Following a one-day delay due to weather at 1617 GMT on 6 December a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission lifted-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This launch was carrying the first of a new-generation SpaceX Dragon Cargo capsules to the ISS. It also marked the beginning of SpaceX’s second Commercial Resupply Services (CRS 2) contract with NASA. As such this mission is known as Dragon CRS-21 (CRS 2-01).
This second contract initially charged SpaceX with launching six Cargo Dragons to the ISS. However, during November 2020 this was extended to include three more flights bringing the total to nine.
The mission carried 2,972 kg of payload to the International Space Station (ISS). This includes food and care packages for the inhabiting crew alongside experiment hardware. The largest individual payload was the new Bishop airlock, designed by NanoRacks LLC. Bishop is designed to expand the microsatellite deployment offering currently provided by the Japanese Kibo module. The new NanoRacks airlock has a larger capacity and potential for more frequent usage.
The Dragon freighter is planned to begin docking procedure at the ISS at 1830 GMT, 7 December. This will demonstrate another difference from the previous generation, autonomous docking. The older Dragon capsules were captured by the Canadarm 2 robotic arm and manually berthed to the station, the newer Dragon 2 craft (both Crew and Cargo) are able to dock themselves autonomously.
Due to the heavier payload mass compared to the older Dragon the Falcon 9 first-stage was unable to return to the launch site for a landing. Instead, at T+9 minutes it landed on the drone barge, Of Course I Still Love You, located in the Atlantic Ocean. This marks the fourth launch and landing for this particular first-stage known as B1058.
Update on 8 December 2020: The Cargo Dragon docked with the ISS at 1840 GMT, Monday 7 December. This marks the first time two SpaceX Dragon capsules are attached to the space station concurrently. The Dragon CRS-21 mission is planned to remain docked to the space station for over a month before returning to Earth loaded with research and equipment.
Update on 21 December 2020: On 19 December 2020, the Bishop Airlock, located in the Dragon CRS-21 spacecraft’s trunk, was grappled by the Canadarm 2 robot arm and then successfully berthed to the ISS Node 3.