Rodents, water filters and a laser relay are among the 6,500 pounds of science and equipment that will launch to the International Space Station on Thursday evening. A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to liftoff carrying a SpaceX Cargo Dragon at 8:28 p.m. EST (0128 UTC on Nov. 10) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
This will be the ninth mission for SpaceX under the current Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS). The first 20 missions flew under the original resupply services contract.
Weather heading into the launch is about as ideal as possible. The 45th Weather Squadron based at Patrick Space Force Base forecast a 95 percent favorable outlook at liftoff. If needed, the 24-hour backup opportunity on 8:05 p.m. EST (0105 UTC) is 90 percent favorable.
After lifting off from the pad at LC-39A, the Falcon 9 will fly in a northeast trajectory to catch up to the ISS.
About seven-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the first stage booster, B1081, will land at Landing Zone 1. This will be the second flight for this booster after launching the Crew-7 mission to the ISS earlier this year.
The Cargo Dragon on tap for the CRS-29 mission is one of three in the SpaceX fleet. Dubbed C211, it is also making its second flight after previously serving during the CRS-26 mission a year ago.
The mission comes during the same month as the 25th anniversary of the launch of Zarya, the first module of the ISS. It was designed by NASA, but built and launched by Russia.
“It’s incredible looking back over the past 25 years and seeing how space station has grown and how the international partnerships have flourished and how much research we’ve accomplished on the vehicle,” said Dana Weigel, ISS Deputy Program Manager, during a press call earlier this week.
“As of today, 273 people from 21 countries have visited the International Space Station, which is pretty impressive.”
Among the experiments launching to the ISS on this mission is the continuation of NASA’s foray into optical communications. The agency is sending up a piece of equipment called ILLUMA-T or the Integrated LCRD Low Earth Orbit User Totem and Amplifier Terminal.
It will work in tandem with the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which launched as a rideshare payload on a U.S. Department of Defense satellite back in December 2021. That satellite, the Space Test Program Satellite 6 (STPSat-6) operates in geostationary Earth orbit, which means it remains in a stable position relative to the Earth.
“We’ll be able to send data from the ISS at 1.2 gigabits per second from LCRD and back to a ground station. That will all be done using laser links,” said Zachary Gonnsen, the ILLUMA-T Lead Systems Engineer.
Normally, data is sent from space to the Earth and vice versa through radio frequencies. While sending data via a laser system won’t make the data move physically faster, more of it can be sent at one time.
“The analagy I think of is you’re driving down the road at 80 miles an hour and you have a car with one person and there’s a bus next to you with 80 people. You both get to the destination at the same time, but the bus is carrying 80 people there and you only have one,” Gonnsen said. “So, you can think of that in terms of data and bits. That’s essentially what we’re doing here.”
After the Dragon docks with the ISS, no astronauts will be needed with installing the ILLUMA-T payload onto the station during a spacewalk. Gonnsen said it will be done using the robotic arms that the station has externally.
“The Canadarm will actually reach into the Dragon trunk, where ILLUMA-T is mounted, pull us out and we’ll do a handover between the Canadarm and the Japanese robotic arm,” Gonnsen said. “And then the Japanese arm will actually install us into our position.”
The mission is set to nominally last six months, but could be extended beyond that as the technology is proven out.
Commercially-driven science flies again
In addition to ILLUMA-T and other NASA-led experiments, there will also be 25 science payloads flying that are sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory.
One of those comes from Redwire Space in Jacksonville, Florida. The PIL-BOX-01 is a joint mission with Eli Lilly and Company, which will run three experiments that examine treatments for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Redwire is also sending up materials for a future bio printing experiment that will likely be conducted during the Crew-8 mission, which will launch no earlier than mid-February. It will print cardiac tissue using the company’s BioFabrication Facility (BFF).
Another experiment is driven by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. It will examine the impact of microgravity on stem-cell derived brain organoids, which are described as “three-dimensional cellular models that represent aspects of the human brain.”
This experiment will help better understand the processes that cause accelerated aging in space.