SpaceX started its 21st CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) mission for NASA to the International Space Station on Sunday with a brand new variant of its Dragon capsule spacecraft. This new cargo kite has a greater carrying capacity and can dock with the space station completely autonomously, both improvements over the last iteration.
This is the first launch for this redesigned cargo kite and also the first mission for SpaceX new series of CRS missions under a renewed contract with NASA. It carries 6,400 pounds of supplies for the space station and its crew as well as experimental supplies and equipment for the research carried out on the station. This version of Dragon can carry 20% more than the last SpaceX cargo spaceship. and it also has twice the number of lockers for the air-conditioned transport of test material.
The new cargo kite is a modified version of the Crew Dragon that delivered astronauts to the ISS during the Demo 2 mission in May and during the Crew 1 flight last month. Modifications include the removal of the crew version's Super Draco engines, which allow the propulsion system to quickly carry the capsule away from the Falcon 9 in the event that early demolition is required to protect the astronauts on board. It can also be reused up to five times, with the last freight version only three times.
That launch marked SpaceX's 100th successful Falcon 9 start, and the company has flown 43 of those on recovered and refurbished boosters. Today's mission also included restoring the first stage of Falcon 9, which has now flown four times in total. This is the 68th successful booster landing for SpaceX.
Next up for CRS-21 is a rendezvous between the cargo kite and the ISS on Monday evening. The capsule will dock autonomously with one of the station's new international docking adapters, which have been specially developed to enable this automated docking process. It will be the second dragon to be docked at the station when it arrives, as SpaceX's Crew Dragon from last month's crew mission is still there.