SpaceX sending cargo ship to bring next-generation inflatable habitat to ISS

© Ruptly
Commercial space transport company SpaceX launched its “Dragon” cargo craft to bring supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station. The company subsequently made history by landing the reusable stage of the rocket on a floating vessel.

The spacecraft, known as Dragon, launched at 4:43 p.m. ET on Friday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The craft is expected to reach the International Space Station (ISS) by Sunday.

The company reported on Twitter that the weather conditions were very favorable for a launch.

SpaceX successfully landed the first stage Falcon 9, the rocket that was propelling Dragon, on a seaborne barge back on Earth, the first time in history that such a landing has been made. SpaceX’s last attempt resulted in the rocket crashing.

Perhaps the most notable part of the launch is that it contains the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), a 3,100-pound inflatable structure that will expand into a 5-by-12 foot habitat when filled with air. Built by Bigelow Aerospace under a $17.8 million NASA contract, BEAM was envisioned as a way to give astronauts a safe place to work and live that is also compact and easy to transport.

"When we’re traveling to Mars or beyond, astronauts need habitats that are both durable and easy to transport and to set up. That’s where expandable technology comes in," NASA said in a blog post.

After it arrives, a robotic arm will attach BEAM to a port on the station. For now, astronauts on the ISS will only use BEAM for collecting data to test its leak performance, structural integrity, durability and its ability to protect from radiation.
NASA plans to keep BEAM on the station for testing for two years. After that, it will be sent on a freefall back to earth, where it will burn up in the atmosphere.

Also being sent to the ISS are live mice, which will be used to test muscle-restoring drugs. These drugs could one day help astronauts ward off muscle atrophy in space ‒ a serious concern for astronauts ‒ as well as atrophy caused by old age.

SpaceX successfully landed the first stage Falcon 9, the rocket that was propelling Dragon, on a seaborne barge back on Earth, the first time in history that such a landing has been made. SpaceX’s last attempt resulted in the rocket crashing.