SpaceX has shipped its first next-generation Cargo Dragon spacecraft to Florida in preparation for its debut.
In 2019, SpaceX announced it would be retiring its Cargo Dragon spacecraft in favour of a variant of the Crew Dragon. Earlier this year, SpaceX launched its CRS-20 International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission marking the final flight of the Cargo Dragon.
Over its decade-long service, the Cargo Dragon spacecraft completed 20 space station resupply missions, delivered over 43,000 kilograms of cargo, and spent 520 days attached to the orbiting laboratory.
On October 12, SpaceX announced that it shipped its first next-generation Cargo Dragon spacecraft to Florida in preparation for the launch provider’s CRS-21 space station resupply mission.
According to SpaceX, the new cargo freighter will offer a 50% bump in payload capacity and automated docking with the station, a feature that was absent on the first-generation Cargo Dragon. The new spacecraft will also be cheaper to operate than its predecessor and require less refurbishment between flights.
The CRS-21 mission is expected to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 22.
In addition to science and supplies for the station and crew, the CRS-21 mission will carry the Bishop Airlock Module. The small commercial airlock will be installed onto Node 3 on the space station’s Tranquility module. The new airlock is expected to offer five times the satellite deployment capacity as any airlock currently being utilised.
In addition to the CRS-21 mission being the first aboard the next-generation Cargo Dragon, it will also be the first launch for SpaceX under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) Phase 2 contracts.
Signed in 2015, NASA’s CRS phase 2 contracts awarded ISS resupply missions to Northrop Grumman aboard the Cygnus spacecraft, Sierra Nevada Corporation aboard the Dream Chaser, and SpaceX. Each provider was awarded six resupply missions, with Sierra Nevada receiving an additional demonstration flight.