The shipment ran a little late, but SpaceX sent up its Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-25 resupply run to the International Space Station on Thursday night.
A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A at 8:44 pm with more than 5,800 pounds of cargo. The launch was delayed from June 10 after teams detected hydrazine vapor in the spacecraft, and ultimately decided to replace the vehicle’s parachutes.
The first stage booster flew for the fifth time having previously launched the CRS-22, Crew-3, Turksat 5B and Crew-4 missions. SpaceX once again recovered the booster on its droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean. The Dragon capsule previously flew to the ISS on CRS-21 and CRS-23.
Heading up to the station on its 25th cargo mission, the Dragon is crammed with experiments tackling wound healing, immune response and a potential way to build structures off the planet, among other things.
The immune system investigates hones in age – targeting a process known as immunosenescence. The ISS aims to study microgravity and the changes it has on human immune cells. Specifically, scientists are curious as to why microgravity causes changes to immune cells similar to the immunosenescence process, but at a much faster rate.
“Immune aging impacts tissue stem cells and their ability to repair tissues and organs,” says principal investigator Sonja Schrepfer, professor of surgery at the University of California San Francisco. “Our studies aim to understand critical pathways to prevent and to reverse aging of immune cells.”
Scientists are planning on observing these immune-cell changes with “tissue chips” and whether or not immune cells recover post-flight.
Additionally, astronauts will be examining other biological responses in space including the “Genes in Space-9” experiment that is focused on demonstrating the cell-free production of protein in microgravity. It will also evaluate two cell-free biosensors that can detect specific molecules. NASA said the applications of the experiment could provide low-cost tools for medical diagnostics, on-demand production of medicine and vaccines for future space missions.
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Another experiment, sponsored by the European Space Agency, is seeking to examine suture and wound healing in microgravity. Scientists don’t quite understand why wounds often heal imperfectly or create scars on Earth and hope that a different environment with different forces at play might provide some answers, or help future astronauts learn suturing techniques suitable for missions to Mars or the moon.
SpaceX’s Dragon isn’t only carrying scientific goodies regarding human biological studies. It’s also carrying concrete – or rather the ingredients for a concrete alternative which would seek to convert lunar or Martian soil into a concrete-like material by adding water and a protein derived from cows known as bovine serum albumi.
“Astronauts on the moon and Mars will need habitats that provide radiation shielding, but transporting large amounts of conventional construction materials from Earth is logistically and financially infeasible,” said team member Laywood Fayne.
Fayne’s team will analyze how making six bricks in microgravity compares to bricks made on Earth. The results of which could help climate activists find a cleaner solution to concrete production, which makes up 8% of global carbon emissions.
And in the spirit of keeping things green, the Dragon capsule is also carrying Earth soil filled with microorganisms with intentions of understanding how microgravity and radiation my influence their functions.
The capsule is set to arrive to the ISS on Saturday and will remain docked for about a month before returning with research and cargo to splash down off the coast of Florida.
The resupply mission marks SpaceX’s 30th successful launch of the year for the space-faring company, having sent up two Starlink missions in the last week. That puts it on pace to match its record 31 launches in 2021 before the end of the month, and could approach 60 launches before the end of the year. That launch could come Sunday with a Starlink mission slated to lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:50 am