CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – SpaceX launched their Dragon 1 cargo capsule full of supplies and bound for the International Space Station for the final time on March 6, 2020 at approximately 11:50pm EST from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as part of their CRS-20 resupply mission.
SpaceX has been flying their Dragon 1 capsule since 2010 when it made it’s orbital flight debut. Since then, it has been one of NASA’s go-to workhorses for getting supplies and science experiments up to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services Phase 1 contract, otherwise known as CRS-1 contract. Under this contract, SpaceX, along with Orbital ATK, have been flying supplies since 2012. Initially, SpaceX was contracted to fly 12 missions to the International Space Station, but back in 2015, NASA extended the CRS Phase 1 contract and awarded an additional 8 missions to SpaceX to close out the first phase of their commercial partnership for flying supplies to the ISS.
All of the CRS Phase 1 flights for SpaceX have utilized their original Dragon capsule, also known as Dragon 1. In recent years, though, SpaceX has been hard at work developing their new Dragon 2 capsule which gets most of it’s attention for it’s commitment to the Commercial Crew Program in which SpaceX will fly astronauts aboard the Dragon 2 capsule to the International Space Station as early as May 7, 2020. Aside from the Commercial Crew Program, though, the Dragon 2 capsule is also fully capable of flying supplies and science experiments to the ISS when configured in a cargo variant and SpaceX will do just that as part of NASA’s new CRS Phase 2 contract, for which they have awarded 6 missions to SpaceX alongside Orbital ATK and the Sierra Nevada Corporation.
The Commercial Resupply Services Phase 2 contracts will exclusively use SpaceX’s Dragon 2 capsule so this CRS-20 mission flown tonight will be the final time that SpaceX flies their original Dragon 1 capsule as we’ll see Dragon 2 fly for CRS missions 21 through 26.
For this CRS-20 mission, Dragon was filled with approximately 4,500 pounds of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to directly support more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur onboard the orbiting laboratory.
The launch for this CRS-20 mission posed some unique hazards that made this launch one to keep you on the edge of your seats. Both ground level winds & upper level winds for this mission where very close to launch limits, however, they stayed low enough to allow the Falcon 9 rocket to liftoff for an on time launch at it’s instantaneous launch window. Once airborne, though, the winds still posed an issue for the landing phase of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster.
According to Elon Musk on Twitter, this Falcon 9 booster would be landing in the highest winds ever encountered so it would really be pushing the envelope on what the capabilities were for the Falcon 9 booster and it’s reusability.
Nevertheless, both the launch and landing were a complete success and operated without a hitch. This successful landing marks the 50th successful landing of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage boosters. The CRS-20 cargo Dragon capsule will meet up with the International Space Station in the coming days and be berthed to the ISS on Monday, March 9, 2020. Dragon will return with more than 4,000 pounds of cargo after an approximately four-week stay at the space station.
The Dragon spacecraft for this CRS-20 mission previously supported the CRS-10 mission in February 2017 and the CRS-16 mission in December 2018, and the Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission previously flew on the CRS-19 mission in December 2019.