SpaceX Dragon Launch Slides to May 19

[/caption]SpaceX has announced that the upcoming launch of the firms Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft on the commercial COTS 2 mission has been postponed to a new target date of no earlier than May 19 with a backup launch date of May 22.

On May 19, the Falcon 9 rocket would lift off on its first night time launch at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Two launch opportunities had been available this week on May 7 and May 10, following the most recent slip from April 30.

SpaceX managers made the decision – in consultation with NASA – to delay the COTS 2 launch in order to complete further highly critical testing and verifications of all the flight software requirements for the Dragon spacecraft to safely and successfully carry its mission of rendezvousing and docking with the International Space Station (ISS).

“SpaceX and NASA are nearing completion of the software assurance process, and SpaceX is submitting a request to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a May 19th launch target with a backup on May 22nd,” said SpaceX spokesperson Kirstin Grantham.

“Thus far, no issues have been uncovered during this process, but with a mission of this complexity we want to be extremely diligent.”

May 10 was the last window of opportunity this week because of the pending May 14 blast off of a new Russian Soyuz TMA-04M capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with three fresh crew members bound for the ISS which will restore the outpost to a full crew complement of 6 human residents.

The Falcon 9 and Dragon can only be launched about every three days.

The purpose of Dragon is to carry supplies up to and back from the ISS. Dragon is a commercial spacecraft developed by SpaceX and designed to replace some of the cargo resupply functions previously conducted by NASA’s fleet of prematurely retired Space Shuttle orbiters. At this moment the US has zero capability to launch cargo or crews to the ISS.

SpaceX Dragon approaches the ISS on 1st test flight and Station Docking in 2012. Astronauts will grapple it with the robotic arm and berth it at the Earth facing port of the Harmony node. Illustration: NASA /SpaceX

In response to the SpaceX announcement, NASA issued the following statement from from William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington:

“After additional reviews and discussions between the SpaceX and NASA teams, we are in a position to proceed toward this important launch. The teamwork provided by these teams is phenomenal. There are a few remaining open items, but we are ready to support SpaceX for its new launch date of May 19.”

SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve resupply missions to the ISS to carry cargo back and forth for a cost of some $1.6 Billion.

Dragon is loaded with nearly 1200 pounds of non-critical cargo such as food and clothing on this flight.

The COTS 2 mission has been repeatedly delayed since the originally planned target of mid-2011 when SpaceX requested that the COTS 2 and 3 flights be combined into one mission to save time. The first Dragon docking to the ISS was initially planned for the COTS 3 mission.

This SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket inside the processing hanger at Pad 40 is due for liftoff on May 19, 2012 to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Ken Kremer

12 Replies to “SpaceX Dragon Launch Slides to May 19”

  1. Good luck with this SpaceX – hopefully the delays will soon be a distant memory as Dragon hopefully makes a flawless trip to the ISS.

  2. Ken: If you think the Columbia class shuttles were retired prematurely, then you don’t understand all of the issues involved in keeping them running.

    Here is just one (albeit the most important one): certain critical parts of the shuttles were manufactured by companies that no longer exist. The plans for those parts exist, but the expertise to manufacture them has been lost for a long time. Many of these parts were significantly past their designed lifetimes, and were operating on borrowed time. In a few cases the failure of a single one of these parts would have led to the instantaneous loss of an orbiter (usually during the first few seconds of launch).

    Could we have re-acquired the expertise necessary to manufacture more of those various components? Absolutely! But the time and expense required to do so would have been approximately the same as designing, qualifying, and building a whole fleet of new, non-Columbia class shuttles, designed and built with more modern techniques.

    One of many examples: according to flight engineers, for the last decade or so of the shuttle program every time the shuttle’s built in hydrogen tanks were filled everyone held their breath. They were ready to fail at any time, and it is a minor miracle that no orbiter was lost to such a failure. As I tell my boss at work: eventually it is cheaper to replace old equipment than it is to spend umpteen dollars to keep it limping along.

    (As a side note, my boss didn’t listen until recently, when he began replacing stuff right left and centre. Despite the upfront costs he’s already saved money overall due to the fact that he isn’t spending 3000 dollars a month on repair bills:P.)

      1. No, I’m not wrong. Your arguments are filled with nostalgia for an inherently unsafe and expensive machine, not on sound reasoning.

        It’s always sad to run into someone who claims to be a scientist but is incapable of seeing their own overwhelming bias:(.

      2. No, I’m not wrong. Your arguments are filled with nostalgia for an inherently unsafe and expensive machine, not on sound reasoning.

        It’s always sad to run into someone who claims to be a scientist but is incapable of seeing their own overwhelming bias:(.

  3. It occurs to me that by “prematurely” you may have meant “before a replacement was up and running”. If so, then I’d point out that still doesn’t mean that the shuttles were retired prematurely (they were retired *late*, not early), it means that NASA’s budget to create a replacement for the shuttles was unfortunately cut on several occasions. In some cases one of the houses of congress directly cancelled the replacement programs by zeroing their funding.

    That isn’t NASA’s fault, that’s congresses’.

  4. – If the commercialization had started with the manned capsules they would have been up already, with some nominal cargo capacity up and down.

    – If the cargo crafts had been allowed to dock the smaller ports instead of berthing to get to the cargo ports they would have been up already, with some lesser handling capacity up.

    It is all the automation of the cargo crafts, and especially the berthing maneuver, that is most complicated. And of course they had to start with that, probably for political reasons, of spillover of the shuttle retirement and positioning of NASA’s crafts as alternative manned backup at the time the commercial crew finishes. Sigh!

    The Falcon 9 and Dragon can only be launched about every three days.

    Just to be clear, it is this Dragon COTS 2+ that has the minimal window, in order to maximize fuel capacity for the testing.

    The released cargo versions can lower the fuel buffer.

    And I read the unofficial claim that there are only two more Falcon 9 in the pipeline before the extended launch version with the more powerful Merlin 1D engine takes over.

    Hopefully the commercial cargo versions can be launched every day.

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