Elon Musk’s SpaceX delivered ants, avocados, robots to ISS

A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados, and a human-sized robotic arm headed for the International Space Station on Sunday. The delivery — due to arrive Monday — is the company’s 23rd for NASA in less than a decade.

A recycled Falcon rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center explodes into the sky to the east. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first stage booster landed directly on SpaceX’s latest ocean platform, dubbed “A Shortfall of Gravitas.

Dragon is carrying more than 4,800 pounds (2,170 kg) of supplies and experiments, and fresh food including avocado, lemon, and even ice cream for the space station’s seven astronauts.

Girl Scouts are sending in ants, brine shrimp, and plants as test subjects, while scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are blowing seeds from mouse-eared cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research.

Samples of concrete, solar cells, and other materials will also be subject to weightlessness. The experimental robotics arm of a Japanese start-up company, meanwhile, will attempt to screw objects together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane tasks normally performed by astronauts.

The first test will be done inside the space station. Chief technology officer Toyotaka Kozuki said future models of Gitai Inc.’s robot will venture into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair tasks.

This was the second launch attempt; Stormy weather foiled Saturday’s attempt. In separate news from SpaceX, NASA had to postpone by a week the launch of its next Earth-monitoring satellite, which was to be carried by the Falcon 9.

The reason behind this suspension is the oxygen crisis. Pandemic cases surge in heat – rockets are sending liquid oxygen from launch pads to hospitals. SpaceX uses methane and liquid oxygen to fuel the Merlin engine on its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.

Oxygen cooled in its liquid form at -300 F (-148 C) is an important propellant for launch firms from SpaceX to ULA to Virgin Orbit. Now the industry is anticipating a delay in the launch as patients on ventilators are given priority in the commodity gas supply chain. Company founder Elon Musk tweeted Thursday that the supply of lean liquid oxygen is “a risk, but not yet a limiting factor” for SpaceX’s launch.

The company plans to launch 4,800 pounds of food and other supplies to the International Space Station on August 29 and a batch of its Starlink satellites next month.

While medical use of oxygen has made oxygen supplies difficult across the country, it is needed most in Florida where a surge in infections has filled hospitals. Some Florida cities, including Orlando and Tampa, have banned the use of water because some water-treatment plants use oxygen in the sanitation process.

Labor shortages among commercial truck drivers, who must have specialized training to transport certain gases such as oxygen, have also increased supply constraints. Beyond rocketry, liquid oxygen (commonly called LOX) is used in welding and in the production of steel, paper, glass, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

Gwynne Shotwell, president of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., sounded the industry alarm at a conference in Colorado this week asking anyone contacted with oxygen. SpaceX uses methane and liquid oxygen to fuel the Merlin engine on its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.

The company’s much larger next-generation rocket, the Starship, also uses the LOX as a propellant. NASA and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin Corp, said the launch of the climate change monitoring satellite Landsat 9 would be delayed by a week to September 23 as constraints faced by nitrogen supplier Airgas Inc. is facing. ULA will launch the satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on its Atlas V rocket.


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