Cargo Dragon CRS-27 docks with ISS

by Justin Davenport

The International Space Station has received another cargo delivery, essential for keeping the Station’s seven-person crew supplied with experiments, consumables, and equipment during its operation in low Earth orbit. This mission, CRS-27, launched on Tuesday, March 14 at 8:30 PM EDT (00:30 UTC on Wednesday, March 15) from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. It docked on Thursday morning, 35 hours after launch.

This launch used first stage booster B1073, making its seventh flight. Before CRS-27, B1073 started its career in May 2022 with the Starlink 4-15 mission. This booster has also flown the SES-22, Starlink 4-26, Starlink 4-35, Hakuto-R Mission 1, and Amazonas Nexus missions – all from Florida. Sometime after the CRS-27 flight, the booster will be converted into a Falcon Heavy side booster for the EchoStar-24 mission later this year.

CRS-27, the 16th Falcon 9 and 17th overall SpaceX mission of 2023, had an instantaneous launch window to fly northeast at a 51.6-degree inclination to the equator. After lofting Dragon and the second stage partway to orbit, the booster landed downrange on the drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas positioned in the Atlantic Ocean.

The spacecraft reached the Station on Thursday and will dock at the PMA-2 port, recently vacated by Crew Dragon Endurance. The docking occurred after over a 35-hour long transit to the Station.

This mission uses Cargo Dragon C209 on its third flight. This mission occurs after a 449-day turnaround from launching CRS-24 on Dec. 21, 2021. C209 made its first flight with the CRS-22 mission on June 3, 2021.

This aligns with the policy of now reusing Cargo and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Each Dragon, minus the actual heat shield – which is not yet reused – is currently rated to be used for up to five flights, but this could change in the future.

The Cargo Dragon is loaded with several metric tons of experiments, CubeSats, essential supplies, and other cargo. This includes more than 15 experiments sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, including the final two experiments in the Tissue Chips in Space initiative.

A JAXA astrobiology experiment is also flying on CRS-27. Tanpopo-5 will study how various microbes, sporophytes, amino acids, peptides, and nucleotide precursors fare during exposure to the space environment.

The JAXA Tanpopo-4 experiment aboard ISS. Tanpopo-5 is very similar. (Credit: NASA)

Experiments involving engineered heart tissues, 3D-printed RF circuits, the MAPT-I radiation detector, photonic integrated circuits, biotherapeutic compounds crystallization, foam, emulsions structure, and other areas of study will be flown on CRS-27.

Another notable payload on this flight is a ball clamp monopod – manufactured by students – that can simplify filming in space. However, this is not the only payload on CRS-27 that students have been involved in. Experiments from Canadian and German universities are also onboard. Four Canadian CubeSats – Ex-Alta 2, AuroraSat, YukonSat, and NEUDOSE – are flying on Dragon, along with the University of Stuttgart’s FARGO ferrofluid experiment.

NASA’s ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) 50 mission will fly a pair of CubeSats aboard CRS-27. ARKSAT-1, developed by the University of Arkansas, is a 1U CubeSat that is equipped with an LED light. This light will be activated, and a spectrometer on the ground will conduct orbit-to-ground atmospheric measurements by tracking the light.

ARKSAT-1 will also attempt to deorbit itself at the end of its mission with a Solid State Inflation Balloon (SSIB). Inflating the SSIB will increase the atmospheric drag on the satellite, causing it to deorbit sooner than it otherwise would. If this technology works, it can be used to deorbit CubeSats at the end of their useful lives, preventing additional “space junk” from cluttering low Earth orbit.

Another 1U CubeSat that is part of ELaNa 50 is LightCube, a cooperative effort between Arizona State University, CETYS Universidad in Mexico, and Vega Space Systems. Like ARKSAT-1, LightCube will have a powerful light as its main payload. In this case, LightCube is equipped with a flashbulb that can be controlled by amateur radio operators.

The LightCube-1 satellite before integration in its deployer. (Credit: Jaime Sanchez de la Vega)

The operators can activate a flash that will make the satellite as bright as the International Space Station for a brief period of time. The developers of LightCube hope to inspire its users to learn about satellites and space concepts, through the users being able to issue a command and see a tangible result in the night sky.

In addition, the US Space Force is flying the STP-H9 external payload on this mission with eight experiments on board. STP-H9 will be mounted on the Japanese Kibo module’s Exposed Facility as an external payload, and its experiments will test out technologies that could be used on future USSF missions.

CRS-27 will remain at the Station for around a month before coming back to Earth with experiment results, samples, and other cargo, taking advantage of Dragon’s sizable downmass capability. CRS-27 will utilize the same splashdown sites and recovery infrastructure used on all other Crew and Cargo Dragon flights.

Cargo Dragon 2 is currently the only spacecraft serving the ISS that can return significant amounts of cargo to Earth at this time. However, additional systems with return capability like the Sierra Space Dream Chaser and the Russian Soyuz GVK are in development.

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