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Into the Night: CRS-29 Launches to ISS

Booster 1081 and Dragon C211 lift off, bound for the ISS and its 7 crew members.
Credit: Brandon Berkoff

After weeks of reshuffling, NASA and SpaceX’s CRS-29 mission lifted off from Historic Launch Complex 39A for the International Space Station on November 9th, 2023 – ready to ring in the holiday spirit with science and supplies for the crew of Expedition 70.  

Originally planned for launch on November 6th, the mission was reshuffled for November 9th to account for delays in Cargo Dragon C211’s readiness after a thruster was found to be leaking. This meant that the mission had to wait for the launch complex to be reconfigured for the single stick Falcon 9, a process which takes around 20 to 30 days after the launch of Psyche last month. CRS-29, the 29th operational mission in SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply contract, is set to deliver 6,500 pounds of research gear, crew supplies and crucial equipment to the orbiting national laboratory and its crew of 7 astronauts and cosmonauts.

Also onboard are two new science packages for the ISS, both of which will take advantage of the station’s unique plug and play environment. NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) will study atmospheric gravity waves –powerful waves formed by weather disturbances on Earth such as strong thunderstorms or brewing hurricanes – to understand the flow of energy through Earth’s upper atmosphere and space. 

Another experiment, Integrated Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Low-Earth-Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal – (ILLUMA-T) aims to test high data rate laser communications from the space station to Earth. This will complete NASA’s first two-way, end-to-end laser relay system by sending high-resolution data to the agency’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, which launched in December 2021. A deep dive into NASA’s plans for laser communications can be found here.  

CRS-29 streaks over the pier at Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Credit: Astrid Cordero

Booster 1081 conducted its second flight with the launch of CRS-29. The vehicle lifted off at 8:28:14 and executed a flawless ascent profile, before returning to the launch site and landing at LZ-1. This maneuver, known as a Return To Launch Site or RTLS, generates the vehicle’s signature triple sonic booms – a phenomenon also marked with the distinctive squeal of the Vehicle Assembly Building for those at the 39A press site. 

Booster 1081 conducts its boostback burn in this long exposure, heading back towards the landing zone.
Credit: David Diebold

Dragon C211 arrived at the space station and autonomously docked to the forward port of the Harmony module about 5:20 a.m. on Saturday, November 11. NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara monitored the arrival of the spacecraft, which will stay docked to the orbiting laboratory for about one month before splashing down and returning critical science and hardware to teams on Earth. Dragon’s unique advantage as a cargo vehicle with up and downmass capabilities enables NASA and international partners to get access to science routinely, and swap out crucial components in orbit. 

SpaceX’s next launch from the Eastern Range is projected to be O3b mPOWER 5 & 6, which is slated to launch from the newly refurbished LC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for SES of Luxembourg. This mission is currently targeting November 12th at 4:08 pm, Eastern Time.

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