Find us on Google+

Dragon arrives at space station with inflatable habitat in tow

Astronaut Tim Peake
The Dragon spaceship flies over the Palm Islands of Dubai on final approach to the International Space Station on Sunday. Credit: Tim Peake

SpaceX’s Dragon supply ship executed a laser-guided rendezvous with the International Space Station early Sunday, delivering an experimental expandable enclosure for attachment to the complex later this month for tests to verify the inflatable design’s suitability for future space habitats.

The lightweight module will expand to about four times its launch volume next month, beginning a two-year demonstration campaign to check the lightweight habitat’s resiliency to the harsh conditions of space.

The automated Dragon cargo capsule approached the space station from below Sunday, pulsing its rocket jets to guide the spacecraft to a point about 30 feet (10 meters) from the complex, close enough for the robotic arm to reach out and grapple the SpaceX supply freighter.

European Space Agency flight engineer Tim Peake took control of the Canadian-built robotic arm to snare the free-flying Dragon spaceship at 7:23 a.m. EDT (1123 GMT) Sunday.

“Looks like we’ve caught a Dragon,” Peake radioed ground controllers.

“Copy, station,” replied astronaut Serena Aunon from mission control in Houston. “There are smiles all around here. Nice job capturing that Dragon.”

Engineers on the ground guided the robot arm to attach the Dragon spacecraft to the Earth-facing port on the space station’s Harmony module a few hours later.

The Dragon cargo craft is now parked alongside Orbital ATK’s Cygnus supply ship, which arrived at the complex March 26. It is the first time two U.S. commercial cargo carriers have been at the space station at the same time.

In total, six spacecraft are in port at the space station, including the two U.S. commercial supply ships, two Soyuz crew transport craft, and two Russian Progress freighters.

That ties a record for the most number of visiting vehicles at the space station at one time, a mark first set in 2011 when the space shuttle Discovery, Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, Japan’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle and three Russian spacecraft were docked at the outpost.

Dragon’s visit to the space station is also the first time a SpaceX resupply vessel, developed and operated under contract to NASA, has flown to the outpost in nearly a year.

The centerpiece of Dragon’s 3.5-ton cargo load is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, a pathfinder for future inflatable habitats that could form commercial space stations, ferry astronauts to deep space destinations, and even protect explorers on the surface of Mars.

The 3,115-pound (1,413-kilogram) BEAM structure rode to the space station inside the Dragon spacecraft’s unpressurized trunk section.

Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace based in North Las Vegas, Nevada, is an evangelist for the merits of expandable space habitats. The real estate investor turned space entrepreneur plans to construct a huge commercial complex in orbit using the technologies to be tested by BEAM.

Inflatable modules have benefits in mass and volume, allowing designers of future crewed habitats to build larger structures that can launch within the fairing envelope of existing rockets.

Operating the station’s robotic arm via remote control, ground-based engineers plan to pluck the module from the Dragon capsule’s trunk April 16 and mate it to the aft attach point of the Tranquility node.

Made of proprietary space-rated fabrics, the experimental module measures about 5.7 feet (1.7 meters) long and nearly 7.8 feet (2.4 meters) in diameter in its stowed configuration.

Bigelow described its shape for launch as similar to half of a soup can.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Source: You’ll find lots of information about the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Also we have facts about the space station, ISS, SpaceX launch, space program, and outerspace. Space Flight

Dragon arrives at space station with inflatable habitat in tow

Posted in Space Flight and tagged by with no comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *