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SpaceX sends 6th cargo mission to ISS, but fails rocket recovery test again

ISS (NASA Photo)

ISS (NASA Photo)

US spaceflight company SpaceX has launched its sixth cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), but failed in its second attempt to recover part of the Falcon 9 rocket on its reentry to land on a floating-base erected in the Atlantic Ocean.

The California-based company’s Dragon cargo ship, filled with over 1,950 kg of supplies and payload, lifted off at 4.10 p.m. aboard the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the US state of Florida, Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

The world, however, would have been more interested in the precision landing of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage, after it separated from the second stage, as part of a reusable-rocket test. The first stage, however, had a hard landing again.

“Rocket landed on drone ship, but too hard for survival,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted. “Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post-landing.”

SpaceX first attempted to land the rocket on the company’s autonomous spaceport drone ship in January, but the attempt ended in a crash, with the rocket’s steering fins running out of hydraulic fluid.

The company intended to go for it again in February, during the launch of a satellite called the Deep Space Climate Observatory, but high waves scrubbed the attempt.

At a pre-launch press conference on Sunday, SpaceX Vice President Hans Koenigsmann had put the chances of success this time around at 75 or 80 percent, but Musk said on Monday that the odds were still less than 50 percent.

The mission to deliver cargo to the ISS was, however, unaffected. If all goes as planned, the Dragon cargo ship will arrive at the space station on Friday for an expected five-week visit.

“We watched live!” Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti aboard the ISS wrote on Twitter. “Amazing to think that in 3 days Dragon will be knocking on our door.”

One of the interesting pieces of cargo on this run is an espresso machine, dubbed ISSpresso, for Cristoforetti and other space station crew members to make tea, coffee, broth or other hot beverages.

“Crew members may enjoy an ISSpresso beverage using specially designed space cups as part of the Capillary Beverage study — an improvement to the standard drinking pouch with a straw,” NASA said in a statement.

The agency said proving this technology in microgravity “may lead to new or improved brewing methods”.The $1.6-billion contract that SpaceX has with NASA, requires at least a dozen cargo delivery flights in all.

Besides SpaceX, NASA has also signed a deal with another private company called Orbital Sciences Corp. to supply the ISS with cargo.

Orbital’s first two flights went smoothly, but the third one failed when the company’s Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff in late October.

What It’s Carrying:

CASIS Payloads Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Sponsored Payloads:

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is embarking on a historic period in space exploration. Tasked by NASA in 2011 to manage, promote and broker research onboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory (ISS), CASIS is enabling a new era for space investigations capable of improving life on Earth. CRS-6 represents the fifth series of sponsored research intended for the ISS U.S. National Laboratory brokered by CASIS. Below highlights the major research investigations on this mission:

Osteo-4 (NIH Transitioned Payload):

Principle Investigator: Paola Divieti Pajevic, MD, Ph.D., Boston, MA, United States Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) studies the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, which are the most common cells in bone. These cells reside within the mineralized bone and can sense mechanical forces, or the lack of them, but researchers do not know how. Osteo-4 allows scientists to analyze changes in the physical appearance and genetic expression of mouse bone cells in microgravity.

PCG-3 (Merck)

Principle Investigator: Paul Reichert Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications in the Handheld High Density Protein Crystal Growth (HDPCG) hardware focuses on the crystallization of two human monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are specialized types of proteins made by immune cells that can bind to target cells or other proteins to perform a specific task. The monoclonal antibodies in this investigation have been developed by the pharmaceutical company Merck Research Laboratories and are being used in drugs designed for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. Merck plans to grow high quality crystals in microgravity to improve drug delivery and purification methods and to determine protein structure.

Rodent Research-2 (Novartis) PI:

Dr. Samuel Cadena The primary objective of this research is to monitor the effects of the space environment on the musculoskeletal and neurological systems of mice as model organisms of human health and disease. Living in microgravity results in significant and rapid effects on the physiology of mice that mimic the process of aging and some diseases in humans on Earth, including muscle atrophy and the loss of bone mineral density. This project will help Novartis scientists to discover new molecular targets that can facilitate the development of novel therapeutics for the treatment of muscle and bone related diseases. Long-duration exposure to microgravity will also induce changes in gene expression, protein synthesis, metabolism, and eye structure/morphology that will be identifiable as a series of assessable biomarkers for tracking the onset and progression of disease. In addition, biological specimens from this experiment will be shared with other researchers seeking to understand the effects of various environmental stressors on human health and fitness.

Synthetic Muscle (Ras Labs) PI:

Lenore Rasmussen has developed 15 Robots for study on future missions onboard the International Space Station, where they could perform tasks too difficult or too dangerous for humans. Robots built with synthetic muscle would have more humanlike capabilities, but the material would have to withstand the rigors of space as well as any metal. This investigation will test radiation resistance of an electroactive polymer called Synthetic Muscle, developed by Ras Labs, which can contract like real muscle and can also expand. Improvement of durability and function of radiation-hardened and radiation-resistant synthetic muscle will advance robotics, realistic prosthetics, and human-like robotics on Earth.



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