SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon 2 is coming home

Editor’s Note: Updated on Jan. 12 to communicate the new targeted departure date and the correct weight of returning science and cargo. 

Space Coast, FL – Today, NASA announced the return of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft. The spacecraft launched to the International Space Station for SpaceX’s 21st cargo resupply services mission last year on December 6th.

Falcon 9 lifts off CRS-21
Falcon 9 lifts off with Cargo Dragon 2 | photo: Crystal Gabriel

Scheduled to depart on Tuesday, January 12, 2021, the spacecraft will return with 4,400 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo.

The upgraded Dragon spacecraft will carry out the first undocking of a U.S. commercial cargo craft from the International Docking Adapter at 9:05 a.m. EST. NASA astronaut Victor Glover will be monitoring aboard the station.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is pictured approaching the International Space Station for a docking on Nov. 17, 2020 | Image: NASA

Dragon will then fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module. Then Dragon will initiate a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft is expected to make its parachute-assisted splashdown around 2027 EST (0127 UTC 01/14) on January 13, 2021. This could mark the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean.

Cargo Dragon 2 at SpaceX facilities | photo: SpaceX

The upgraded cargo Dragon capsule used for this mission contains double the powered locker availability of previous capsules. This allows for a significant increase in the research that can be carried back to Earth.

Some scientific investigations returning

Cardinal Heart
Microgravity causes changes in the workload and shape of the human heart, and it is still unknown whether these changes could become permanent if a person lived more than a year in space. Cardinal Heart studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue level using 3D-engineered heart tissues, a type of tissue chip. Results could provide new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight.

Space Organogenesis
This investigation from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression. Cell cultures on Earth need supportive materials or forces to achieve 3D growth, but in microgravity, cell cultures can expand into three dimensions without those devices. Results from this investigation could demonstrate advantages of using microgravity for cutting-edge developments in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs.

Sextant Navigation
The sextant used in the Sextant Navigation experiment will be returning to Earth. Sextants have a small telescope-like optical sight to take precise angle measurements between pairs of stars from land or sea, enabling navigation without computer assistance. Sailors have navigated via sextants for centuries, and NASA’s Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft. This investigation tested specific techniques for using a sextant for emergency navigation on spacecraft such as NASA’s Orion, which will carry humans on deep-space missions.

Rodent Research-23
This experiment studies the function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina of mice before and after spaceflight. The aim is to clarify whether these changes impair visual function. At least 40 percent of astronauts experience vision impairment known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) on long-duration spaceflights, which could adversely affect mission success.

Thermal Amine Scrubber
This technology demonstration tested a method to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from air aboard the International Space Station, using actively heated and cooled amine beds. Controlling CO2 levels on the station reduces the likelihood of crew members experiencing symptoms of CO2 buildup, which include fatigue, headache, breathing difficulties, strained eyes, and itchy skin.

Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion
Bacteria and other microorganisms have been shown to grow as biofilm communities in microgravity. This experiment identifies the bacterial genes used during biofilm growth, examines whether these biofilms can corrode stainless steel, and evaluates the effectiveness of a silver-based disinfectant. This investigation could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms, contributing to the success of future long-duration spaceflights.

Watch live here.

Like our content/updates? Give us a follow on our social media channels and check out our new Patreon Page with rewards.