Lost in Translation: Cyrillic, Semantics and SpaceX

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Matters of space flight are no different than other international issues. What is said (or not said as the case may be) can suffer from being “lost in translation.” Such was the case recently when the media (this website included) reported on a Ria Novosti article that claimed that members within the Russian Space Agency had stated opposition to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) docking their next Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station.

“This was never a SpaceX issue,” said NASA Spokesman Rob Navias during a recent interview. “This was an International Space Program issue – which has final approving authority for any spacecraft set to dock with the International Space Station – be it the HTV, ATV or even Soyuz, they all have to go through the exact same process.”

SpaceX is prepping the next Falcon 9 for launch, liftoff is currently slated to occur no-earler-than Dec. 19. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

Navias stated emphatically that the Russian Space Agency never stated that they would not allow SpaceX to dock with the ISS – only that they wanted to ensure that the NewSpace firm followed the same procedure required of all other participants on the station (both a Stage Readiness Review as well as a Flight Readiness Review).

“This is basically an issue of semantics, of interpretation,” Navias said. “The Russian media wrote this article and when it was translated – it appeared as if that Russia was saying something – which they simply weren’t.”

The Ria Novosti report is now widely being disputed, by NASA, SpaceX and several other organizations. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

The partners involved in the International Space Station Program, the United States, Russia, the European Union, Japan and Canada all comprise a committee that determines matters concerning the orbiting laboratory. No one partner has a ‘controlling authority’ over the ISS. A good example of this is when Russia flew Dennis Tito to the ISS in 2001 – over initial U.S. objections.

If all goes according to plan SpaceX will launch the next Falcon 9 rocket with its Dragon spacecraft payload no-earlier-than Dec. 19, 2011 (although technically that launch is still on the books for Nov. 30). The Dragon, if cleared, will conduct station-keeping alongside the ISS where the station’s mobile servicing system (Canadarm 2) will grab it and then it will be docked to the ISS.

This mission could see both COTS 2 and COTS 3 mission objectives combined. Cargo from the International Space Station would then be placed into the Dragon which would return to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, off the Coast of California.

If all goes according to plan, the next Dragon spacecraft to be launched will rendezvous with the ISS, where the Canadarm 2 will grapple it and attach it to the orbiting laboratory. Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX: Next Dragon to Launch No-Earlier-Than Dec. 19

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – The launch date of the next Falcon 9 rocket with its Dragon Spacecraft payload has been announced to occur no-earlier-than Dec. 19. This will mean that it will have been over a year since the last time that the NewSpace firm launched one of its rockets.

“NASA is working with SpaceX on our technical and safety data for this mission while coordinating with its international partners to sort out a launch schedule once a definitive decision is reached on the next Soyuz flight to the International Space Station. As a result, we’ve submitted December 19th to NASA and the Air Force as the first in a range of dates that we would be ready to launch,” said Kirstin Brost Grantham SpaceX’s Communications Director. “We recognize that a target launch date cannot be set until NASA gives us the green light as well as the partners involved in the International Space Station program make a decision on when to continue Soyuz flights. Our flight is one of many that have to be carefully coordinated, so the ultimate schedule of launches to the ISS is still under consideration.”

At a speech at the National Press Club on Thursday, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk also confirmed that the flight of Dragon will likely be delayed — perhaps until January — due to the failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress re-supply ship to the ISS on August 24, 2011.

“It actually will likely result in a delay to our launch to the ISS,” Musk said, “and NASA rightly wants to have the appropriate level of astronauts with the right training when we arrive, so it looks like January for the launch to space station, and that is contingent upon the Russians meeting the schedule they’ve currently stating.”

The Russian Space Agency has scheduled Progress launches on October 30, 2011, and January 26, 2012, with potential launches for the manned Soyuz-FG spacecraft on November 12 and December 20, 2011.

SpaceX's last launch of a Falcon 9 rocket, seen here, was on Dec. 8 and carried the first of the firm's Dragon spacecraft to orbit: Photo Credit: Alan walters/awaltersphoto.com

SpaceX last launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets on Dec. 8 of last year. That launch saw the first flight of the company’s Dragon Spacecraft, which completed two orbits before splashing safely down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. This event marked the first time that a private entity had accomplished this feat. Up until that time only nations had sent and retrieved spacecraft from orbit.

Also during Musk’s speech on Sept. 29, he announced that SpaceX is developing the world’s first, fully-reusable rocket. Musk said that the development of this as-yet-unnamed rocket, if successful, would greatly reduce the cost of launching to orbit and open the doors to manned flights to Mars. But the SpaceX CEO cautioned that success was not guaranteed.

With the space shuttle fleet retired and being prepared for display in museums and tourist attractions, NASA is relying on many proposed commercial space taxis that, unlike the Dragon which has flown, have yet to be tested. Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Orbital Sciences Corporation all have proposed designs to ferry astronauts to and from low-Earth-orbit and the International Space Station.