SpaceX is sending cargo to the space station, with the company hitting a record launch pace for 2021

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SpaceX dispatched NASA’s newest cargo mission to the space station on Thursday, with Elon Musk’s company completing its 17th launch this year.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:29 p.m. EDT. The mission, named CRS-22, has SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft, which will transport more than 7,300 pounds of research and supplies to the International Space Station.

A few minutes after launch, SpaceX landed the Falcon 9 booster – the largest, lower part of the rocket – on an autonomous ship in the Atlantic. The Cargo Dragon capsule separated from the rocket about 12 minutes after launch, with the spacecraft expected to dock with the ISS on Saturday.

During a pre-launch press conference, Sarah Walker, Director of Dragon Mission Management at SpaceX, stated that CRS-22 is the fifth Dragon capsule the company has sent to the International Space Station in the past 12 months. The company launched several crew and cargo missions in the past year, including in the coming year.

In addition, CRS-22 marks SpaceX’s 17th mission in 2021. The company is at a rapid start-up pace, with missions increasing every nine days on average since the beginning of 2021.

SpaceX’s current pace puts it on track to do about 40 launches this year, which would easily beat the annual record of 26 launches from last year. It has so far launched 119 of its Falcon 9 missiles, landed 79 of its Falcon 9 boosters, and reused boosters for 61 missions.

The company’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft rolls on a Falcon 9 rocket to the Florida launch pad.

SpaceX

Walker also pointed out that CRS-22 is the first mission this year to launch with a new Falcon 9 rocket booster, as the company is reusing boosters for all of its most recent missions.

“We are actually surprised when we come on a mission [in which we’re] fly a new booster, “said Walker.

CRS-22 conducts dozens of research exams for the astronauts on the ISS, including experiments on tardigrade survival in space, a portable ultrasound device, demonstrations of robotic operations, and more. Cargo Dragon is also bringing the first two of six new solar systems called iROSA, built by Boeing and space infrastructure company Redwire Space. The new solar systems are expected to improve the power generation of the ISS by 20 to 30%.

This Cargo Dragon spaceship is expected to return to Earth in July, splashing 5,300 pounds of experiments and cargo in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

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