A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship loaded with more than two tons of equipment and supplies (including an espresso maker) arrived at the International Space Station early Friday and was captured by the lab's robot arm to wrap up a smooth rendezvous.
Three days after the cargo ship's launch from Cape Canaveral, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, operating the station's robot arm, snared a grapple fixture on the side of the supply capsule at 6:55 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) as the station passed 260 miles above the Pacific Ocean east of Japan.
"Houston, capture is complete," station commander Terry Virts radioed. "Samantha did a perfect job grappling Dragon."
With the Dragon secured, flight controllers planned to take over arm operations to remotely pull the spacecraft in for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the station's forward Harmony module.
"Just wanted to say thank you to the folks at SpaceX and you guys in Houston," Cristoforetti called down. "It's just been amazing, watching the launch and knowing it's heading our way and sure enough came knocking at our door. It was steady as a rock, and we're just very, very happy to have it here."
If all goes well, the station crew will open hatches to the Dragon early Saturday to begin unloading research gear, supplies and other equipment, including an espresso maker supplied by Italy.
"It's going to be busy, but lots of science, and even coffee is in there, so that's pretty exciting," Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut, told Mission Control. "So again, thanks a lot, and great job everybody."
This is SpaceX's sixth operational resupply flight under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA that calls for a dozen flights to deliver some 44,000 pounds of equipment and supplies. NASA recently added three additional flights, but contract details are not yet known.
For the latest flight, the capsule was loaded with 1,142 pounds of station hardware, 1,860 pounds of science gear, 1,102 pounds of crew supplies, and another 86 pounds of computer gear and spacewalk equipment. Also on board: 20 mice serving as test subjects in research to learn more about the effects of weightlessness on bone loss and muscle atrophy.
The Dragon will remain attached to the station for a bit more than a month. By the time it departs in late May, the station crew will have repacked the capsule with more than 3,000 pounds of research samples, no-longer-needed equipment and trash.
The Dragon is the only cargo ship currently flying to the station that is capable of bringing material back to Earth.