SpaceX successfully launched a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, including a robotic arm to assist astronauts, soon after 3 a.m. EDT Sunday from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The Falcon 9 rocket lighted up the night sky as it took off, carrying a Dragon capsule containing 4,800 pounds of supplies ranging from fresh food to ants for an experiment.
The first-stage booster landed as anticipated on SpaceX’s newest drone ship, A Shortfall of Gravitas, named after late science fiction author Iain Banks and his works.
Among the provisions for the astronauts were ice cream, lemons and avocados, though NASA did not say whether they came from California or Florida, or whether they would be used to make guacamole.
The Girls Scouts sent the ants, along with tiny brine shrimp and plants for an experiment. Also on board were seeds from a weed, thale cress, to be used in a genetic study for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Puerto Rico was to send its first satellite into space on the mission. It is called Puerto Rico Cubesat Nano ROcks 2, the small satellite is to examine how materials come together in space and form planetary bodies.
But it was the planned testing of a robotic arm, developed by GITAI Japan that drew the greatest interest, as it will enable astronauts to do precision work much like industrial robots do on Earth.
“The experiment will test activities that the crew do daily on the ISS, like flipping switches, turning knobs or unplugging equipment,” Toyotaka Kozuki, GITAI’s chief technology officer, said in a news conference last week.
The robotic arm is about the size of a human arm, and the entire installation weighs about 44 pounds, Kozuki said.
The robotic arm will be installed inside the Bishop Airlock, a science laboratory that is a permanent part of the space station. The arm sometimes will be operated remotely by Houston-based Nanoracks, the private company that owns and operates the airlock.