Sen—A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship wrapped up a 2.5-day journey to the International Space Station Friday, positioning itself within reach of the outpost’s 57ft-long robotic arm for capture and berthing.
Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, working inside the windowed cupola module, nosed the outstretched crane to Dragon’s grapple fixture and snared the capsule at 6:55 a.m. EDT/1055 UTC as the station sailed about 260 miles over the Pacific Ocean just east of Japan.
Dragon, loaded with more than 4,300 pounds of food, clothing, equipment and science experiments, blasted off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday, the sixth of a recently extended 15-flight contract with NASA to run cargo to the station.
This time, Dragon’s unpressurized trunk, which typically holds experiments and instruments installed outside the station, is empty so that the pressurized section could be stuffed full. The cargo includes:
*A replacement nanosatellite for Planetary Resources, an aspiring asteroid mining outfit that lost its Arkyd 3 technology demonstrator during Orbital ATK’s botched Antares launch in October. Comprised of three CubeSats, Arkyd 3 will be deployed from the station’s Kibo module by NanoRack’s satellite launcher.
*14 Earth-observation CubeSats, called Doves and owned by San Francisco-based Planet Labs.
*20 mice that will serve as subjects for an experiment investigating how microgravity impacts bones. The rodents will be euthanized and dissected in orbit, and the samples sent back to Earth when Dragon returns in May. The Rodent Research Facility made its debut flight to the station last year. The bone loss study is sponsored by Novartis under a commercial agreement with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, which manages station research under a U.S. National Laboratory program.
*A synthetic muscle material developed by Ras Labs, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff company that wants to test how radiation impacts the electroactive polymer. The material contracts with an electric current and expands back to its original state when the charge is reversed.
Initial ground-based experiments show the materials are resistant to radiation, said lead researcher Lenore Rasmussen. For their debut space run, the materials, which have different additives and coatings, will be attached inside the station and photographed over the next three months. They will be returned to Earth for analysis.
*An Italian-made espresso machine called “ISSPresso” specially modified to work—or hopefully work—in the challenging conditions of zero gravity. A joint project of Argotec, Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency, the machine, which will be attached to a wall with bungee cords, was modified to fit the station’s standard-size water pouches.
“We have been thinking about taking the espresso into space for some time,” Lavazza vice president Giuseppe Lavazza said in a statement. “We hope (it) will improve the living and nutrition quality of astronauts engaged on long missions.”
Dragon also is carrying food, clothing and care packages for the astronauts; dozens of experiments, including studies devoted for the station’s first year-long crew; environmental control and life support equipment; computers and other electronics; photo and TV gear; and components for the U.S. spacesuits.
The capsule is expected to remain in orbit until May 21.
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