VIDEO | Timelapse of Cargo Dragon approaching the International Space Station yesterday

New-generation Dragon cargo freighter docks at International Space Station

SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station Monday. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

A more spacious version of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule linked up with the International Space Station Monday, using a new approach corridor to deliver more than 6,000 pounds of provisions and experiments, a commercial airlock, and a holiday feast for the research lab’s seven-person crew.

Moving through the airless vacuum of space on autopilot, the Dragon cargo ship docked with the space station’s Harmony module at 1:40 p.m. EST (1840 GMT) Monday, wrapping up a 26-hour journey since the mission took off Sunday morning from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The unpiloted supply ship fined-tuned its course toward the space station with a series of thruster firings. After initially approaching the complex from below, the Cargo Dragon performed a half-circle flyaround of the station to line up with the docking port on the zenith, or top-facing, side of the Harmony module.

Then the spacecraft moved in for docking, with data from cameras and laser sensors helping guide the Cargo Dragon to an automated docking. After contacting the docking adapter, the docking system ring retracted and hooks closed to create a firm connection between the space station and the SpaceX cargo ship.

The Cargo Dragon capsule is the first spacecraft to dock at Harmony’s zenith port. With the arrival of the new supply ship, there are two SpaceX Dragon spaceships attached to the space station for the first time.

“Dragons everywhere you look,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s deputy space station program manager.

Besides the high-tech hardware and experiments, the Cargo Dragon delivered holiday treats including roasted turkey, spicy green beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing, cherry blueberry cobbler, and shortbread cookies.


SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Resilience” capsule arrived at the station Nov. 16 with astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi. The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft is docked to the forward end of the Harmony module.

Hopkins and his crewmates joined NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov on the space station, giving the research complex a long-duration crew of seven for the first time.

With so many astronauts living and working on the station, the Cargo Dragon’s arrival Monday brought more experiments and hardware to keep the crew busy. It was the 21st time a SpaceX cargo capsule delivered supplies to the station, but the latest mission marks the first flight of an upgraded Cargo Dragon capsule derived from SpaceX’s human-rated Crew Dragon.

“I would just like to say a huge congratulations to all the teams that worked on SpaceX-21,” radioed astronaut Kate Rubins from the space station. “It’s pretty amazing to think that less than a month you got four crew members to the International Space Station, and now you’re bringing a vehicle full of world-class science for us to execute.”

The Cargo Dragon docking Monday raised the space station’s mass to 996,828 pounds, or about 452 metric tons, including the two visiting Dragon vehicles, two Russian Progress supply freighters, a Soyuz crew capsule, and a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship, according to NASA. That’s a record for the space station’s mass since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet.

The station astronauts planned to open hatches leading to the Cargo Dragon and begin unpacking the capsule’s pressurized cabin. Meanwhile, the space station’s robotic arm will extract a new commercial airlock module owned by Houston-based Nanoracks for mounting on the lab’s Tranquility module.

The Cargo Dragon is scheduled to stay at the space station for more than a month until it undocks and comes back to Earth in January with several tons of research specimens and other cargo.

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