IMU guides SpaceX flight

Northrop Grumman's LN-200 inertial measurement unit (IMU) played a critical role in the second International Space Station Commercial Resupply Services flight by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral on March 1 carrying the Dragon reusable spacecraft. The space station and its six-man crew were orbiting 250 miles above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the New England coast, when the Falcon soared.

The LN-200 IMU was part of the Falcon 9 flight control system, which is used for heading and stabilization. Historically, one LN-200 has been used on each Falcon 9 rocket, but SpaceX is upgrading the rocket configuration and will use four LN-200 IMUs per rocket in the future. The Dragon, which uses three additional LN-200 IMUs, arrived at the International Space Station on March 2 after an unusually short chase, and astronauts used a hefty robotic arm to draw the Dragon in and dock it to the station.

DragonDragon ferried 1,268 pounds of supplies for the space station crew and for experiments being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory. Fresh fruit was tucked into the Dragon for the crew, as well as 640 seeds of a flowering weed used for research, mouse stem cells, protein crystals, astronaut meals and clothing, trash bags, air-purifying devices, computer parts and other gear.

Dragon remained with the space station for a few weeks while astronauts unloaded cargo. The crew then packed more than 2,600 pounds of experiment samples and equipment for return to Earth. Dragon made a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California on March 25, allowing reuse of the spacecraft and the LN-200 units on board.

The SpaceX flight is part of a long-term program aimed at having NASA spend less money on low-Earth orbit and investing more in deep-space missions. The goal is to have SpaceX and other private firms take over the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station in the next few years.

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