SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to visit ISS in February

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    This is pretty huge news. [LINK]

    WASHINGTON — NASA has announced the launch target for Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight will be Feb. 7, 2012. Pending completion of final safety reviews, testing and verification, NASA also has agreed to allow SpaceX to send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in a single flight.

    “SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory.”

    Gerstenmaier said, “There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success.”

    During the flight, Dragon will conduct a series of check-out procedures that will test and prove its systems in advance of the rendezvous with the station. The primary objectives for the flight include a fly-by of the space station at a distance of approximately two miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach. The spacecraft also will demonstrate the capability to abort the rendezvous, if required.

    Dragon will perform the final approach to the ISS while the station crew grapples the vehicle with the station’s robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node. At the end of the mission, the crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. If the rendezvous and attachment to the station are not successful, SpaceX will complete a third demonstration flight in order to achieve these objectives as originally planned.

    “SpaceX is on the forefront of demonstrating how a partnership between the government and private industry can lead to new capabilities and provide a large return on investment,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, program manager for COTS at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

    “SpaceX is excited to be the first commercial company in history to berth with the International Space Station. This mission will mark a historic milestone in the future of spaceflight,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “We appreciate NASA’s continued support and their partnership in this process.”

    If you haven’t already heard of the Dragon capsule, go here. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk, who brought the world Paypal, for good or ill. Their flight manifest lists two full-up resupply missions to the ISS in 2012 if all goes well, as well as a demo flight of their heavy lift booster.

    The Dragon and the Falcon series of boosters would be a huge help in weaning NASA away from its reliance on Russian vehicles to resupply the International Space Station.


    And a further wrinkle [LINK]…

    NASA announced today a modified competitive procurement strategy to keep on track the agency’s plan to have U.S. companies transport American astronauts into space instead of outsourcing this work to foreign governments.

    Instead of awarding contracts for the next phase of the Commercial Crew Program, the agency plans to use multiple, competitively awarded Space Act Agreements. Using competitive Space Act Agreements instead of contracts will allow NASA to maintain a larger number of partners during this phase of the program, with the flexibility to adjust technical direction, milestones and funding.

    This flexibility is important during a period of high budget uncertainty when NASA is receiving less funding than President Obama requested for the agency’s commercial space program.

    “NASA is committed to ensuring that U.S. companies are sending American astronauts into space,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This new acquisition strategy will allow us to preserve competition as we maintain our momentum to provide a U.S.-based commercial crew launch capability at the earliest possible time.”

    This competitive Space Act solicitation is separate from the work being carried out under existing Space Act Agreements. The new competition will focus on an overall system design rather than single technology activities. Details on the new competition will be available in January.

    By not locking stuff down with ironclad contracts, NASA’s trying to keep from repeating costly fiascos like the contract awarded to Rocketplane Kistler a few years ago (a particularly sad case, since RPK was just over in Oklahoma and I was really rooting for them before they crashed and burned).


    It turns out Dragon may be draggin’. [LINK]

    The unmanned Dragon space capsule, built by the California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), was scheduled to launch toward the space station on Feb. 7, but the company has decided to postpone the flight to accommodate more engineering tests.

    “In preparation for the upcoming launch, SpaceX continues to conduct extensive testing and analysis,” SpaceX spokesperson Kirstin Grantham said in an email statement. “We believe that there are a few areas that will benefit from additional work and will optimize the safety and success of this mission.”

    A new launch date for the mission has not yet been announced, but SpaceX officials said the company is working with NASA to determine the best time for the test flight.

    Looks like they need to train their Dragon a bit longer. 🙁


    MSNBC says “late March” for the Dragon launch.

    Steve WSteve W
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    Man, can’t any of these private sector companies get their rockets off the ground?


    We’ll find out on the new SpaceX launch date, April 30th.

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    In the meantime the European Space Agency has been successful (3 times in a row now) in docking their automated spacecraft (ATV) with the ISS. They launched from French Guiana and the docking procedure was coordinated in France with controllers in Houston and Moscow. Truly a team effort.

    As long as it’s not a Russian vehicle which has had a history of colliding with the ISS (yipes!).


    We’ll find out on the new SpaceX launch date, May 19th.

    Steve WSteve W
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    @ubikuberalles wrote:

    As long as it’s not a Russian vehicle which has had a history of colliding with the ISS (yipes!).

    There’s three ways to avoid that. First, bubble wrap. Cover the ship with it. Nice thing is that it doesn’t weigh much, using up excess fuel. Second, take a cue from the bumper car industry and install some good bumpers all over the ship to minimize damage to the ISS. Third, they could tie old tires around the edges of their ship, kind of like tug boats.


    You’re missing the most obvious improvement for the future though, Steve:

    All spacecraft should be made out of Nerf.

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    You could put all the nerf in the world on the thing but if it hits the space station at hundreds of miles per hour, it will still cause significant damage. Just no scratches because, you know, all that nerf and stuff.

    BTW I misspoke when I alluded to a Russian cargo ship colliding with the ISS. One did veer out of control two years ago but it was (according to NASA and the Russian space agency) never in any danger of colliding with the ISS (riiiight). However, a Russian satellite DID collide with a U.S. Iridium satellite (Iridium = satellite cell phones). Total chaos, debris scattered everywhere, cats and dogs living together.

    Steve WSteve W
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    But weren’t the Iridium satellites unused at that time? I thought that the cost of getting all the satellites into orbit bankrupted the company soon after. I don’t know if they’re capable of repurposing second hand communications satellites.

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    There are a number of defunct Iridium satellites out there but the one hit by a Russian satellite was in operation at the time. The combined speed, when they hit, was over 26,000 mph. Wow! That collision, by the way, was the very first time two satellites ever collided.

    Iridium, the company, is still in business. In fact they plan to launch satellites in 2015. By the way, the last time they launched Iridium satellites was in 2002 when they launched seven spares. There’s something like 66 Iridium satellites in orbit. They have something like half a million customers so they are making money. The biggest customers are remote science camps like the ones in Antarctica. Al Qaeda used them for a while until they found out that the CIA could track their headsets and bomb them.


    The SpaceX launch is scheduled for 3:55 AM central time, tomorrow morning. I think they’ll have live coverage streaming on their website.

    Steve WSteve W
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    Since I’m such a night owl I’ll most likely still be awake at that time, so either I’ll watch them launch it, watch it explode on the pad like a Soviet moon launch, or nothing will happen because they’ll delay it again. I feel like I should make a wager on this or something. Anybody want to take me up on this, with the loser buying the winners a Coke (or in my case a Dr Pepper) at OVGE? I think it’ll be delayed past 3:55. Wanna jump in here?

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