A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship caught up with the International Space Station and flew itself to a picture-perfect docking Saturday, wrapping up a two-day rendezvous to deliver nearly 3 tons of supplies, science gear and equipment to the orbital laboratory.
Approaching from behind, the Dragon passed 1,300 feet below the station and then looped up to a point directly in front of the complex before moving in for docking at the lab's forward port at 11:21 a.m. EDT as the two ships sailed 267 miles above the south Atlantic Ocean.
Making SpaceX'sto the International Space Station, the Dragon capsule was loaded with 5,880 pounds of crew supplies, science gear and other equipment, including fresh fruit and vegetables for the astronauts and a $118 million instrument designed to study the chemical makeup of dust in Earth's atmosphere.
The Dragon will be unloaded over the next few weeks by Crew-4 astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency crewmate Samantha Cristoforetti. The spacecraft will be reloaded with science samples and equipment being returned to Earth, including a spacesuit that had problems during a March spacewalk.
If all goes well, the Dragon will undock and return to Earth in mid-August, clearing the forward port for arrival of another Crew Dragon in September carrying Crew-5 astronauts Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Japanese flier Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
Kikina will be the first Russian to fly aboard a Crew Dragon, the result of an agreement finalized this week with the Russian space agency Roscosmos to resume launching crew members on both nations' spacecraft.
The mixed U.S.-Russian crews will ensure that at least one astronaut and cosmonaut will always be on board to operate their respective systems even if an emergency forces a Crew Dragon or Soyuz spacecraft to depart early, taking all of that vehicle's crew members with it.
Mirroring Kikina's assignment, NASA on Friday confirmed astronaut Frank Rubio will join two cosmonauts aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft when it blasts off in mid-September from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.