It is looking less likely that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will be allowed to dock the next of its Dragon Spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). Instead it is now looking like the Dragon will be allowed to only come close the orbiting outpost to test out many of the spacecraft’s key systems.
This comes from a statement issued by Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control center on Friday and posted on the Russian news site RIA Novosti. Up until now SpaceX has stated that they would launch the next Dragon Spacecraft atop one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets on Nov. 30. It is unknown now whether-or-not the proposed docking will be allowed to take place.
In a company-prepared statement, SpaceX stated that the company had been working to fulfill all of the necessary requirements to allow SpaceX to become the first private firm to dock its spacecraft with the ISS. Russia, however, has repeatedly stated that it will not allow this. The rationale behind this stance is based on safety. According to Russia, a vehicle, which has only flown once, does not have the established, proven track record required for such operations.
Moreover both NASA and SpaceX stated that while a final determination has yet to be made – the private space firm has not been denied the opportunity to dock with the International Space Station. Thus leaving the flight’s status in a sort of limbo. This situation also highlights that the assorted international members involved on ISS – don’t always agree.
Many industry experts noted the irony of these statements given that the last Soyuz rocket failed, causing the destruction of the Progress spacecraft as well as the three tons of supplies that the spacecraft carried.
NewSpace firms themselves have acknowledged anomalies in their programs – including SpaceX. Blue Origin recently lost one of its test vehicles. Apparently the rocket went off of its predicted flight path and range safety was forced to destroy the vehicle.
Under the initial Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement SpaceX was supposed to launch the Demo 2 mission, which would have completed COTS Milestone 19 (the mission scheduled for this November) two years ago. Similarly, milestones 20-22 were scheduled to be accomplished by the first quarter of 2010.
COTS is a NASA-funded program, designed to coordinate delivery of both astronauts as well as cargo to the ISS by privately-owned companies. COTS – was announced in January of 2006, under the Bush Administration. As it stands currently, SpaceX is the frontrunner under this contract which also includes Orbital Sciences Corporation.