SpaceX Pushes for Mission to Space Station on Next Flight

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NASA and SpaceX have “technically” agreed to allow the Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station this fall, according to SpaceX’s Twitter feed. The Dragon capsule is currently – and tentatively — scheduled to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on November 30, and berth with the ISS 9 days later. Originally, the Dragon was scheduled to just rendezvous and station-keep with the space station on this second flight for Dragon and then dock on a subsequent flight. But after the successful test flight for the first Dragon capsule in Dec. 2010, SpaceX asked NASA to combine the two missions.


“We technically have agreed with SpaceX that we want to combine those flights,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, speaking at the post-launch press conference for the STS-135 final shuttle mission. “We are doing all the planning to go ahead and have those missions combined, but we haven’t given them formal approval yet.

With today’s Twitter post from SpaceX, it appears things are moving in the direction of making the move official.

SpaceX’s flights are part of NASA’s COTS (Commercial Orbital Transfer Service) program, and by allowing SpaceX to dock with the ISS sooner rather than later would combine COTS II and III flights.

Will Dragon be doing any official cargo transfer? A NASA experiment called Materials International Space Station Experiments (MISSE) #8 has a reservation with SpaceX to fly back to Earth on a Dragon capsule.
MISSE is a brief-case sized experiment that tests all sorts of materials like polymers and other composites and coatings, along with hardware such as switches, sensors and mirrors, exposing them to the vacuum of space. The experiment is attached to the outside of the ISS and opened to expose the materials.

To dock with the ISS, the Dragon capsule would need to be equipped with solar arrays and other equipment on board the spacecraft would need to be upgraded from the configuration Dragon had for the Dec. 2010 test flight.

Sources: SpaceX Twitter, AL.com

51 Replies to “SpaceX Pushes for Mission to Space Station on Next Flight”

  1. Great news! I hope NASA agrees to this. If they can handle the rendezvous, they might as well try docking as well – seems a waste of a spaceflight to go all the way to ISS only to go back home.

    If you’ve gone through the trouble of baking a cake, it just makes sense to ice it, too.

    1. Remember Apollo 10? The LEM detached from the CM and started a decent to the moon’s surface but…. no landing. Sometimes caution is a good thing. I hope NASA and Elon REALLY know what they are doing.

      1. True, caution’s good. But also remember that Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal because of a crashed mission schedule. It was originally going to be the first mission to enter lunar orbit, and Apollo 8 was merely going to be a test of high-altitude reentry. The first landing may not have come until 14 or 15. But NASA decided to tighten the schedule up a bit.

        This is also not uncharted territory, like a moon landing was in 1969. We’ve been docking spacecraft in orbit for well over 40 years now.

      2. Also, this is not an autonomous docking. Like the Japanese supply ship, Dragon will simply coast up close to ISS and be grappled by the manipulator arm. The arm will then connect Dragon to ISS for unloading.

      3. Yep, putting a dent in the space station is not, definately NOT a good idea. But when you are an egomaniac like Musk, the aspect of damaging the spacestation from an attitude of jumping the gun is simply not worth considering., Perhaps the astonauts onboard will forgive the SpaceX cowboys if they puncture the docking port or perhaps the more critical components of the station. I sure wouldn’t. What the hell ever happened to the idea of safety concerns trumping the rush to glory for a private company?
        I do hope that IF the powers that be are dumb enough to allow the jumping of processes and procedures, that the craft is successful and does not damage the billions of dollars invested.
        But perhaps the lawsuits from Europe, Russia, and Japan for damaging the station just maybe bring some miniscule amount of humility to this arrogant dipstick.

      4. Of course the Russians once managed to do that to themselves, in spite of their experience…

      5. The russians have bumped all the stations they used, I think, or at least the Mir and ISS.

      6. The russians have bumped all the stations they used, I think, or at least the Mir and ISS.

      7. Of course the Russians once managed to do that to themselves, in spite of their experience…

    2. Berthing, not docking–if I recall correctly the Dragon cannot dock but has to be grappled using a robot arm instead.

  2. Excellente, I feel it would be way better for a American outfit to carry and bring home our astronauts. Way cheaper than 62 million a seat on Soyuz. This stuff gives me goosebumps and cudo’s to Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX. Can’t wait for the Heavies and Super Heavies. Bigelo Aerospace,,,,Lets get the ball rolling here we will need a orbiter at Mars.

  3. As Roscosmos approve this? They were very much against it!! They didn’t want SpaceX to jump steps just because their first flight was pretty good.

      1. The russians reconsidered the risks of the historical ISS photoop too (capturing ISS and a mated Shuttle from afar), as I understand it.

    1. If I understand the US culture, the answer would be along the lines of “you are welcome to undock your pieces of ISS if you think it is too risky”!?

      At least, that is what a movie cowboy would say. 😛

      1. The shoe’s been on the other foot before. When NASA stonewalled Russian intentions to bring the first space tourist (Dennis Tito) to ISS, they made it clear that they’d limit his movements to their module if necessary, but they *were* bringing him up.

        In the end, quiet visit, no problem.Dennis had the experience he paid for, the US crew were pleased to meet him…and space tourism began to lose its “giggle factor.’

      2. The shoe’s been on the other foot before. When NASA stonewalled Russian intentions to bring the first space tourist (Dennis Tito) to ISS, they made it clear that they’d limit his movements to their module if necessary, but they *were* bringing him up.

        In the end, quiet visit, no problem.Dennis had the experience he paid for, the US crew were pleased to meet him…and space tourism began to lose its “giggle factor.’

  4. 9 days from launch until rendezvous. Is that a normal timeframe or is there something about the test that would make it take longer? Seems like a long time..

    1. The will do several test-and-learn approach maneuvers I think, like all the docking crafts (except perhaps the manned ones) did the first time.

  5. 9 days from launch until rendezvous. Is that a normal timeframe or is there something about the test that would make it take longer? Seems like a long time..

  6. I find it to be amazing how differently a private company works vs. a government agency. SpaceX is in this to save money to maximize their bottom line. Combining the last 2 COTS flights together saves them money and eventually the government money. NASA on the other hand would of never combined the 2 flights together the employees get paid by spending tax payer money. If they could figure out how to create another test flight, why because they get MORE funding. If they fall behind schedule they get yelled at by Congress but they get more funding.

    Now if a private company screws up they don’t get any money. If a private company falls behind schedule they don’t get paid. If NASA does something to save money it works against them because their budget will get cut. If a private company does something to save money they are more profitable.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is a better way of conducting space business for this country.

    1. “NASA on the other hand would of never combined the 2 flights together the employees get paid by spending tax payer money.”

      NASA just gave the go-ahead to combine the flights…

      1. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      2. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      3. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      4. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      5. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      6. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      7. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

      8. Moreover, the ATV and the HTV (IIRC) were both allowed to do this “test-train-and-dock/berth” on their first flights. It would be unprecedented if NASA or other ISS parties wouldn’t allow it.

        Especially since the purpose of allowing commercial flight is to use these cost lowering, time saving, project strategies.

    2. But in the event there is a need: They have “Rocket Scientists” available to figure this out for them.

    3. In what world does anything NASA does lead to more funding? NASA has seen its funding cut over and over again. The entire premise of what your trying to say here is utter nonsense.

  7. “Will Dragon be doing any official cargo transfer?”

    Good question!

    SpaceX lists the “3d” mission as “Full cargo mission profile including mate to ISS”. That is probably “full mission profile” rather than “full cargo” though. One can only wish.

    I read that there is no real pressure on that part, the last STS mission stocked the ISS until next year and there are other crafts. Though I assume SpaceX would like to shoot for the stars.

    Btw for space/SpaceX fans, following the tweet link to the original source provides with largish slide shows, especially on the Falcon 9.

  8. “Will Dragon be doing any official cargo transfer?”

    Good question!

    SpaceX lists the “3d” mission as “Full cargo mission profile including mate to ISS”. That is probably “full mission profile” rather than “full cargo” though. One can only wish.

    I read that there is no real pressure on that part, the last STS mission stocked the ISS until next year and there are other crafts. Though I assume SpaceX would like to shoot for the stars.

    Btw for space/SpaceX fans, following the tweet link to the original source provides with largish slide shows, especially on the Falcon 9.

  9. We have an update! From The Planetary Society blog:

    “Previously, the SpaceX timeline called for a Dragon capsule to approach the station but not actually dock before a mission with an actual docking was attempted. The new plan will also include the transfer of some cargo from the Dragon to the station. Atlantis’ delivery of supplies from the Raffaello logistics module two weeks ago stocked the ISS with a year of supplies, but NASA is eager to get the commercial spaceflight program into service as quickly as possible.”

    Yay!

    Btw, possible return items is of course waste and possibly a longterm space environment degradation experiment that IIRC was listed for future Dragon return. Since that experiment is not time sensitive it should be all right to take with.

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