SpaceX’s Ship That Sent Lasers To Space Is Now Coming Back

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SpaceX’s CRS-29 mission from the International Space Station (ISS) departed from the orbiting space laboratory in the evening yesterday while it was flying above South America. The mission had flows to the ISS in early October and it carried a variety of payloads including science and research experiments. The CRS-29 mission was one of the more important ones in NASA’s manifest as it carried crucial experiments such as laser communication and Earth imaging equipment to the ISS. Its liftoff in November marked SpaceX’s 80th mission in 2023, with the ascent leg carrying 6,500 pounds of cargo. After separating from the ISS at 5:05 pm Eastern time, the Cargo Dragon is slated to return to Earth a little under 20 hours by splashing down off of the cost of Florida.

SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon Departs Space Station After Initial Delay

The Cargo Dragon for the CRS-29 mission will return with 4,300 pounds of cargo after it flew to space with equipment that would allow NASA to create a two way laser communications system and monitor atmospheric waves. Returning on the Dragon are completed research experiments as well as other items.

NASA continuously runs scientific experiments for its own scientists and other researchers on the ISS. The station’s unique micro gravity environment enables scientists and researchers to see whether materials behave differently on the ISS compared to how they would on Earth. Some research that will make its way to Earth involves the study of plant genetics and the impact of microgravity on cells. Another experiment returning on the CRS 29 measured telomeres in space. These are structures at the end of a DNA strand, and while they shorten with age, previous studies have shown their elongation in space.

After its splashdown, the Cargo Dragon spacecraft will have completed its second commercial resupply services mission for NASA. It previously flew the CRS-26 mission in November 2022, with this year’s launch marking a year long turnaround time for this particular Dragon spacecraft.

The optical assembly for NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) at Space Dynamics Laboratory, a nonprofit government contractor owned by the Utah State University. Image: NASA

The next NASA SpaceX cargo mission is CRS 30, and it is currently expected to take to the skies in March next year. SpaceX has introduced several upgrades to the Dragon spacecraft over the course of the years, and the latest batch of these are under what is termed as the Dragon 2 spacecraft. All Dragon missions, whether Crew or Cargo, now fly on the Dragon 2, and the CRS 29 mission was the ninth flight of the upgraded spaceship.

Two crucial science experiments that made their way to the station on CRS 29 were the Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) and ILLUMA-T. AWE is an imaging science study that observes the upper regions of the atmosphere where waves are present. Researchers believe that these waves can allow them to study the Earth’s climate in better ways than is possible on the surface.

ILLUMA-T uses a laser communications relay located on a geostationary satellite and another terminal, which was sent to the ISS. This terminal sought to demonstrate laser based communications for future missions, and NASA completed the first laser link with the satellite and the corresponding ground systems on December 5th. Courtesy of little interference in space, the system can transfer data from the space station to the satellite at speeds of 1.2 Gbps, beating most broadband internet systems available on Earth.

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