Falcon 9 Sends Dragon into Orbit and Returns to Landing Zone 1

By Kai Farrimond

The CRS-12 Dragon Spacecraft launched from Launch Complex 39A in Kennedy Space Center today aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. This specific Dragon was carrying over 6,400 pounds (around 2,900kg) of supplies and payloads to the International Space Station.

CRS-12 is the last mission in the original CRS contract. The contract was originally awarded with 12 Dragon missions to the ISS but was extended in 2015 to up to 20 missions. Whereas the previous CRS mission flown a previously flown capsule, this flight will once again be using a new vehicle. This will be however, the final new Dragon 1 Spacecraft to fly, as all remaining Dragon 1 flights will use refurbished capsules to supply the ISS.



On the eve of the launch, Falcon 9 and Dragon were rolled out to LC-39A and were prepped for a process known as late load. This is where time critical experiments are loaded onto the vehicle as close to launch as possible to keep them cool or fresh. Late load began at around 2pm EST.

Late Load.png

Falcon was then raised to vertical at around 4:45am EST or 8:45am UTC


On launch day, Falcon came to life when it’s RP-1 propellant began loading onto the first and second stages at T-1 Hour.

At T-35 Minutes, Super-chilled Liquid Oxygen (LOX) also began loading onto the vehicle.

At T-7 Minutes, the 9 Merlin 1D Engines at the base of the First Stage began a sequence called “Engine Chill” where LOX is passed through their turbo pumps to adapt the engines to the environment they will be experiencing in just a few minutes time.


At T-4 Minutes, the cradles around the Second Stage began to open, followed shortly after by Strongback Retract. The Strongback retracted to 88.5° and then locked out.


T-60 Seconds: The flight computers on Falcon and Dragon entered startup and the vehicle was pressurised for flight.


T-3 Seconds: The 9 Merlin engines lit and the vehicle was released from the ground a few seconds later.


T+1 Minute, 8 Seconds: The Falcon 9 experienced Maximum Aerodynamic Pressure (Max-Q) just after breaking the sound barrier.


T+2 Minutes, 23 Seconds: Main Engine Cutoff (MECO) followed shortly after by First Stage separation.


T+2 Minutes, 36 Seconds: The second stage of the Falcon 9 ignited followed by the First Stage beginning its Boostback Burn to head towards Landing Zone-1.


Once the First Stage began to enter the thick section of Earth’s atmosphere, three of its engines re-lit to slow the vehicle down.


Around 90 Seconds later, the landing burn began and Falcon 9’s First Stage touched down on Landing Zone-1, the 6th to successfully land on land and the 14th to land.



9 Minutes and 14 Seconds in to the flight, the Second Stage shutoff and Dragon separated a minute later.


About 45 Seconds later, Dragon’s solar arrays deployed giving Dragons systems power for its 48 hour journey to the International Space Station.





Dragon will be sending consumables for the current 6 crew members of the station, but will also be sending many scientific experiments. Some of those are:

The ‘Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass’ or ‘CREAM’. This instrument will be attached to the Japanese Exposed Facility Module and will measure the charges of cosmic rays ranging from hydrogen to iron nuclei. The data collected from CREAM will be used to address fundamental science questions on the origins and history of cosmic rays.

CASIS. This experiment will use the ISS’s micro gravity environment to grow larger versions of Leucine-rich Repeat Kinase 2 (LRRK2), which is implicated in Parkinson’s disease. This experiment is developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Anatrace and Com-Pax International.

The Kestrel Eye (NanoRacks-KE IIM) Investigation. This is a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging system payload, including a Commercial Orbital Transportation System telescope. This investigation validates the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations.


Dragon’s Extended Mission

Capture of Dragon by the Station’s Robotic Arm is expected on Wednesday, August 16 at around 7am ET (11am UTC), and will be installed onto the Harmony module at 8:30am ET. Hatch opening is currently scheduled to occur the following day.

35 Days later, on the 17th August, Dragon will be un-berthed from the station and splashdown a few hours later in the Pacific Ocean where it will be recovered.


Late Load Photo – Robin Seemangal

Falcon Vertical Photo – Trevor Mahlmann





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