Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is preparing its next Dragon spacecraft for a trip to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has worked over the last several months to make sure that the spacecraft is set for the Nov. 30 launch date that has been given to the commercial space company. If all goes according to plan, a little more than a week after launch – the Dragon will dock with the ISS.
NASA has technically agreed to allow SpaceX to combine all of the tests and demonstration activities that were originally slated to take place on two separate flights (COTS demo missions 2 and 3). SpaceX is working to further maximize the cost-effectiveness of this mission by including additional payloads in the Falcon 9’s second stage. These will be deployed after the Dragon separates from the rocket.
“SpaceX has been making steady progress towards our next launch,” said SpaceX’s Communications Director Kirstin Brost-Grantham. “There are a number of challenges associated with berthing with the International Space Station, but challenges are the norm here. With each mission we are making history.”
NASA is waiting to provide final approval of the mission’s combined objectives once any and all potential risks that are associated with the secondary payloads have been worked out.
There is a lot riding on the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract. If crew members on the orbiting laboratory can access the Dragon’s contents and the spacecraft conducts all of its requirements properly – it will go a long way to proving the viability of NASA’s new path toward using commercial spacecraft and it could usher in a new era of how space flight is conducted.
It is hoped that private-public partnerships could lower the cost related to access-to-orbit and in so doing also help to increase the reliability, safety and frequency of space flight.
SpaceX has been working from milestone to milestone in getting the next mission ready to launch. Just this week the company conducted what is known as a wet dress rehearsal or WDR of the Falcon 9 rocket out at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40). The Falcon 9 was loaded with propellant and went through all of the operations that lead up to launch – right down to T-1 second. At that point, the launch team stands down and the Falcon 9 is detanked.
SpaceX last launched from SLC 40 last December, during the intervening months the company has worked to upgrade the launch pad. New liquid oxygen or LOX tanks have been installed. These new tanks should streamline loading time from 90 minutes – to under 30 minutes. It is hoped that these efforts will allow the Falcon 9 to move from the hangar to liftoff – in under an hour.
SpaceX has launched the Falcon 9 twice and the Dragon spacecraft once – each completed the primary objectives successfully and helped to establish SpaceX as a leader in the NewSpace movement. SpaceX has inked many lucrative contracts, both domestic and foreign as a result. Besides the COTS contract, SpaceX is also one of the companies that has a contract under the Commercial Crew Development contract (phase-02) or CCDev-02.