SpaceX announced today that a combined team of NASA and SpaceX personal had activated communications hardware aboard the International Space Station that will be crucial for enabling the docking of the Dragon unmanned cargo resupply vehicle being developed by SpaceX.
Start up of the new Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communication Unit will allow ISS crewmembers to monitor and command approaching or departing Dragon spacecraft during cargo delivery missions to the massive 800,000 pound orbiting laboratory.
The communications hardware was delivered to the ISS aboard the STS 129 mission which blasted off in November 2009. The on-orbit checkout began in January 2010, when astronaut Jeff Williams, ISS Expedition 22 Commander, worked with ground-based team members at SpaceX headquarters and ISS mission control in Houston to power-up and check out the new system.
An additional series of tests was performed in March by SpaceX and NASA Houston using the new system to send communications between the ISS and the NASA Dryden ground station. This provided a baseline of the radio frequency performance and confirmed the first set of antennas performed as expected and is ready for mission operations.
The tests employed live video and telemetry links from the ISS to verify the hardware’s functionality, broadcast and reception signal strengths, and the system’s stability over long-duration operations.
SpaceX won a $1.6 Billion commercial contract from NASA under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program to conduct a minimum of 12 cargo flights aimed at delivering at least 20,000 kg of cargo to the ISS using the Dragon spacecraft. The first commercial resupply flights are set to start in 2011 after a series of three test flights start around May 2010.
Dragon is slated to launch atop the SpaceX developed Falcon 9 rocket. Read my earlier story about the successful rocket engine test firing for the inaugural Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA is counting on the Dragon spacecraft to fill the giant cargo resupply void that will be created once the Space Shuttle program is retired later this year. Without a constant and reliable resupply train of food, spare parts and science equipment the ISS cannot fulfill its role as a world class science research facility. The massive orbiting outpost is nearing completion of its assembly phase and is rapidly transitioning to the science research phase for which it was constructed.
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