Here’s How You Can Watch the SpaceX’s CRS-6 Mission From Your Backyard

Hunting for satellites from your backyard can be positively addicting. Sure, the Orion Nebula or the Andromeda Galaxy appear grand… and they’ll also look exactly the same throughout the short span of our fleeting human lifetimes. Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, humans also have added their own ephemeral ‘stars’ to the sky. It’s fun to sleuth out just what these might be, as they photobomb the sky overhead.  In the coming week, we’d like to turn your attention towards a unique opportunity to watch a high profile space launch approach a well-known orbiting space laboratory.

On Monday, April 13th 2015, SpaceX will launch its CRS-6 resupply mission headed towards the International Space Station. As of this writing, the launch is set for 20:33 Universal Time (UT) or 4:33 PM EDT. This is just over three hours prior to local sunset. The launch window to catch the ISS is instantaneous, and Tuesday April 14th at 4:10 PM EDT is the backup date if the launch does not occur on Monday.

Image credit: Andrew
Dragon chasing the ISS over Ottawa. Image credit and copyright: Andrew Symes

Of course, launches are fun to watch up-close from the Kennedy Space Center. To date, we’ve seen two shuttle launches, one Falcon launch, and the MAVEN and MSL liftoffs headed to Mars from up close, and dozens more from our backyard about 100 miles to the west of KSC. We can typically follow a given night launch right through to fairing and stage one separation with binoculars, and we once even had a serendipitous launch occur during a local school star party! We really get jaded along the Florida Space Coast, where space launches are as common as three day weekend traffic jams elsewhere.

And it’s true that you can actually tell when a launch is headed ISS-ward, as it follows the station up the US eastern seaboard along its steep 52 degree inclination orbit.

On Monday, Dragon launches 23 minutes behind the ISS in its orbit. Viewers up should be able to follow CRS-6 up the U.S. East Coast in the late afternoon sky if it’s clear.

Image credit: Orbitron
The position of the ISS during Monday’s liftoff, plus the trace for the next two orbits, and the position of the day/night terminator at the end of the second orbit. Image credit: Orbitron

And of course, SpaceX will make another attempt Monday at landing its Falcon Stage 1 engine on a floating sea platform, known as the ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship’ (don’t call it a barge) after liftoff.

About 15-20 minutes after liftoff, Europe and the United Kingdom may catch the Dragon and Falcon S2 booster shortly after the ISS pass on the evening of April 13th. Observers ‘across the pond’ used to frequently catch sight of the Space Shuttle and the external fuel tank shortly after launch; such a sight is not to be missed!

Spotting Dragon ‘and friends’ on early orbits may provide for a fascinating show in the evenings leading up to capture and berthing. Typically, a Dragon launch generates four objects in orbit: the Dragon spacecraft, the Falcon Stage 2 booster, and the two solar panel covers. These were very prominent to us as they passed over Northern Maine on first orbit in the pre-dawn sky on the morning of January 10th, 2015. Universe Today science writer Bob King also noted that observers spotted what was probably a venting maneuver over Minnesota on the 2nd pass on the same date.

Image credit: the launch of CRS-2.
The launch of CRS-2. Image credit: David Dickinson

And even after berthing, the Falcon S2 booster and solar panel covers will stay up in orbit, either following or leading the ISS for several weeks before destructive reentry.

Orbits on Monday and Tuesday leading up to capture for Dragon on Wednesday April 15th at 7:14 AM EDT/11:14 UT will be the key times to sight the pair. Capture by the CanadaArm2 will take place over the central Pacific, and the Dragon will be berthed to the nadir Harmony node of the ISS. Dragon will remain attached to the station until May 17th for a subsequent return to Earth. With the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011, SpaceX’s Dragon is currently the only vessel with a ‘down-mass’ cargo capability, handy for returning experiments to Earth.

The first few orbits on the night of the 13th for North America include a key pass for the US northeast at 1:04UT (on the 14th)/9:04 PM EDT, and subsequent passes at dusk westward about 90 minutes later. NASA’s Spot the Station App usually lists Dragon passes shortly after launch, as does Heavens-Above and numerous other tracking applications. We’ll also be publishing sighting opportunities for Dragon and the ISS, along with maps on Twitter as @Astroguyz as the info becomes available.

Pre-berthing passes next week favor 40-50 degrees north for evening passes, and 40-50 degrees south for morning viewing.

Image credit: Marco
Dragon/CRS-3 passes over the Netherlands. Image credit: Marco Langbroek

The International Space Station has become a busy place since its completion in 2009. To date, the station has been a port of call for the U.S. Space Shuttles, the Soyuz spacecraft with crews, and Progress, HTV, ATV and Dragon resupply craft.

The current expedition features astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko conducting a nearly yearlong stay on the ISS to study the effects that long duration spaceflight has on the human body. Kelley will also break the U.S. duration record by 126 days during his 342 stay aboard the station. The future may see Dragon ferrying crews to the ISS as early as 2017.

Image credit:
Our ad-hoc satellite imaging rig. Image credit: David Dickinson

And you can always watch the launch live via NASA TV starting at 3:30 PM EDT/19:30 UT.

Don’t miss a chance to catch the drama of the Dragon spacecraft approaching the International Space Station, coming to a sky near you!

Cygnus Commercial Cargo Craft Completes Historic First Flight to Space Station

Commercial space took another major leap forward this morning, Oct 22., when the privately developed Cygnus cargo vehicle undocked from the International Space Station on its historic maiden flight and successfully completed a highly productive month long stay during its demonstration mission – mostly amidst the US government shutdown.

The Cygnus was maneuvered about 10 meters (30 feet) away from the station and held in the steady grip of the stations fully extended robotic arm when astronauts Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano unlatched the arm and released the ship into free space at 7:31 a.m. EDT today – signifying an end to joint flight operations.

The next Cygnus resupply vessel is due to blast off in mid-December and is already loaded with new science experiments for microgravity research and assorted gear and provisions.

After the Expedition 37 crew members quickly pulled the arm back to a distance 1.5 meters away from Cygnus, ground controllers issued a planned “abort” command to fire the ships thrusters and safely depart from the massive orbiting lab complex.

Space Station robotic arm releases Cygnus after detachment from the ISS Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV
Space Station robotic arm releases Cygnus after detachment from the ISS Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV

“It’s been a great mission. Nice work today!” radioed Houston Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The vehicles were flying over the Atlantic Ocean and off the east coast of Argentina as Cygnus left the station some 250 miles (400 km) overhead in low Earth orbit.

The event was carried live on NASA TV and Cygnus was seen moving rapidly away.

Barely five minutes later Cygnus was already 200 meters away, appeared very small in the cameras view and exited the imaginary “Keep Out Sphere” – a strictly designated safety zone around the million pound station.

Cygnus commercial cargo craft rapidly departed the ISS this morning (Oct. 22) after release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Station modules visible at bottom. Credit: NASA TV
Cygnus commercial cargo craft rapidly departed the ISS this morning (Oct. 22) after release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Station modules visible at bottom. Credit: NASA TV

The Cygnus resupply ship delivered about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the six person Expedition 37 crew.

After the crew unloaded all that cargo, they packed the ship with 2,850 pounds of no longer needed trash.

On Wednesday (Oct. 23), a pair of deorbit burns with target Cygnus for a destructive reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere at 2:18 p.m. EDT, to plummet harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.

Cygnus was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership between NASA and Orbital Sciences under NASA’s COTS commercial transportation initiative.

SpaceX Corp. was also awarded a COTS contract to develop the Dragon cargo carrier so that NASA would have a dual capability to stock up the station.

COTS was aimed at fostering the development of America’s commercial space industry to deliver critical and essential supplies to the ISS following the retirement of the Space Shuttle program.

“Congratulations to the teams at Orbital Sciences and NASA who worked hard to make this demonstration mission to the International Space Station an overwhelming success,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

“We are delighted to now have two American companies able to resupply the station. U.S. innovation and inspiration have once again shown their great strength in the design and operation of a new generation of vehicles to carry cargo to our laboratory in space. Orbital’s success today is helping make NASA’s future exploration to farther destinations possible.”

America completely lost its capability to send humans and cargo to the ISS when NASA’s space shuttles were forcibly retired in 2011. Orbital Sciences and SpaceX were awarded NASA contracts worth over $3 Billion to restore the unmanned cargo resupply capability over 20 flights totally.

Cygnus was launched to orbit on its inaugural flight on Sept. 18 atop Orbital’s commercial Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern shore of Virginia.

The initially planned Sept. 22 berthing of the spacecraft at a port on the Earth facing Harmony node was delayed a week to Sept. 29 due to an easily fixed communications glitch. It was no worse for the wear and performed admirably.

“Antares next flight is scheduled for mid December,” according to Frank Culbertson, former astronaut and now Orbital’s executive Vice President responsible for the Antares and Cygnus programs.

Ken Kremer

After launching to orbit atop the Antares rocket on Sept. 18, the first ever Cygnus cargo spacecraft is chasing the ISS and set to dock on Sept 22. Until then you may be able to track it in the night skies. Here is full scale, high fidelity mockup of Cygnus to give a feel for its size being similar to a small room. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
After launching to orbit atop the Antares rocket on Sept. 18, the first ever Cygnus cargo spacecraft chased the ISS and docked on Sept 29. Here is full scale, high fidelity mockup of Cygnus to give a feel for its size being similar to a small room. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Gets Wings and Tail, Starts Ground Testing

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully rolls through two tow tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California in preparation for future flight testing later this year.
Watch way cool Dream Chaser assembly video below![/caption]

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s winged Dream Chaser engineering test article is moving forward with a series of ground tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California that will soon lead to dramatic aerial flight tests throughout 2013.

Pathfinding tow tests on Dryden’s concrete runway aim to validate the performance of the vehicles’ nose skid, brakes, tires and other systems to prove that it can safely land an astronaut crew after surviving the searing re-entry from Earth orbit.

The Dream Chaser is one of the three types of private sector ‘space taxis’ being developed with NASA seed money to restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – a capability which was totally lost following the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

For the initial ground tests, the engineering test article was pulled by a tow truck at 10 and 20 MPH. Later this month tow speeds will be ramped up to 40 to 60 MPH.

Final assembly of the Dream Chaser test vehicle was completed at Dryden with installation of the wings and tail, following shipment from SNC’s Space Systems headquarters in Louisville, Colo.

Watch this exciting minute-long, time-lapse video showing attachment of the wings and tail:

In the next phase later this year, Sierra Nevada will conduct airborne captive carry tests using an Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

Atmospheric drop tests of the engineering test article in an autonomous free flight mode for Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) will follow to check the aerodynamic handling.

The engineering test article is a full sized vehicle.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the Space Shuttle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight. It is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” said Marc Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman, to Universe Today.

“The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight,” Sirangelo told me.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/102020/sierra-nevada-dream-chaser-gets-wings-and-tail-starts-ground-testing/#ixzz2Yw1peNRJ
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida

Sierra Nevada Corp, along with Boeing and SpaceX are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds.

Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly US and partner astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” says Sirangelo. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014.

Phase 2 contract awards will eventually lead to actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies.

Everything depends on NASA’s approved budget, which seems headed for steep cuts in excess of a billion dollars if the Republican dominated US House has its way.

Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket
Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

The Commercial Crew program’s goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems to space.

“Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington, in a statement.

“NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they’re actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery.”

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

The first orbital flight test of the Dream Chaser is not expected before 2016 and could be further delayed if NASA’s commercial crew budget is again slashed by the Congress – as was done the past few years.

In the meantime, US astronauts are totally dependent on Russia’s Soyuz capsule for rides to the ISS. NASA must pay Russia upwards of $70 million per seat until the space taxis are ready for liftoff – perhaps in 2017.

“We have got to get Commercial Crew funded, or we’re going to be paying the Russians forever,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Dryden. “Without Commercial Crew, we probably won’t have exploration.”

Concurrently, NASA is developing the Orion Crew capsule for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and beyond to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System -details here.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP).  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP). Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Feel the Power of a Mighty Falcon 9 Blast Off Creaming Cameras

Video: Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 on CRS-2 mission on March 1, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Mike Barrett/Wired4Space.com

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be standing at the base of a launch pad when a powerful rocket ignites for the heavens?

It’s a question I get from many kids and adults.

So check out the fabulous video from my friends Mike Barrett and Jeff Seibert- and feel the power of the mighty SpaceX Falcon 9 which just rocketed to space on March 1 from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Mike and Jeff set up a series of video recorders distributed around the Falcon 9 Launch Pad – for a ‘You Are There’ experience.

Well although you’d enjoy the awesome view for a split second, the deafening sound and fury would certainly drive you mad, and then leave you dead or vegetabilized and wishing you were dead.

The cameras get creamed in seconds with mud, soot and ash.

How is this view possible?

Those of us media folks lucky enough to cover rocket launches, usually get to visit around the pad the night before to view the behemoths up close – after they are rolled out and unveiled for liftoff.

We also have the opportunity to set up what’s called “remote cameras” spaced around the pad that take exquisite images and videos from just dozens of yards (meters) away – instead of from ‘safe’ distance a few miles (km) away.

The cameras can be triggered by sound or timers to capture up close sounds and sights we humans can’t survive.

After a shaky start, the SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply capsule launched atop the Falcon 9 safely docked at the International Space Station on Sunday, March 3.

The SpaceX CRS-3 flight is slated to blast off sometime during Fall 2013

Maybe we’ll see you there !

Ken Kremer

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 rocket sits horizontal at pad before launch on March 1, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 rocket sits horizontal at pad before launch on March 1, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Dave Dickinson & Ken Kremer; reporting live for Universe Today from Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Florida, on the SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-2 mission - posing with Falcon 9 rocket in horizontal position at pad prior to March 1, 2013 liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Dave Dickinson & Ken Kremer; reporting live for Universe Today from Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Florida, on the SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-2 mission – posing with Falcon 9 rocket in horizontal position at pad prior to March 1, 2013 liftoff. Rocket exhaust blasts out of the concrete Flame Trench at right. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

NASA: Reaches for New Heights – Greatest Hits Video

Video Caption: At NASA, we’ve been a little busy: landing on Mars, developing new human spacecraft, going to the space station, working with commercial partners, observing the Earth and the Sun, exploring our solar system and understanding our universe. And that’s not even everything.Credit: NASA

Check out this cool action packed video titled “NASA: Reaching for New Heights” – to see NASA’s ‘Greatest Hits’ from the past year

The 4 minute film is a compilation of NASA’s gamut of Robotic Science and Human Spaceflight achievements to explore and understand Planet Earth here at home and the heavens above- ranging from our Solar System and beyond to the Galaxy and the vast expanse of the Universe.

Image caption: Planets and Moons in perspective. Credit: NASA

The missions and programs featured include inspiringly beautiful imagery from : Curiosity, Landsat, Aquarius, GRACE, NuSTAR, GRAIL, Dawn at Asteroid Vesta, SDO, X-48C Amelia, Orion, SLS, Apollo, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, Boeing CST-100, Commercial Crew, Hurricane Sandy from the ISS, Robonaut and more !

And even more space exploration thrills are coming in 2013 !

Ken Kremer

IMG_3760a_SpaceX launch 22 May 2012

Image caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off on May 22, 2012 with Dragon cargo capsule from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the first commercial mission to the International Space Station. The next launch is set for March 1, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer

Private Test Pilots to Fly 1st Commercial Crewed Space Flights for NASA

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Image Caption: Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

Commercial test pilots, not NASA astronauts, will fly the first crewed missions that NASA hopes will at last restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – perhaps as early as 2015 – which was totally lost following the forced shuttle shutdown.

At a news briefing this week, NASA managers at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) said the agency is implementing a new way of doing business in human spaceflight and purposely wants private companies to assume the flight risk first with their crews before exposing NASA crews as a revolutionary new flight requirement. Both NASA and the companies strongly emphasized that there will be no shortcuts to flying safe.

A trio of American aerospace firms – Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp – are leading the charge to develop and launch the new commercially built human-rated spacecraft that will launch Americans to LEO atop American rockets from American bases.

The goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems for low-Earth orbit (LEO) and International Space Station (ISS) missions around the middle of this decade.

The test launch schedule hinges completely on scarce Federal dollars from NASA for which there is no guarantee in the current tough fiscal environment.

The three companies are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds. Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the so-called private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly astronauts to and from the ISS.

MTF10-0014-01

Caption: Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014 said Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. Phase 2 contract awards will follow and eventually lead to the actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies, depending on NASA’s approved budget.

Since the premature retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011, US astronauts have been 100% reliant on the Russians to hitch a ride to the ISS – at a price tag of over $60 Million per seat. This is taking place while American aerospace workers sit on the unemployment line and American expertise and billions of dollars of hi-tech space hardware rots away or sits idly by with each passing day.

Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp seek to go where no private company has gone before – to low Earth orbit with their private sector manned spacecraft. And representatives from all three told reporters they are all eager to move forward.

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

“For well over a year now, since Atlantis [flew the last space shuttle mission], the United States of America no longer has the capability to launch people into space. And that’s something that we are not happy about,” said Garrett Reisman, a former space shuttle astronaut who is now the SpaceX Commercial Crew project manager leading their development effort. “We’re very proud to be part of the group that’s going to do something about that and get Americans back into space.”

IMG_3754a_SpaceX launch May 22 2012_Ken Kremer

Caption: Blastoff of SpaceX Cargo Dragon atop Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May, 22, 2012, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” said Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Sierra Nevada is developing the winged Dream Chaser, a mini-shuttle that launches atop an Atlas V rocket and lands on a runway like the shuttle. Boeing and SpaceX are building capsules that will launch atop Atlas V and Falcon 9 rockets, respectively, and then land by parachute like the Russian Soyuz capsule.

SpaceX appears to be leading the pack using a man-rated version of their Dragon capsule which has already docked twice to the ISS on critical cargo delivery missions during 2012. From the start, the SpaceX Dragon was built to meet the specification ratings requirements for a human crew.

DragonApproachesStation_640

Caption: Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on May 25, 2012 for grapple and berthing . Photo: NASA

Reisman said the first manned Dragon test flight with SpaceX test pilots could be launched in mid 2015. A flight to the ISS could take place by late 2015. Leading up to that in April 2014, SpaceX is planning to carry out an unmanned in-flight abort test to simulate and test a worst case scenario “at the worst possible moment.”

Boeing is aiming for an initial three day orbital test flight of their CST-100 capsule during 2016, said John Mulholland, the Boeing Commercial Programs Space Exploration vice president and program manager. Mulholland added that Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final shuttle flight by Atlantis, is leading the flight test effort.

Boeing has leased one of NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facility hangers (OPF-3) at KSC. Mulholland told me that Boeing will ‘cut metal’ soon. “Our first piece of flight design hardware will be delivered to KSC and OPF-3 within 5 months.”

IMG_9198a_Boeing CST_Ken Kremer

Caption: Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer

Sierra Nevada plans to start atmospheric drop tests of an engineering test article of the Dream Chaser from a carrier aircraft in the next few months in an autonomous mode. The test article is a full sized vehicle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight; it is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” Sirangelo told me. “The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight.”

Now to the issue of using commercial space test pilots in place of NASA astronauts on the initial test flights.

At the briefing, Reisman stated, “We were told that because this would be part of the development and prior to final certification that we were not allowed, legally, to use NASA astronauts to be part of that test pilot crew.”

So I asked NASA’s Ed Mango, “Why are NASA astronauts not allowed on the initial commercial test flights?”

Mango replied that NASA wants to implement the model adopted by the military wherein the commercial company assumes the initial risk before handing the airplanes to the government.

“We would like them to get to a point where they’re ready to put their crew on their vehicle at their risk,” said Mango. “And so it changes the dynamic a little bit. Normally under a contract, the contractor comes forward and says he’s ready to go fly but it’s a NASA individual that’s going to sit on the rocket, so it becomes a NASA risk.

“What we did is we flipped it around under iCAP. It’s not what we’re going to do long term under phase two, but we flipped it around under iCAP and said we want to know when you’re ready to fly your crew and put your people at risk. And that then becomes something that we’re able to evaluate.”

“In the end all our partners want to fly safe. They’re not going to take any shortcuts on flying safe,” he elaborated. “All of us have the same initiative and it doesn’t matter who’s sitting on top of the vehicle. It’s a person, and that person needs to fly safely and get back home to their families. That’s the mission of all our folks and our partners – to go back home and see their family.”

Given the nations fiscal difficulties and lack of bipartisan cooperation there is no guarantee that NASA will receive the budget it needs to keep the commercial crew program on track.

Indeed, the Obama Administrations budget request for commercial crew has been repeatedly slashed by the US Congress to only half the request in the past two years. These huge funding cuts have already forced a multi-year delay in the inaugural test flights and increased the time span that the US has no choice but to pay Russia to launch US astronauts to the ISS.

“The budget is going to be an extremely challenging topic, not only for this program but for all NASA programs,” said Phil McAlister, NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development director.

NASA is pursuing a dual track approach in reviving NASA’s human spaceflight program. The much larger Orion crew capsule is simultaneously being developed to launch atop the new SLS super rocket and carry astronauts back to the Moon by 2021 and then farther into deep space to Asteroids and one day hopefully Mars.

Ken Kremer

Dream_Chaser_Atlas_V_Integrated_Launch_Configuration[1]

Caption: Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

Awesome Video of a Dragon’s Descent!


Just in from SpaceX and NASA, here’s a video of the descent of the Dragon capsule on the morning of May 31, 2012.

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Taken from a chase plane, the footage shows the spacecraft’s dramatic chute deployment and splashdown into the Pacific at 8:42 a.m. PT, approximately 560 miles southwest off the coast of Los Angeles. The event marked the end of a successful and historic mission that heralds a new era of commercial spaceflight in the U.S.

Read more about the completion of the first Dragon mission here.

Video: NASA

Launch Images of the SpaceX Dragon’s First Flight to the Space Station

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The SpaceX Falcon9- Dragon, COTS C2+ Launch. Credit Melanie Lee

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket's 9 engines ignite during launch from SpaceX launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, May 22, 2012. Credit: SpaceX

The crowd cheers as Falcon 9 lights up the sky. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tower after liftoff at 3:44 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.,on the first commercial mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer
Liftoff! SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, May 22, 2012. Credit: SpaceX
View from the Dragon spacecraft as it orbits the Earth. This picture shows one of the two solar arrays that powers the Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX
View from the Dragon spacecraft as it orbits the earth. This shots shows the opening of the guidance, navigation and control door. Credit: SpaceX.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket on the SpaceX launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, moments before liftoff, May 22, 2012. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the launchpad. Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX Engineers Race to Repair Engines for May 22 Launch

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Today’s (May 19) historic launch of the first ever privately developed rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was very surprisingly aborted at the last second when an engine glitch forced a dramatic shutdown of the Falcon 9 rockets 1st stage firing already in progress and as the NASA launch commentator was in the middle of announcing liftoff.

SpaceX and NASA are now targeting liftoff of the mission dubbed COTS 2, for Tuesday, May 22 at 3:44 AM EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There is another launch opportunity on May 23.

Later today, SpaceX engineers determined that a faulty valve caused the engine abort failure. They are now in a race against time to complete all the repair work and mandatory assurance testing required in order to be ready to achieve the new May 22 launch date.

The Falcon 9 rocket was designed and developed by SpaceX and the first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1 C engines. As the countdown clock ticked down to T-minus zero, all nine engines ignited. But engine #5 suddenly developed a “high chamber pressure” and computers instantaneously ordered a shutdown of thrust generation by all nine engines just 0.5 seconds from liftoff and the rocket therefore never left the pad, said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell at a briefing for reporters.

“We’ve had a cutoff,” announced NASA launch commentator George Diller. “Liftoff did not occur. We’ve had a launch abort. Standing by.”

After draining the explosive propellants, SpaceX engineers began inspecting the engines later today within hours of the aborted liftoff to determine the cause of the rocket engine malfunction.

“This is not a failure,” Shotwell told reporters at a post scrub media briefing. “We aborted with purpose. It would have been a failure if we lifted off with an engine trending in this direction.”

SpaceX may have caught a lucky break by being able to fix the rocket at the pad instead of a time consuming engine changout. Shotwell said that one possibility was to roll the Falcon 9 rocket back into the processing hangar and swap out the engine with a new one.

This evening SpaceX announced they had determined the cause of the engine failure.

“Today’s launch was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber, said SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham. “We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 engines ignite and shutdown at T Minus 0.5 seconds during May 19, 2012 launch abort at Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

“During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve. Those repairs should be complete tonight. We will continue to review data on Sunday. If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.”

The purpose of Dragon is to carry some 1200 pounds of supplies up to orbit and dock at the ISS and partially replace the capabilities of NASA’s now retired space shuttle.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch abort on May 19, 2012 at Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert

SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS for a cost of some $1.6 Billion.

Ken Kremer

Former Astronaut Criticizes NASA’s Current Course

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Former NASA astronaut Story Musgrave is neither happy nor excited about the current state of the space administration or about the commercial COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program. He’s not happy, and he’s not afraid to say so.

“The whole thing is chaos and a cop out. The whole thing is a Washington failure,” Musgrave bluntly stated to Examiner.com’s Charles Atkeison in an interview this past weekend.

Story Musgrave in 1983 (NASA)

Musgrave was a NASA astronaut for over 30 years and was a crew member on six shuttle missions. He performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, was a pilot on an astronomy mission, was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble repair mission and on his last flight he operated an electronic chip manufacturing satellite on Columbia.

He has 7 graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. He has been awarded 20 honorary doctorates and was a part-time trauma surgeon during his 30 year astronaut career.

And, according to Atkeison, Musgrave “feels the space agency has no true goals or focus today.”

“We’re not going anywhere… there is no where, there is no what, and there is no when,” the former astronaut told Atkeison. “There is no Mars program, none. There is also no Moon program. There is no asteroid program… there’s no what we’re gonna do and no when we’re gonna do it.”

Neither does Musgrave put much faith in the value of the COTS program… which includes the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

This isn’t the first time Musgrave has spoken out against NASA’s direction, either; in June of 2011 Musgrave lambasted the administration for its failure to have a “next step” after phasing out the shuttle program.

“Why are we so poor in our vision and so poor in our project management that we come to a point where it’s reasonable to phase out the current program and we have no idea what the next one is?” Musgrave said in 2011. “Washington has to stop doing that.”

Story Musgrave, now 76, currently operates a palm farm in Orlando, FL, a production company in Sydney and a sculpture company in Burbank, CA. He is also a landscape architect, a design professor and  a concept artist with Disney Imagineering. It’s clear that Musgrave is a man who knows what vision is — and isn’t. Still, he’s always honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of NASA.

“I’m massively privileged to be part of the space program, and I never forget to say that,” said Musgrave last year.

Read the full story by Charles Atkeison on Examiner.com here.

First spacewalk of the space shuttle era (STS-6) by Story Musgrave and Don Peterson to test new spacesuits and life support systems. (NASA)