CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – After a beautiful and successful late night launch on Friday, the SpaceX Dragon 1 cargo capsule arrived to the International Space Station on Monday, March 9, 2020 after performing on orbit maneuvers to catch up to the station over the course of two days. The SpaceX Dragon performed an automatic approach which was intentionally halted about 40 feet (12 meters) below the station as the Dragon 1 is not capable of docking itself to the space. Instead, the uncrewed cargo capsule relies on a process known are berthing and as such it was captured by on board astronaut, Jessica Meir, alongside astronaut Drew Morgan, using the orbital laboratory’s 57.7 foot (17.6 meter) robotic arm at approximately 6:25am EDT all at an altitude of over 260 miles above the Earth.
This resupply mission, known as CRS-20, marks the 20th time that SpaceX has delivered cargo to the space station and it is loaded with more than 4,300 pounds of food, experiments and equipment for the Space Station which will support more than 250 science and research investigations.
SpaceX has been flying their Dragon capsule since 2010 when it made it’s orbital flight debut. After that, NASA contracted SpaceX to fly supplies to the space station for the first time back in 2012. Since then, it has been one of NASA’s go-to workhorses for getting supplies and science experiments up to the International Space Station. These resupply missions are part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services Phase 1 contract, otherwise known as CRS-1 contract, which NASA extended from 12 to 20 missions for SpaceX and is now valued at just over $3 billion. This phase of the contract is ending, though, and SpaceX will continue delivering supplies to the International Space Station under a new Phase 2 contract which will see SpaceX fly another 6 missions to the space station through at least 2024. For this contract, SpaceX will transition to their Dragon 2 capsule, which is popularly known for having the capability to also fly crew to the orbital laboratory and is scheduled to start doing so as early as May 2020.
Not only is this the last time that the version 1 variant of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will fly, but this also marks the last time that the astronauts will use the robotic arm for visiting SpaceX vehicles at the International Space Station. Going forward with the Dragon 2 variant, both crew & cargo resupply missions to the station will dock autonomously directly to the station without the use of the station’s robotic arm.
Dragon will return with more than 4,000 pounds of cargo after an approximately four-week stay at the space station. About five hours after Dragon leaves the space station, it will conduct its deorbit burn, which lasts up to 10 minutes. It takes about 30 minutes for Dragon to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.