutrients in space. BioNutrients demonstrates a technology that enables on-demand production of nutrients needed during long-duration space missions. Although designed for space, this system also could help provide nutrition for people in remote areas of our planet.
- Toward printing human organs in space: Biological printing of the tiny, complex structures found inside human organs, such as capillaries, is difficult in Earth’s gravity. The BioFabrication Facility (BFF) attempts to take the first steps toward the printing of human organs and tissues in microgravity. The facility may also help maintain the health of crews on deep space exploration missions by producing food and personalized pharmaceuticals on demand.
- Helping the heart: The Engineered Heart Tissues (EHTs) study looks at how human heart tissue functions in space. It uses unique 3D tissues made from heart cells derived from human induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (hiPSCs), essentially adult stem cells. Researchers expect significant differences in function, structure and gene expression between EHTs in microgravity and those on the ground. Understanding these differences could help them find ways to prevent or mitigate problematic changes on future long-duration missions.
- Biofilm festival: Samples from the Space Biofilms investigation, which examines microbial species and their formation of biofilms, are returning on Dragon. Biofilms are collections of one or more types of microorganisms – including bacteria, fungi and protists – that grow on wet surfaces. Better control of biofilms may help maintain crewed spacecraft and protect the health and safety of crew members as well as help prevent the introduction of Earth-based microbes to planetary bodies on which humans land.
- 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.
• April 6, 2020: Despite challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, teams in space and on the ground have been hard at work over the past month to keep science up and running on the International Space Station. 10)
- With the three-person crew preparing to become six again for a brief time in April, we take a look at what has been happening onboard humankind’s only orbital outpost over the past four weeks – including the arrival of some exciting European cargo.
In the belly of a Dragon
- Towards the start of the month, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir grappled a visiting Dragon – a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that is. Carrying over 1950 kg of cargo including Europe’s new external experiment-hosting facility Bartolomeo, the cargo craft arrived on 9 March, joining three other spacecraft currently docked to the Station.
- The Bartolomeo facility, built and operated by Airbus and hosted by ESA, attaches to the exterior of Europe’s Columbus laboratory. Designed to provide new scientific opportunities on the outside of the Space Station for commercial and institutional users, the facility offers unobstructed views toward Earth and into space. Applications include Earth observation, robotics, material science and astrophysics.
- Earlier spacewalks prepared Columbus’ hull to receive the new host facility by adapting support pins to which Bartolomeo will connect. Two weeks ahead of the Dragon launch, Jessica set up hardware inside the Station to provide a connection with the new facility. On 24 March the Space’s Station’s robotic Canadarm2 was used to gently pluck Bartolomeo from the Dragon, and place it in a temporary parking position on the outside of the US Laboratory. Then, on 31 March, more robotic operations were conducted to move Bartolomeo to the outside of Columbus, to await installation by astronauts.
- Astronauts will perform a further spacewalk to install Bartolomeo in the next few months, together with a new terminal called ColKa that will enable close to instantaneous transmission of data from Columbus to Earth.
• March 30, 2020: A U.S. cargo craft is just one week away from departing the International Space Station and returning to Earth packed with science and hardware for analysis. Meanwhile, the Expedition 62 crew is continuing its space biology research as robotics controllers begin installing the new Bartolomeo science platform. 11)
- NASA Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir will be packing the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft the rest of the week before its departure on April 6. The duo will be loading Dragon with experiments and station gear such as spacesuit components for analysis by scientists and engineers on Earth.
- Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Dragon back into Earth orbit next Monday at 9:52 a.m. EDT. Morgan will be in the cupola monitoring the release activities with NASA TV beginning its live coverage at 9:30 a.m.
- Dragon’s final splashdown in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later will not be broadcast on NASA TV. Future Dragon cargo missions will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Morgan spent the morning on plant and mice research. He first added water to the Veggie PONDS device that delivers nutrients to lettuce and mizuna greens being grown and harvested aboard the station. Next, he fed rodents being observed for changes to their genetic expression due to living in microgravity.
- Both Morgan and Meir started Monday collecting and stowing their blood samples. The duo also had their periodic health check measuring each other’s temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate.
Figure 4: Expedition 62 Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan works on U.S. spacesuit components inside the Quest airlock (image credit: NASA)
- Meir then moved on to the Vascular Echo study to understand the arterial stiffness and cardiac changes that occur while living in space. She took several blood pressure measurements for the long-running study that could improve cardiovascular health on Earth and in space.
- Bartolomeo, the external science payload device from the European Space Agency, is ready for installation after being removed from Dragon’s trunk last week. Robotics controllers will begin the two-day job to attach it to the Columbus module on Tuesday where it will host experiments exposed to harsh environment of space.
- Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos is packing the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship that will return him, Meir, and Morgan back to Earth on April 17. They will welcome a new crew on April 9, when Chris Cassidy of NASA lifts off with Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner on the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. They will dock to their new home in space just six hours after launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
• March 25, 2020: Five research payloads from the MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative were recently deployed on the International Space Station for a 30-day research mission. Scientists, designers, and artists will be able to study the effects of prolonged microgravity, on-station radiation, and launch loads on experiments ranging from self-assembling architecture to biological pigments. The payloads launched on the SpaceX CRS-20 via the Dragon cargo ship atop a Falcon 9 rocket on March 6. 12)
- This first launch to the ISS represents a key milestone in the schedule of iterative microgravity testing that the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) undertakes throughout each year, following a successful Karman line launch with Blue Origin and a second parabolic research flight over the past 12 months.
- “Sending five concurrent payloads to the International Space Station — this is a huge milestone for the team, and something we’ve been working towards explicitly for nearly a year,” says Ariel Ekblaw, SEI’s founder and lead.
- The payloads were integrated into the Nanoracks BlackBox, a locker-sized platform with mechanical mounting points and electrical connections for power, data, and communication capabilities. Payloads are fully integrated into BlackBox on the ground; when they reach ISS, the astronauts aboard integrate them into ISS experiment racks, then simply leave them alone — the boxes are completely self-contained and remotely commanded via NanoRacks from the ground. This system allows for larger and more complex research payloads on the ISS, as the astronauts aren’t required to come near any potentially hazardous materials and don’t need any special expertise to run the experiments.
- The capabilities of this platform allow for precisely the kind of cross-disciplinary research that is the hallmark of the Space Exploration Initiative. The five payloads currently on the ISS represent SEI’s unique approach to research, prototyping, and design for humanity’s future in space.
- Sojourner 2020 is payload of artworks, the first-ever international “open call” art payload to the ISS, selected by SEI’s arts curator Xin Liu. Sojourner 2020 features a three-layer telescoping structure. Each layer of the structure rotates independently; the top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively. Nine artists contributed works in a variety of different media, including carved stone sculpture, liquid pigment experiments, and sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds. Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space; by including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally emphasizes key values of human dignity, equality, and democratizing access.
- Space Miso, a collaboration between Maggie Coblentz at the MIT Media Lab and Joshua Evans at the University of Oxford, aims to map the emergence of a new space “terroir.” This research seeks to understand how the environment of space may uniquely alter the flavors of familiar foods, in particular through fermentation processes. This initial experiment sends a sample of miso to the ISS for 30 days and tracks how its microbiome and flavor chemistry may change compared to earthbound control samples.
- The latest iteration of Ekblaw’s self-assembling TESSERAE tiles tests new paradigms for in-orbit construction of satellites and future space habitats. The tiles (two pentagons, five hexagons) will be selectively released on-station to test autonomous self-assembly and docking over many days of sustained microgravity. These latest prototypes include an extensive suite of sensing and electro-permanent magnet actuation for full diagnostic capability (determining “good” and “bad” bonds between tiles as they join together) and structure reconfigurability.
- Radiofungi: Biological Pigments for Radioprotection is a payload from the Mediated Matter Group. The Radiofungi team is researching the synthesis of biological pigments, including melanins and carotenoids, to explore the potential new strategies for radiation protection. Such pigments can be fabricated for a variety of applications, creating a new class of materials and coatings that can protect life on Earth, in deep space, and beyond. This payload examines the growth and behavior of five pigment-producing microorganisms during a one-month stint on the ISS.
- BioX1 is a test of reagents to enable spaceborne genomics for human health and life detection, designed by a research team from MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, testing an experiment apparatus for DNA analysis that may become the basis for a future Mars rover experiment. The experiment will analyze sequencing tools that assist in the Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes program, a NASA-funded life detection instrument that would detect nucleic acid-based life via single molecule sequencing.
- The NanoRacks team supporting the MIT payloads is able to downlink data directly from the networked payload on the International Space Station, and then share directly to the researchers. The team is hard at work analyzing telemetry, sensor data, pictures, and videos to track each payload’s current status. These results will be paired with a full holistic report on each payload upon return of the hardware to Earth. After the 30-day mission, the BlackBox will be packed up as return cargo in the Dragon capsule, splash down in the Pacific Ocean, and then NanoRacks will acquire BlackBox to return to MIT.
- Several of these projects directly address research supported by the NASA-guided Translational Research Institute for Space Health. All represent collaborations across disciplines — engineering, architecture, materials science, chemistry, art, technology, design, and more. This kind of cross-pollination and teamwork are core to SEI’s mission.
- For Ekblaw, that ethos doesn’t extend only to research; it’s about bringing people together, building communities of people with different interests and expertise with shared goals and common experiences. It’s why she flew any of the researchers who were able to make the trip down to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch together, and why she hosted a dinner for the researchers, the artists, and the NanoRacks team.
- “Our Space Exploration Initiative deployments are often MIT-wide endeavors — it's an honor to have the opportunity to support research and collaborations that span departments,” says Ekblaw. “We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and are actively expanding our regular cadence of SEI launch opportunities, throughout the year, to an even broader community. This means building bridges across the space industry — with academia, business, and government — to profoundly democratize access to space.”
• 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. 13)
- 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 5: 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.
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. 14)
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 6: 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.
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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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).