NASA's next SpaceX Dragon mission gets a date - and intriguing cargo

SpaceX's next mission to the International Space Station will take place on August 28, NASA has confirmed today, with the scheduling coming shortly after rival Boeing failed to launch its Starliner. It's the 23rd commercial resupply services mission, with SpaceX having the process down to a fine art at this point as it loads up the Dragon spacecraft with supplies and scientific experiments.

That will see SpaceX mount the Dragon on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, positioned at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Assuming all goes to plan, liftoff is scheduled for 3:37am EDT on Saturday, August 28.

It's a reminder, if Boeing needed one, that NASA's Commercial Crew Program is progressing without it. Boeing had wanted to demonstrate that its Starliner CST-100 spacecraft could reach the ISS, successfully dock, and then return to Earth again, but the OFT-2 mission expected to launch earlier this month had to be scrubbed at the last moment. Issues with the spacecraft's valves forced Boeing to take the Starliner back to the factory, to try to figure out what is causing strange corrosion inside the propulsion system.

As for what SpaceX will be taking to the ISS, it's a bumper crop of science experiments and more. For example, there's a new microgravity robotic arm developed by GITAI Japan, which will be put toward inside the pressurized Bishop Airlock. If all goes to plan, the new arm will be part of a whole robot design, that could one day work on spacecraft, space stations, or closer to home such as in deep-sea environments.

Another experiment will look at implantable, remote-controlled drug delivery systems. Developed by Faraday-NICE, if the system works then it could end up an alternative to infusion pumps as are currently used: they're prone to electromechanical failures and double-dosing, among other issues. NICE, in contrast, has no moving mechanical components, and is minimally invasive.

The Materials International Space Station Experiment-15-NASA, meanwhile, will look at how different materials and components might be affected by low-Earth orbit. NASA is looking to how performance and durability of things like concrete, spacecraft materials, fiberglass composites, thin-film solar cells, and radiation protection materials might be impacted. If all goes to plan, it could clear such materials for use in future satellites, telescopes, space stations, planetary bases, and more.

One of the more unexpected items onboard the SpaceX Dragon will be an eye test for astronauts. Developed by Retinal Diagnostics, it's intended to look for signs of Space-Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS), which is believed to be caused by spending extended periods in space. Though corrective eyewear can address the issue, looking ahead to longer missions – such as crewed missions to Mars – a way to figure out eye-care will be needed. The same tech, the company points out, could also be used for more accessible healthcare on Earth.