Giant robotic arm catches SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft

Pablo Tucker
May 7, 2019

Loaded with about 2,500 kg of research, supplies and hardware for crew members living and working on the orbiting laboratory, the spacecraft launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The booster, meanwhile, streaked to a smooth landing on a recovery ship just offshore.

SpaceX had its first successful Dragon mission back in March when it delivered 400 pounds of supplies and equipment. The location for the return should have been Cape Canaveral, but SpaceX suffered from an accident on 20th of April that destroyed an empty crew Dragon capsule, so they need to clean that up.

SpaceX's vice president, Hans Koenigsmann said: "Dragon is on the way, the orbiter is great, it's right on the money".

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship caught up with the International Space Station Monday and then stood by while Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, operating the lab's robot arm, locked onto the spacecraft to wrap up a two-day rendezvous.

With the Dragon safely in hand, flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston planned to take over, operating the Canadian-built space crane by remote control to pull the Dragon in for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the station's forward Harmony module. Both problems were quickly resolved. The craft's reusable boosters usefully landed on floating platforms in the ocean, known as Droneships.

Dragon will be bolted to the spacecraft for about a month for unloading and repacking with around 2,000 pounds for the return trip, said Leah Cheshier, a NASA Mission Control communications specialist. It was the first time a launch like this was nixed by rocket-landing concerns.

Saint-Jacques later told Canadian schoolchildren it was "a big moment of pride" to grab the Dragon using the station's 58-foot (18-meter) robot arm - Canada's main contribution to the space station.

Since 2012 the station has been restocked by SpaceX. SpaceX and Boeing Co. have contracts with NASA to ferry American astronauts to the space station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew program.

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