Jason DavisSep 25, 2012

SpaceX ready for return to International Space Station

SpaceX is two weeks away from returning to the International Space Station. Following a successful demo flight in May, NASA is entrusting the private spaceflight company with a half-ton of mission-critical station cargo.

Cargo Resupply Services 1 (CRS-1) is scheduled to begin Sunday, October 7, when a Falcon 9 launches from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 40 at 8:34 PM EDT (0:34 UTC). Once in orbit, a Dragon capsule will begin a three-day chase to the station, arriving three days later on October 10.

Dragon grappled by ISS
Dragon grappled by ISS In this screen grab from NASA TV, the Dragon spacecraft is seen shortly after the moment of capture by the International Space Station's Canadarm2, marking a milestone in both the COTS 2 flight and commercial space history.Image: NASA TV

Expedition 33 NASA Commander Sunita Williams and JAXA's Aki Hoshide will snag Dragon with Canadarm 2 and guide it to the station's Harmony node for berthing. The capsule will take up residence through most of October, before being stuffed with more than a ton of return science materials and space station hardware. Splashdown will occur off the California coast in the Pacific Ocean.

Aboard Dragon for the trip to ISS will be 63 new science experiments, more than a third of the 166 total investigations planned for Expedition 33, which lasts through mid-November. One experiment involves Arabidopsis, commonly referred to as thale cress, a small flowering plant. NASA says about 50 percent of a plant's energy is spent just to hold itself upright, and the JAXA-sponsored experiment will aim to see how genetically-modified Arabidopsis behaves in microgravity. The results of the experiment could have implications for future genetically-engineered crop growth.

CRS-1 is the first of 12 scheduled flights that SpaceX will conduct for NASA, replacing a transportation capability that was lost when the space shuttles were retired.

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