Space Station Crew Anticipating SpaceX Dragon’s Arrival

by Nancy Atkinson on January 4, 2012

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As part of the COTS 3 objectives Dragon approaches the ISS, so astronauts can reach it with the robotic arm. Illustration: NASA / SpaceX.

In a media chat on Wednesday three crew members from the International Space Station said they are anticipating the historic arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship to the ISS next month. “For all of us, we’re very excited about it,” said ISS Commander Dan Burbank. “Number one, for the sake of the Space Station, that is critical capability — to resupply the station and be able to return critical hardware, or payloads… And down the road it also affords capability to actually deliver crew to the station. I think that is very exciting.”

Burbank called the first arrival of a commercial vehicle “the start of new era.”

SpaceX released this image on January 4, 2012 showing the Dragon spacecraft in final processing, getting ready to head to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX

February 7, 2012 is the target date for the launch of the Dragon capsule. It will arrive at the ISS one to three days later and once there, Dragon will begin the demonstrations related to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Phase 2 agreements (COTS 2) to show proper performance and control in the vicinity of the ISS, while remaining outside the Station’s safe zone. Then, if all goes well, Dragon will receive approval to begin the COTS 3 activities, where it will gradually approach within a few meters of the ISS, allowing astronauts to reach out and grapple Dragon with the Station’s robotic arm and then maneuver it carefully into one of the docking ports.

Burbank said Dragon’s non-autonomous docking will put the astronauts at the center of activities for the vehicle’s arrival. “Anytime we have a visiting vehicle, those are exciting, dynamic events that from the operational standpoint,” he said.

But vehicles that come to the Station that need to be captured with the robotic arm offer an exceptional challenge for the crew. “From the standpoint of a pilot it is a fun, interesting, very dynamic activity and we are very much looking forward to it,” Burbank said. “It is the start of a new era, having commercial vehicles that come to Station.”

The Dragon will stay docked to the ISS for about a week while astronauts unload cargo and then re-load it with Earth-bound cargo. It will undock and return to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near the California coast.

NASA announced in December that the COTS 2 and 3 activities could be combined in one flight.

“This will be the first of many ‘wagon train’ wagons to bring us supplies,” said Flight Engineer Don Pettit. “One of the neat things about the SpaceX vehicle is that it will allow us to take significant payloads down, which is a real important thing since we no longer fly shuttles, we can’t take anything sizable back down from Space Station without it burning up. SpaceX will be our way to get…things back to the ground.”

In talking with the media, Burbank also spoke about his opportunity to capture stunning images of Comet Lovejoy from space,(see his images here) and encouraged the next generation of astronauts that now is the time to join the astronaut corps.

Pettit and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers discussed science research currently being done on the ISS, such as human medical experiments. Kuipers was covered with monitoring systems to determine his cardiac response while doing different activities in space. There are also human life studies and engineering research, which Pettit described as “mundane things like how to make a toilet that works and to take the urine and process it and make it back into water… Now you can go into the toilet and the machines will whir and grind and then you can go and make yourself a bag of coffee. We‘ll need these kinds of things if we are going to go far from Earth for long periods of time.”

Watch the video of the entire conversation below.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Anonymous January 4, 2012 at 6:07 PM

nice article

Warren White January 4, 2012 at 7:02 PM

SpaceX has been ready to go for 6 months…
NASA has drug it’s heels, placed obstacles/delays/roadblocks in their way..
Repeatedly delaying launch, dragging out authorizations, even forbidding SpaceX from piggy-backing other satellites..

This mission should have gone months ago.. the astros were ready..
NASA needs to get out of the way… not drag SpaceX down to NASA’s ‘big govt agency’ glacial pace, bankrupting cost/schedule overruns, massive useless red-tape/overhead, and pork waste… which have wasted 40 years and $500 billion since Apollo…

Big Govt Federal Agency NASA was asked in 1970 to produce a cheap, safe, reliable access to space… NASA promised a $7 million per flight Vehicle… delivered a $1.5 billion/flight unsafe, unaffordable, unreliable white elephant boondoggle..
then added a $160+ billion useless space station, and then wasted $20 billion on the failed Constellation program to recapture the Saturn/Apollo capability it threw away..

SpaceX has what NASA, all of Govt lacks… energy, initiative, innovation, efficiency…

Please, NASA, don’t screw them up.

Greg Thrasher January 5, 2012 at 1:16 AM

SpaceX has not been ready for six months. They are still working on software as we type. While I agree with your basic premise concerning NASA government bloat, the STS was able to do things that a capsule could never do, and we now have a wealth of knowledge where it comes to constructing vehicles in space.

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 5:47 AM

No, they’ve had their software submitted, tested, and approved prior to the official announcement of the combined mission and target launch date

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 5:38 PM

And you should know by now that any version 1.0 is followed by fixes as 1.1 and 1.2.

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 5:38 PM

And you should know by now that any version 1.0 is followed by fixes as 1.1 and 1.2.

TerryG January 5, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Great post. Just two minor points.

Re: “…even forbidding SpaceX from piggy-backing other satellites.”

The joint Orbcomm / SpaceX announcement detailing the latest (28 Dec. 2011) OG2 satellite launch schedule does not support the idea of a NASA ban on piggy-back flights. Instead, Orbcomm has chosen to fly the OG2 prototype satellite on the mid-2012 ISS Cargo Resupply Service (CRS) operated by SpaceX. In this announcement, SpaceX doesn’t rule out that the remaining OG2 satellite launches (2 more during 2012, 8 to 12 during 2013 and 18 during 2014) will similarly piggy-back on other ISS Cargo Resupply Service flights.

Second, the most recent launch delay can be traced back to the August 24th failure of a Russian Soyuz-U rocket carrying an unmanned Progress capsule to the ISS rather than NASA dragging their feet.

But in general, as the number of safely operated CRS flights climbs, more and more people will left wondering about the wasted decades and wasted billions of which you write.

Thank you.

HeadAroundU January 5, 2012 at 12:42 PM

useless space station?

being angry doesn’t help

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 4:57 PM

I do not know whether to laugh or cry when I read posts like yours. NASA has made it possible for SpaceX to be where it is. All of the R&D that SpaceX has used comes from NASA. The engines? Scaled up versions of mid 1990′s NASA engines. The tanks? From NASA/L-Mart. The majority of the money came from NASA via COTS. When F1-1 failed, it was NASA’s team that went over SpaceX’s work and told them how to fix it all.
Even now, the bething on SpaceX to ISS? NASA’s.
I am a huge fan of Private Space. But that is not because it will over take NASA. It is because NASA is supposed to be doing cutting edge work, not this mundane launch stuff. CONgress, specifically neo-cons, have been holding back NASA by gutting eveything that they do UNLESS the work is in their districts (pure corruption within the republican party).
But the idea of killing NASA is a joke. They do so much more than private space can, or will, over the next 20-30 years.

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 8:52 PM

Good to see your name on a post, Windbourne! I suspect NASA will gravitate toward a support and advisory role in the coming decades. Probably R&D also.

Anonymous January 17, 2012 at 8:51 PM

Oh, I hope that they do more than support/advisory. However, they should not be doing rockets. In that arena, they can do control/advisory. But I do not want to see NASA’s budget cut. It would be better for them to help get private space to LEO and then the moon, while they continue on to asteroids and mars.
Sadly, it seems like so many want NASA either died, or 100% in control of everything (neither of which will happen).

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 4:57 PM

I do not know whether to laugh or cry when I read posts like yours. NASA has made it possible for SpaceX to be where it is. All of the R&D that SpaceX has used comes from NASA. The engines? Scaled up versions of mid 1990′s NASA engines. The tanks? From NASA/L-Mart. The majority of the money came from NASA via COTS. When F1-1 failed, it was NASA’s team that went over SpaceX’s work and told them how to fix it all.
Even now, the bething on SpaceX to ISS? NASA’s.
I am a huge fan of Private Space. But that is not because it will over take NASA. It is because NASA is supposed to be doing cutting edge work, not this mundane launch stuff. CONgress, specifically neo-cons, have been holding back NASA by gutting eveything that they do UNLESS the work is in their districts (pure corruption within the republican party).
But the idea of killing NASA is a joke. They do so much more than private space can, or will, over the next 20-30 years.

Robert Gishubl January 5, 2012 at 2:26 PM

It is great the ISS crew are looking forward to the Dragon. I agree that the STS was much more expensive than it should have been and did not achive much was promised it did achieve a lot for science and how to work in space. It is just that the comercial path should have been started sooner.
Aside from that the Dragon can do some things that STS could not in that it cab bring back potentially hazardous payloads that could not be risked with a crew on board.
The next step is re-using a Dragon and then getting the boosters re-usable to reduce the cost of spaceflight.
Go SpaceX!!!

Anonymous January 5, 2012 at 4:25 PM

I dare say the ISS would be a bit more cramped if it weren’t for the modular construction the STS cargo bays provided. I wonder what she would look like if we constructed her using the “commercial path” you and many others promote. It would be interesting to calculate the time/cost difference. Then again, we might get a good approximate when the Chinese finish theirs.
The hazardous as well as non, get dumped courtesy of the Russians. Anyone heard from JAXA and ESA lately?

Anonymous January 6, 2012 at 2:01 AM

Thinking about this again. I presumed you meant “disposable” hazardous material. Other than a bio experiment, which can certainly be contained, what material(s) would put the STS crew at risk?

Torbjörn Larsson January 5, 2012 at 8:07 PM

It is interesting that ISS notes a need to bring back cargo that the current ground support can’t meet. This seems to spin off into a “what will ISS evolve into” post.

- Another increase in robustness and decrease in operation cost should be the installation of the seemingly system effective VASIMR engines @ ~ 70 %, nearly as effective as ion engines @ ~ 80 %, that can keep the station orbit without using cargo crafts.

“If the tests of VASIMR reboosting of the ISS goes according to plan, the increase in specific impulse could mean that the cost of fuel for altitude reboosting will be one-twentieth of the current $210 million annual cost.[6]” *

“As of February 2011, its launch is anticipated to be in 2014,[15][16] though it may be later.[6]”

Better late than never? It was originally slated to 2013 at the latest, so it is not yet much delayed being a completely new technology.

- If Dragon and/or Cygnus delivers under CRS, the Canadarm2 will be an interesting critical function for ISS resupply. One can have entertain having another arm mounted (today there is, or is going to be, one stored), or keep relying on Soyuz/ATV/HTV for backup. Probably the later, I don’t know if the current construction would allow for rebuilding to fit another arm.

Anyway, it is fun to note that Canada has been and will continue to be such an important player here.

—————-
* Savings of ~ 200 MUSD/year are no space peanuts!

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