SpaceX launches upgraded Dragon capsule with extra cargo space
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012, and after more than eight years, the company has decided it is time for an upgrade. A second, larger version of the Cargo Dragon spacecraft is currently en route to the ISS following a successful launch today, where it will dock alongside the Crew Dragon capsule currently parked at the orbiting laboratory.
The new and improved Cargo Dragon capsule lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on December 2 atop the same Falcon 9 booster that sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS as part of the Demo-2 mission earlier this year. This is the 21st commercial resupply mission that SpaceX has launched for NASA, but the first under the pair’s second Commercial Resupply Services contract. For the occasion, SpaceX has debuted its upgraded Cargo Dragon capsule, which is designed to carry around 20 percent more cargo than the original version.
The upgraded Cargo Dragon is based on the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft but has had various components, such as seats, touchscreens and the crew-rated launch abort system, removed to make more room for cargo. It also shares the Crew Dragon's ability to dock autonomously, which it will do with the ISS's Harmony module tomorrow, joining the Crew Dragon capsule that delivered four astronauts to the ISS last month. It is also designed to carry out five flights, while the original Cargo Dragon is only certified for three, and can also remain at the station for more than twice as long as its predecessor.
Loaded into the expanded cargo bay of the new Dragon are supplies and equipment for more than 250 science investigations, along with a new airlock for installation. It will return to Earth in a month’s time with around 5,200 lb (2,360 kg) of cargo in tow.