SpaceX gives Space Coast 52nd launch of the year

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Saturday from Kennedy Space Center on the 52nd successful flight of the year from the Space Coast.

The CRS-26 mission departed from Launch Pad 39-A at 2:20 PM for a resupply flight to the International Space Station

A brand new Dragon spacecraft will carry 7,700 pounds of food, scientific research and supplies to the station, including a pair of deployable solar panels to help with power.

“Everyone is eager to see the science get underway as soon as it docks,” said Jeff Arend of NASA’s systems engineering and integration office for the ISS.

That includes a study that has the ISS crew growing dwarf tomatoes as part of NASA’s plans to support long-term human space travel needs. A related study, called BioNutrients-2, attempts to produce nutrients on demand by using a combination of yogurt, a yeast-based drink, and kefir from fermented milk.

Several student-led experiments are also making flight, including three payloads supported by SpaceKids Global, a central Florida nonprofit, and the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council. One of these will investigate how brine shrimp, also known as sea monkeys, behave in microgravity.

The first stage booster, which was also flying for the first time, was able to land on SpaceX’s drone ship, Just Read the Instructions, in the Atlantic Ocean. It marks the 153rd time that SpaceX has successfully recovered a booster on both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.

The launch keeps the Space Coast at its record pace, averaging more than one launch per week this year from KSC or Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, reaching 52 in just 47 weeks with as many as half a dozen additional launches that could come before December 31 . Last year, the Space Coast saw 31 launches.

SpaceX has managed the king’s share of that with its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. Most pilot the company’s Starlink Internet satellites, but also provide the only human flights from the US with its Crew Dragon missions, three of which the company flew in 2022 with the Crew-4, Crew-5 and private Axiom-1 missions. This is the second Dragon cargo flight of the year, marking the launch of five Dragon spacecraft for the year under both crew and cargo.

The latter will dock autonomously at the ISS at 7:30 a.m. Sunday alongside Crew Dragon Endurance that Crew-5 flew to the station in October. This cargo dragon will remain docked at the station for approximately 45 days before returning with research and cargo for a landing off the coast of Florida.

With this launch, SpaceX has flown 42 Falcon 9s in 2022, as well as one of its powerful Falcon Heavy rockets that made only its fourth-ever launch on Nov. 1. United Launch Alliance added six launches of its Atlas V rocket, while Astra Space managed two launches of its Rocket 3.3.

However, Launch No. 50 for the year was the headliner on Nov. 16 when NASA managed to lift its Space Launch System rocket to take the Orion spacecraft to space for the Artemis I mission to the moon. Orion on Saturday was moving toward its farthest distance from Earth — more than 268,000 miles away — in its distant retrograde lunar orbit as part of the multi-week mission that won’t see it return to Earth until Dec. 11.

The pace is expected to continue in the coming year with more Falcon 9 launches and at least two more Falcon Heavy launches.

Also in the coming year, new rocket company Relativity Space is expected to fly its Terran-1 rocket already in testing at CCSFS, while Blue Origin continues its efforts to get its massive New Glenn rocket ready for its first launch. Meanwhile, ULA plans to introduce its new Vulcan Centaur rocket while continuing to fly Atlas V and a Delta IV Heavy from the Space Coast.

“We are building and investing, not just us alone, but also the Space Force and NASA, and commercial contractors are investing in infrastructure that should be able to support 100 launches a year,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, the state agency for space economic development. “That was our plan. I think we want to be able to do two, two-plus a week.”

Orlando Sentinel 2022

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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