SpaceX has successfully fired up a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket for the Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft’s historic launch debut.
Weather for tomorrow’s 11:39 am EST (16:39 UTC), December 5th launch attempt are only 40% favorable but conditions are expected to clear up during a backup window around 11:15 am, Sunday, jumping to 80% favorable. Set to deliver some three metric tons (~6600 lb) of cargo – including a large commercial airlock – to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA, SpaceX’s CRS-21 mission will mark multiple firsts for NASA, the US, and spaceflight in general.
As previously discussed on Teslarati, barring anomalies, SpaceX believes that its November 15th Crew-1 Dragon launch marked the start of a continuous presence in orbit for the company.
“Over the next 15 months, we will fly seven Crew and Cargo Dragon missions for NASA. That means that starting with Crew-1, there will be a continuous presence of SpaceX Dragons on orbit. Starting with the cargo mission CRS-21, every time we launch a Dragon, there will be two Dragons in space – simultaneously – for extended periods of time. Truly, we are returning the United States’ capability for full launch services and we are very, very honored to be a part of that.”
Benji Reed, SpaceX – November 10th, 2020
Additionally, the continuous presence of a Dragon spacecraft in orbit also means that after all future Dragon launches, SpaceX will have two Dragons in orbit. In the history of spaceflight and the International Space Station, only Russia has routinely had more than one space station-bound spacecraft (Soyuz and Progress) in orbit at the same time. If successful, CRS-21 will thus catapult SpaceX into one of the most exclusive spaceflight ‘clubs’ in the modern world.
Thanks to SpaceX, for the first time ever, the US will likely have two or more recoverable spacecraft stationed at the ISS at any given moment. Prior to Dragon 2, only Russia regularly operated two recoverable spacecraft in orbit, and only for a period of a few days or weeks.
Orbital firsts aside, CRS-21 will also be the first time in history that a new space station-bound spacecraft (Cargo Dragon 2) debuts on a flight-proven rocket (Falcon 9). The Falcon 9 booster supporting CRS-21 previously launched SpaceX’s Demo-2 Crew Dragon astronaut launch debut, as well as South Korea’s ANASIS II communications satellite and a batch of 60 Starlink spacecraft.
For NASA, it will be the space agency’s first launch on a twice or thrice-flown Falcon 9 booster, as well as the first time a SpaceX booster with a commercial (non-NASA) launch history has been certified to launch a NASA mission.