On Sunday, SpaceX carried out its 21st Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-21). The space company's Falcon 9 rocket launched off of Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:17 AM EST.
The launch marked the updated Dragon capsule's first outing into space. It's able to carry 20% more volume than Dragon's older version and "has double the amount of powered locker cargo capability," as SpaceX's statement read.
Breaking a number of records, the updated Dragon ship can now travel up to five times to the International Space Station (ISS) and remain there for double the amount of time it previously could.
The Dragon capsule successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket's second-stage about 11 minutes after liftoff. On Monday 7 December, this stage will autonomously dock at the ISS.
Approximately nine minutes after launch, the booster's first stage landed back on Earth onto one of SpaceX's drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean, called "Of Course I Still Love You," in a seamless touchdown.
This week...— NASA (@NASA) December 6, 2020
🐉 @SpaceX set to launch cargo, @ISS_Research & a @Nanoracks airlock to the @Space_Station
🌎 New Earth & space science findings at the #AGU20 virtual meeting
🌖 Hardware installed on the @NASA_Orion spacecraft for #Artemis II
Watch: https://t.co/jQrvICzxfg pic.twitter.com/KAEQNLF4P1
This was the first stage booster's fourth launch and land, and became the first booster that NASA used that had carried out more than one flight. It had previously shuttled two NASA astronauts to the ISS on the Demo-2 mission this summer.
This launch marked a milestone as this was SpaceX's 101th mission into space.
The liftoff was originally scheduled to happen on Saturday but had to be postponed by 24 hours due to inclement weather.
Yesterday's cargo craft is carrying 6,400 lbs (2,903 kg) of supplies and scientific information to the ISS — perhaps including some Christmas cheer for the crew. "The crew is going to get some type of Christmasy food on orbit," Kenny Todd, NASA’s Deputy program manager for the International Space Station (ISS) said during a prelaunch news conference on Dec. 4.
"I don't think that will be any surprise to them, but anything more than that … I don't like to get out in front of Santa Claus."
Tracking footage from a helicopter of today’s Falcon 9 launch off LC-39A pic.twitter.com/7rYVZRTS18— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 7, 2020
Once the Dragon capsule docks at the Space Station today, it'll become the second Dragon vehicle attached to the ISS at the same time — for the first time ever.
"This is the first time we'll have a couple of Dragons onboard [the station] — we have the Crew Dragon and will soon have a Cargo Dragon," Todd said. "So, there will be Dragons everywhere you look. It'll be a lot of fun."