A new version of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will make its first flight to orbit this weekend when a Falcon 9 rocket lifts a Dragon 2 filled with supplies toward the International Space Station.
The new Dragon can carry 50 percent more science payloads compared with the previous version, according to SpaceX. The launch is the 21st for Elon Musk’s rocket company as part of its commercial resupply services (CRS) contract with NASA.
In addition to supplies for the astronauts and station, CRS-21 will carry several experiments to the ISS. A number of biological investigations will take advantage of technologies like tissue-on-a-chip and brain organoids, which can be used to simulate human tissue and record how it responds to microgravity.
Another experiment on board is Bioasteroid, which aims to help determine whether organisms such as fungus could be used to help extract valuable substances like rare-earth metals from asteroids to mine them or even sustain bases on other worlds.
“We’re going to be looking at whether those microbes can get elements we’d really like to use in industry from the surface and interior of asteroids,” explains Charles Cockell, principal investigator for Bioasteroid, in the NASA video below.
Also flying on the Dragon is a new airlock module from Nanoracks that’s similar to a Japanese airlock already on the ISS, but significantly larger. The new infrastructure could allow for cubesats or other payloads to be deployed into space from the space station.
The Falcon 9 booster lifting the Dragon 2 will be making its fourth flight and will land on a droneship in the Atlantic several minutes after blasting off. The Dragon will dock with the ISS roughly 24 hours after launch.
The launch is currently set for 8:39 a.m. PT (11:39 a.m. ET) on Saturday, Dec. 5 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. However, the latest forecast shows only a 50 percent chance weather conditions will allow it to go forward. The forecast for the backup launch window on Sunday is a little more favorable.
Whenever the mission gets off the ground, we’ll be sure to embed the livestream so you can watch right here.