It was the company’s sixth launch of the year, doubling the number they achieved in 2013, their previous record year for launches.
Prior to this launch Dragon had completed two COTS demonstration missions and three operational CRS flights.
The Dragon which was carried into orbit by this mission, SpaceX CRS-4, is the sixth Dragon mission and the second of the year.
Ten of these mice will be returned to Earth at the end of the Dragon’s mission, with the remainder following on a later flight.
Other payloads include Cyclops, a new dispenser for deploying small satellites from the station, an experiment to find ways to improve techniques for feeding astronauts and a materials research experiment.
The RapidScat instrument will be used to collect wind velocity data over regions of ocean on the Earth’s surface. It replaces the SeaWinds instrument on NASA’s QuikSCAT satellite, which failed in 2009.
Built as an interim spacecraft following the loss of a NASA-operated instrument on Japan’s Midori satellite in 1997, QuikSCAT was launched by a Titan II rocket in June 1999 and was intended for a two year mission to ensure continuity of data until a permanent replacement could be constructed. Instead, the satellite was NASA’s front line ocean monitoring satellite for ten years.
RapidScat was built from an engineering backup of the SeaWinds instrument constructed as part of the QuikSCAT program. NASA currently expects it to operate attached to the International Space Station for two years.
A small satellite is also being carried aboard the Dragon in order to be deployed from the space station.
The Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SPINSat) will be used by the US Naval Research Laboratory and Space Test Program to study thruster operation and provide a target for tracking and atmospheric drag experiments. The satellite will be deployed using the Cyclops system via an airlock in the Kibo module of the station.
The Falcon 9 conducted its thirteenth flight, with more than half of those launches having occurred in the last twelve months.
The engines burn RP-1 propellant, oxidised by liquid oxygen. With nine engines on the first stage, the Falcon is designed to offer an engine-out capability allowing it to make orbit even in the event of an engine failure.
This capability was called into use during the type’s fourth launch, which carried the CRS-1 spacecraft.
Despite the failure of a first stage engine eighty seconds into the mission the rocket was still able to deploy its Dragon payload for a successful mission to the ISS, however the launch as a whole was a partial failure as a second payload, an Orbcomm communications satellite, could not be placed into its target orbit and reentered the atmosphere shortly after launch.
The second stage of the Falcon 9 is powered by a single Merlin, which is optimised for performance in Vacuum conditions. Using the same propellant mixture as the first stage, the second stage will complete the Dragon’s ascent into orbit after the first stage boosts it out of the atmosphere.
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