SpaceX Dragon Docks to Station With Crucial Supplies and Science Cargo

Space Station Viewed From Approaching SpaceX Dragon Cargo Craft

The station is viewed from the approaching SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft. The SpaceX Dragon Endurance crew spacecraft is pictured docked at center top. Credit: NASA TV

While the International Space Station was traveling more than 262 miles over central Brazil on November 11, a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the station’s Harmony module at 5:07 a.m. EST, with NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara monitoring operations from the station.

The Dragon launched on SpaceX’s 29th contracted commercial resupply mission for NASA at 8:28 p.m. EST, on November 9, from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After Dragon spends about one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.

Among the science experiments Dragon is delivering to the space station are:

NASA ILLUMA-T Payload Communicating With LCRD

NASA’s ILLUMA-T payload communicating with LCRD over laser signals. Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan

Laser Communication from Space

NASA’s ILLUMA-T investigation tests technology to provide enhanced data communication capabilities on the space station. A terminal mounted on the station’s exterior uses laser or optical communications to send high-resolution information to the agency’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) system, which is in geosynchronous orbit around Earth. The system uses invisible infrared light and can send and receive information at higher data rates than traditional radio frequency systems. The ILLUMA-T demonstration also paves the way for placing laser communications terminals on spacecraft orbiting the Moon or Mars.

NASA Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE)

Artist’s impression of AWE mapping the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves. Credit: NASA

Watching Waves in the Atmosphere

NASA’s AWE (Atmospheric Wave Experiment) uses an infrared imaging instrument to measure the characteristics, distribution, and movement of atmospheric gravity waves. These waves roll through Earth’s atmosphere when air is disturbed much like waves created by dropping a stone into water. Researchers are looking at how AGWs contribute to space weather, which refers to the varying conditions within the Solar System, including solar wind. Space weather affects space- and ground-based communications, navigation, and tracking systems. The space station provides an ideal platform for the investigation given its altitude and geographic and time coverage.

Gaucho Lung investigation Prototype

Matthew Vellone operates the first prototype of the system to fly aboard the International Space Station, while Trinh Huynh records a video of the investigation. The Gaucho Lung investigation will study fluid transport within gel-coated tubes to learn more about treatment programs for respiratory distress syndrome and develop new contamination control strategies. Image courtesy of Bioserve. Credit: NASA

 Respiratory Health Research

Gaucho Lung, sponsored by the International Space Station National Lab, studies how mucus lining the respiratory system affects delivery of drugs carried in a small amount of injected liquid, known as a liquid plug. Conducting this research in microgravity makes it possible to isolate the factors involved, including capillary or wicking forces, mucus characteristics, and gravity. Understanding the role of these factors could inform the development and optimization of targeted respiratory treatments.

Aquamembrane 3 Hardware

The Testing Contaminant Rejection of Aquaporin Inside® HFFO Module (Aquamembrane-3) hardware consists of three separate and parallel systems to quantify the membrane’s water flux and contamination rejection in microgravity, which are key parameters for a full water recovery system. This image shows the complete experiment hardware. Credit: NASA

Water Filtration Technology

Aquamembrane-3, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), continues evaluation of replacing the multi-filtration beds used for water recovery on the space station with a type of membrane known as an Aquaporin Inside Membrane (AIM). These membranes incorporate proteins found in biological cells, known as aquaporins, to filter water faster while using less energy.

Results could advance development of a complete and full-scale membrane-based water recovery system, improving water reclamation and reducing the amount of material that needs to be launched to the space station. This water filtration technology also could have applications in extreme environments on Earth, such as emergency settings, and decentralized water systems in remote locations.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis missions and eventually Mars.

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