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Successful Departure of SpaceX Cargo Dragon from ISS After Multiple Delays

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Dec 22, 2023

The unmanned SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, December 22nd at 10:05 GMT, heading back to Earth with over 2 tons of science experiments and other cargo after facing multiple delays due to bad weather and orbital traffic issues.

Lead Up To Departure

The SpaceX Dragon capsule arrived at the ISS on November 27th packed with critical supplies and new science investigations for the multinational Expedition 68 crew. It was the 29th commercial resupply services mission that SpaceX conducted under a contract with NASA.

Some key research and equipment delivered by this Dragon included a new airlock, the Bartolomeo science payload hosting facility, a laser communications demonstration, and multiple experiments related to in-space production applications for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

Original Departure Date & Delays

The Dragon spacecraft was initially scheduled to depart the station on Tuesday, December 20th. However, mission controllers postponed the departure due to a predicted storm system along the capsule’s recovery zone in the Atlantic Ocean.

The departure was rescheduled to Thursday, December 22nd but faced another delay after the unexpected arrival of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft at the station on Wednesday, causing traffic issues. With only one berthing port available on the Harmony module, the Dragon and Cygnus could not simultaneously be at that port.

Original Departure Date Tuesday, December 20th
First Delay Predicted storm system along recovery zone
Second Delay Arrival of Cygnus cargo craft at ISS

Finally, after the successful capture and installation of the Cygnus, NASA and SpaceX teams confirmed Friday, December 22nd for the next departure attempt.

Successful Dragon Departure

On Friday morning, Expedition 68 astronaut Nicole Mann commanded the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach the Dragon from the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module and maneuver it into place for departure. Ground controllers then took over, sending commands to fire Dragon’s thrusters to slowly back away from the orbital complex.

After moving about 120 meters away from the station, the capsule fired its thrusters for a second time to leave orbit. It will conduct a series of phasing burns to position itself for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida around 9:20 GMT on Saturday.

“Dragon departing,” radioed European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank Rubio as the capsule floated away with over 2 tons of cargo. “Farewell, thank you for the science and cargo delivery.”

Key Science Returning To Earth

Some notable investigations headed back to Earth aboard Dragon include:

Tissue Chips in Space

This experiment cultured human cells in a small device to understand changes in human health during long spaceflights. Studying how tissues respond in microgravity advances knowledge of biological changes in space and evaluates countermeasures to aid astronaut health on future missions. The returned samples will provide insights into general human health on Earth and in space.

Protein-Based ‘Bio-Ink’

Tested the efficacy of a protein-based bio-ink to fabricate complex tissues in space. Future exploration missions require crews to be more self-sufficient, so demonstrating that biological structures can be printed in space brings closer the possibility of manufacturing human organs beyond Earth for transplantation.

Space-Crafted Eyeglasses

Validated printing high quality optical lenses during spaceflight. This could enable future crews to print their own eyeglasses in space rather than rely on glasses brought from Earth. Results may also support development of lenses for telescopes, microscopes, and optical computer components made in space.

Laser Communications

This investigation tested using lasers to transfer data to and from space at speeds 10-100 times faster than today’s radio frequency communication systems. More reliable connections could revolutionize communications for deep space exploration and improve satellite links to Earth.

What Comes Next

The splashdown of this SpaceX Dragon capsule will mark the conclusion of the company’s 29th commercial resupply mission to the ISS. However, SpaceX is contracted to fly at least 5 more missions under its second Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA, with the next one targeted for no earlier than March 2023.

Meanwhile, the Cygnus cargo craft that arrived mid-week is scheduled to depart the ISS on February 18th after a nearly 60-day stay at the orbiting laboratory.

The station crew will quickly transition back into a full schedule of new experiments and research investigations already underway, including studies into how microgravity affects immune response, heart tissue, plant biology, combustion processes, and extraterrestrial concrete fabrication techniques.

With traffic coming-and-going at the ISS, Expedition 68 has a busy slate as they push the boundaries of science further into the space age while laying groundwork for future Moon and Mars exploration.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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