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SpaceX delivers inflatable room, supplies to space station

The delivery is the first from SpaceX in nine months, since a rocket exploded last year two minutes after takeoff.

By
Stephen Feller
Among supplies aboard a SpaceX delivery to the International Space Station is the inflatable Beam living space, above. Beam, made of kevlar, is being tested as a prototype for at least two much larger versions Bigelow Aerospace hopes to rent out portions of to companies for research in the next few years. Photo courtesy Bigelow Aerospace
Among supplies aboard a SpaceX delivery to the International Space Station is the inflatable Beam living space, above. Beam, made of kevlar, is being tested as a prototype for at least two much larger versions Bigelow Aerospace hopes to rent out portions of to companies for research in the next few years. Photo courtesy Bigelow Aerospace

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 8 (UPI) -- This afternoon SpaceX is scheduled to launch its first delivery mission to the International Space Station in nine months, after an explosion aboard a Falcon 9 rocket destroyed it moments after liftoff.

In addition to replacing projects that never made it to the station last year, the Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for liftoff at 4:43 P.M. EDT will bring to the International Space Station an inflatable living space being tested for future missions and other supplies aboard a Dragon space capsule.

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The launch of the rocket will be streamed live at the SpaceX website and on NASA TV.

SpaceX will also attempt to land the Falcon 9 rocket, after it completes its burn, sending the Dragon into space, and starts its journey back to Earth. It will be the company's fifth attempt to successfully land the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. In December it successfully landed a rock on land, but the drone ship has been a challenge.

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On Sunday, crew members of the International Space Station will use the station's robotic arm to capture the Dragon and attach it to the station, where it will stay for about a month.

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"It's really important to have a very regular supply chain," Kirk Shireman, NASA's manager for the space station program, said of the capsule packed with experiments and supplies during a news conference.

Packed aboard the Dragon is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or Beam, an experimental living space designed by Bigelow Aerospace, which company owner Robert Bigelow says he hopes will lead to rentable space in the near future.

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The Beam, made of Kevlar and other strong fabrics, will take about a day to inflate and over the course of the next year, will be entered several times by astronauts, wearing their regular clothes, who will take measurements and check how the giant bubble is holding up in space.

"These expandable modules take up less room on a rocket, but once set up, provide more volume for living and working in space," NASA wrote in a blog post about the Beam. "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."

Other experiments arriving on the Dragon will help scientists study muscle atrophy and bone loss in space, use microgravity to understand nanoscale particle flows, and utilize protein crystal growth in microgravity to help design pharmaceuticals, NASA said.

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The SpaceX flight resumes regularly scheduled supply flights to the station after a two-foot-long strut in a liquid oxygen tank failed causing a series of explosions.

That strut was completely redesigned, and SpaceX officials are hoping to stick its first at-sea landing since starting the launches. With a goal of manned spaceflights planned to start sometime in 2017, the company said it at least expects an increase in flight frequency over the next several months.

"The time between missions will get shorter and shorter," said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability, who told CNBC biweekly launches should be expected "by the end of this year."

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