So it Begins, Red Dragon Delayed 2 Years to 2020

Artists concept for sending SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft to land propulsively on Mars as early as 2020. Credit: SpaceX
Artists concept for sending SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft to land propulsively on Mars as early as 2020. Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With so many exciting projects competing for the finite time of SpaceX’s super talented engineers, something important had to give. And that something comes in the form of slipping the blastoff of SpaceX’s ambitious Red Dragon initiative to land the first commercial spacecraft on Mars by 2 years – to 2020. Nevertheless it will include a hefty science payload, SpaceX’s President told Universe Today.

The Red Dragon launch postponement from 2018 to 2020 was announced by SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell during a Falcon 9 prelaunch press conference at historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program, said SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell at the pad 39a briefing.

“So we’re looking more in the 2020 time frame for that.”

And whenever Red Dragon does liftoff, it will carry a significant “science payload” to the Martian surface, Shotwell told me at the pad 39A briefing.

“As much [science] payload on Dragon as we can,” Shotwell said. Science instruments would be provided by “European and commercial guys … plus our own stuff!”

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell meets the media at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 ahead of launch of the CRS-10 mission on 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Another factor potentially at play is yesterdays (Feb 27) announcement by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk that he has two hefty, revenue generating paying customers for a manned Moonshot around the Moon that could blastoff on a commercial crew Dragon as soon as next year atop a Falcon Heavy from pad 39A – as I reported here.

Whereas SpaceX is footing the bill for the private Red Dragon venture.

Pad 39A is the same pad from which the Red Dragon mission will eventually blastoff atop a heavy lift SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket – and which just reopened for launch business last week on Feb. 19 after lying dormant for more than 6 years since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program in July 2011.

So at least the high hurdle of reopening pad 39A has been checked off!

Raindrops keep falling on the lens, as inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon disappears into the low hanging rain clouds at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after liftoff from pad 39A on Feb. 19, 2017. Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission is delivering over 5000 pounds of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX continues to dream big – setting its extraterrestrial sights on the Moon and Mars.

Musk founded SpaceX with the dream of transporting Humans to the Red Planet and establishing a ‘City on Mars’.

Artists concept for sending SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2020. Credit: SpaceX

Since launch windows to Mars are only available every two years due to the laws of physics and planetary alignments, the minimum Red Dragon launch delay automatically amounts to 2 years.

Furthermore the oft delayed Falcon Heavy has yet to launch on its maiden mission.

Shotwell said the maiden Falcon Heavy launch from pad 39A is planned to occur this summer, around mid year or so – after Pad 40 is back up and running.

And the commercial crew Dragon 2 spacecraft being built under contract to NASA to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) has also seen its maiden launch postponed more than six months over the past calendar year.

Finishing the commercial crew Dragon is absolutely critical to NASA for launching US astronauts to the ISS from US soil – in order to end our total dependence on Russia and the Soyuz capsule at a cost in excess of $80 million per seat.

Artistic concepts of the Falcon Heavy rocket (left) and the Dragon capsule deployed on the surface of Mars (right). Credit: SpaceX

The bold Red Dragon endeavor which involved launching an uncrewed version of the firms Dragon cargo spacecraft to carry out a propulsive soft landing on Mars as soon as 2018, was initially announced with great fanfare by SpaceX less than a year ago in April 2016.

At that time, SpaceX signed a space act agreement with NASA, wherein the agency will provide technical support to SpaceX with respect to Mars landing technologies for ‘Red Dragon’ and NASA would reciprocally benefit from SpaceX technologies for Mars landing.

But given the magnitude of the work required for this extremely ambitious Mars landing mission, the two year postponement was pretty much expected from the beginning by this author.

The main goal is to propulsively land the heaviest payload ever on Mars – something 5-10 times the size of anything landed before.

“These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars,” SpaceX noted last April.

Red Dragon will utilize supersonic retropropulsion to achieve a safe touchdown.

I asked Shotwell whether Red Dragon would include a science payload? Would Universities and Industry compete to submit proposals?

“Yes we had planned to fly [science] stuff in 2018, but people are also more ready to fly in 2020 than 2018,” Shotwell replied.

“Yes we are going to put as much [science] payload on Dragon as we can. By the way, just Dragon landing alone will be the largest mass ever put on the surface of Mars. Just the empty Dragon alone. That will be pretty crazy!”

“There are a bunch of folks that want to fly [science], including European customers, commercial guys.”

“Yeah there will be [science] stuff on Dragon – plus our own stuff!” Shotwell elaborated.

Whenever it does fly, SpaceX will utilize a recycled cargo Dragon from one of the space station resupply missions for NASA, said Jessica Jensen, SpaceX Dragon Mission manager at a KSC media briefing.

NASA’s still operating 1 ton Curiosity rover is the heaviest spaceship to touchdown on the Red Planet to date.

Dramatic wide angle mosaic view of butte with sandstone layers showing cross-bedding in the Murray Buttes region on lower Mount Sharp with distant view to rim of Gale crater, taken by Curiosity rover’s Mastcam high resolution cameras. This photo mosaic was assembled from Mastcam color camera raw images taken on Sol 1454, Sept. 8, 2016 and stitched by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, with added artificial sky. Featured at APOD on 5 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s agency wide goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s utilizing the SLS rocket and Orion deep space capsule – slated for their uncrewed maiden launch in late 2018.

Although NASA has just initiated a feasibility study to alter the mission and add 2 astronauts with a revised liftoff date of 2019.

Of course it all depends on whether the new Trump Administration bolsters NASA or slashes NASA funding.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Arrives at Space Station with Tons of Earth and Human Science Experiments

SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-10 cargo vehicle is attached to the International Space Station on Feb 23, 2017 after early morning capture by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet using the robotic arm and subsequent berthing at Earth facing port on the Harmony module. It will stay for a month. Credit: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX Dragon supply ship jam packed with more than 2.5 tons of critical science gear, crew supplies and 40 mice successfully arrived this morning at the International Space Station (ISS) – where six humans from the US, Russia and France are living and working aboard.

Dragon reached the station four days after it was launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Sunday, Feb. 19 on the first Falcon 9 rocket ever to blast off from historic launch pad 39A in a blaze of glory.

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and station commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA deftly maneuvered the space station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) Canadian-built Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and flawlessly capture the Dragon CRS-10 spacecraft at about 5:44 a.m. EST early Thursday, after it arrived at the station.

The SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 shortly after its capture by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet on Feb. 23, 2017. Credit: NASA TV

Pesquet and Kimbrough were working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed Cupola module as they monitored Dragon’s approach for capture by the grappling snares on the terminus of the robotic arm this morning as the station was soaring over the northwest coast of Australia.

“Looks like we have a great Dragon capture,” said capcom astronaut Mike Hopkins.

“We want to congratulate all the teams working around the world for the successful arrival,” said Pesquet.

The million pound station is orbiting approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon supply ship launched on Feb. 19, 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida successfully arrives at the International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

The commercial Dragon cargo freighter arrived about 16 minutes earlier than originally planned.

The duo were assisted by experienced NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. The 57 year old Whitson will soon set a record for most time spent in space by an American on April 24.

The gumdrop shaped Dragon cargo freighter slowly and methodically approached the station and the capture point through the required approach corridor during the final stages of the orbital chase.

After hovering at the capture point in free drift at a distance of about 34 feet (11 m) from the orbiting outpost, the crew members extended the robotic arm and Dragon was successfully plucked from free space using Canardarm2 at the grapple fixture located on the side of the supply ship.

The entire thrilling approach and grappling sequence was broadcast live on NASA TV.

SpaceX Dragon arrives at the 30 meter hold point during final approach to International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

Robotics officers on the ground at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center then took over and berthed Dragon to the Earth facing port on the Harmony module at about 8 a.m. as the mated craft were soaring over central America.

16 latches and bolts on the stations Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) will hold Dragon firmly in place for a hard mate to the stations Harmony module.

4 gangs of 4 bolts were driven into place with ground commands from the robotics officer to firmly bolt Dragon to the nadir port on Harmony.

The second stage capture and Dragon installation was confrmed at 8:12 a.m. Feb 23 as the craft were flying over the US East Coast.

“Today’s’ re-rendezvous has gone by the book,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias.

“Dragon systems are in excellent shape.”

“There have been no issues and everything has gone as planned.”

“Today was smooth sailing as Dragon arrived below the space station and maneuvered its way through a carefully choreographed procedure to the grapple position for rendezvous and capture.”

“Dragon is now firmly attached to the International Space Station and the crew will begin unloading critical science payloads and supplies this afternoon.”

“Today’s’ re-rendezvous has gone by the book,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias.

“Dragon systems are in excellent shape.”

“There have been no issues and everything has gone as planned.”

Yesterday’s rendezvous was automatically aborted when a bad bit of navigational data was uplinked to Dragons relative GPS navigation system as it was about 0.7 miles below the station.

“The Dragon’s computers received an incorrect navigational update, triggering an automatic wave off. Dragon was sent on a “racetrack” trajectory in front of, above and behind the station for today’s second rendezvous attempt.”

There was never any danger to the crew, space station or Dragon. It merely arrived a day later than planned as it is fully equipped to do if needed.

The SpaceX Dragon was successfully installed to the Harmony module a few hours after it was captured with the Canadarm2 by the crew on Feb 23, 2017. This artists concept shows the location of several visiting vehicles including Dragon, Soyuz and BEAM expandable module. Credit: NASA

CRS-10 counts as the company’s tenth scheduled flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon is the first of two cargo craft arriving at the station over two consecutive days.

The unpiloted Russian Progress 66 supply ship launched yesterday from Baikonur is slated to arrive early Friday morning with 2.9 tons of supplies. It will automatically dock at the Pirs docking module at about 3:45 a.m., with a trio of Russian cosmonauts monitoring all the action.

After conducting leak checks, the crew plans to open the hatch to Dragon later today.

They will quickly begin removing the highest priority science investigations and gear first.

Dragon will remain at the station for about 30 days.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as work crews use the access room to load ‘late stow’ science experiments aboard Dragon – as seen from inside the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket launched from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission occurred on 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

1000 pounds of ‘late stow’ experiments were loaded the day before the originally planned Feb. 18 liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Dragon was successfully launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop the 213-foot-tall (65-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 9:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 19, 2017 from historic Launch Complex 39A to low Earth orbit.

Raindrops keep falling on the lens, as inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon disappears into the low hanging rain clouds at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after liftoff from pad 39A on Feb. 19, 2017. Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission is delivering over 5000 pounds of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere. It is one of NASA’s longest running earth science programs.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LIS lightning mapper will measure the amount, rate and energy of lightning as it strikes around the world from the altitude of the ISS as it orbits Earth. Its data will complement that from the recently orbited GLM lighting mapper lofted to geosynchronous aboard the NASA/NOAA GOES-R spacecraft instrument.

NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

SAGE III and RAVEN were stowed in the Dragon’s unpressurized truck.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

The 40 mice will be used in a wound healing experiment to test therapies in microgravity.

An advanced plant growth habitat will launch soon to test better technologies for growing crops in space that could contribute to astronauts nutrition on long duration spaceflights.

SpaceX Dragon CRS-10 Cargo manifest from NASA:

TOTAL CARGO: 5489.5 lbs. / 2490 kg

TOTAL PRESSURIZED CARGO WITH PACKAGING: 3373.1 lbs. / 1530 kg

• Science Investigations 1613.8 lbs. / 732 kg
• Crew Supplies 652.6 lbs. / 296 kg
• Vehicle Hardware 842.2 lbs. / 382 kg
• Spacewalk Equipment 22.0 lbs. / 10 kg
• Computer Resources 24.2 lbs. / 11 kg
• Russian Hardware 48.5 lbs. / 22 kg

UNPRESSURIZED

• SAGE-III & STP-H5 Lightning Imaging Sensor 2116.4 lbs. / 960 kg

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Historic Pad 39A Back in Business with Maiden SpaceX Falcon 9 Blastoff to ISS and Booster Landing

Historic maiden blastoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017. Photo taken from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a six year lull NASA’s historic pad 39A roared back to business this morning with the dramatic maiden blastoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on a critical cargo delivery mission for NASA to the space station – while simultaneously landing the first stage back on the ground at the Cape on a secondary mission aimed at one day propelling humans to Mars.

The era of undesired idleness for America’s most famous launch pad was broken at last by the rumbling thunder of a SpaceX Falcon 9 that ignited at 9:38 a.m. EST Sunday morning, Feb 19, at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The storied liftoff took place under heavily overcast skies with rain showers nearby under seemingly improbable weather conditions.

After liftoff, the rocket disappeared within seconds and never really reappeared in the local area until the final moments of the descent of the first stage – which nailed a nearly perfect dead center touchdown at Landing Zone 1 at the Cape some 9 minutes after launch.

Final descent of the SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage landing as seen from the VAB roof under heavily overcast skies after Feb. 19, 2017 launch from pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center. The booster successfully soft landed upright at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) accompanied by multiple sonic booms at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, about 9 minutes after launch to the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Nevertheless the Falcon 9 launch was a smashing success and probably the loudest I have ever witnessed since the shuttle era ended. Watching from atop the roof of the iconic VAB, I can report the building did experience some rather exciting rattling!

And it was SpaceX’s first daylight booster landing back at the Cape. The two earleir touchdowns were at night – most recently for the CRS-9 mission last summer in July 2016.

The goal of the mission was aimed at launching the SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter to deliver over 5500 pounds of science and supplies to the orbiting science outpost on the CRS-10 mission.

The Dragon spacecraft was successfully delivered in Earth orbit and is on course for the International Space Station (ISS) on the CRS-10 mission.

As a secondary side goal, SpaceX successfully carried out a propulsive soft landing of the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), located about 9 miles south of KSC launch complex 39A.

The touchdown, like the launch was completely obscured until the final moments of the descent, when it suddenly and magnificently reappeared as a strange pale colored cylinder emitting a long yellow flame after dropping below the low hanging clouds.

The booster successfully accomplished a propulsive upright soft landing at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) accompanied by multiple sonic booms at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, about 9 minutes after launch.

This was the 8th first stage booster that SpaceX has successfully recovered either by land or on a tiny droneship at sea over the past year.

The goal is to refurbish and recycle the 156 foot tall first stage boosters for relaunch with a new payload.

SpaceX CEO billionaire Elon Musk hopes that by reusing the spent booster, he can drastically cut the cost of access to space and that will one day lead to human colonies and a “City on Mars.”

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The dream of Bob Cabana, former astronaut and now Center Director at the Kennedy Space Center NASA’s, to turn KSC into a multiuser spaceport open to utilization by government, industry and entrepreneurs like SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk is finally coming to fruition in a blaze of glory.

“I’m so proud of this team for all the dedication and hard work,” said Cabana.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Today’s launch counts as the first commercial launch from Kennedy’s historic pad.

The storied pad initially sent NASA astronauts to the Moon soon after the dawn of the Space Age during the Apollo/Saturn era and was then significantly overhauled to serve as the on ramp for NASA space shuttles for another three decades.

SpaceX has now transformed pad 39A for launches of the Falcon 9. A bright future lies ahead with launches of the heavy lift Falcon Heavy later this year and a renewal of manned launches of astronauts some time in 2018.

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LIS lightning mapper will measure lightning from the altitude of the ISS. NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

As of today we are at last launching rockets again from the Kennedy Space Center – thanks to SpaceX and the Falcon 9. What a tremendous return to space !

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as seen from inside the pad perimeter. Technicians work to prepare the rocket for launch. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission is slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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Learn more about SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Feb 18 – 19: “SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 Goes Vertical with Station Science at KSC Pad 39A – Watch Live Feb. 19

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 18 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Just hours before blastoff, the first ever SpaceX Falcon 9 set to soar to the space station from historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the rocket went vertical below delightfully dark skies on the Florida Space Coast.

UPDATE- The launch was scrubbed until Feb. 19 after a hold was called to deal with a thrust vector control issue. Story updated

Packed with over a thousand pounds of research experiments and science instruments probing the human body and our home planet from the heavens above, the Falcon 9 rocket is poised for liftoff at 9:38 a.m., Sunday morning, Feb. 19, from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC.

Everything is on track for Sunday’s launch of the 229 foot tall (70 meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 on the NASA contracted SpaceX CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA to the million pound orbiting lab complex.

And the weather looks promising at this time.

At a meeting with reporters at pad 39A on Friday, Feb. 17, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell confirmed the success of the static fire test of the two stage rocket and all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines conducted on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12 – minus the SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter payload.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as seen from inside the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The successful test firing of the engines cleared the path to orbit for liftoff of Dragon on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of supplies and science on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Shotwell then said technicians integrated with the unmanned Dragon CRS-10 cargo freighter with the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell meets the media at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 ahead of launch of the CRS-10 mission on 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The 22 story tall rocket rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A on Thursday morning using a dedicated transporter-erector, so ground crews could begin final preparations for the Saturday morning blastoff. Now reset to Sunday.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes vertical at night atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 19 Feb 2017 as seen after midnight from the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 18 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Thousands and thousands of spectators from across the globe, local residents, media and scientists and engineers and their families have flocked to the Florida Space Coast, filling area hotels to witness the historic maiden blastoff of a Falcon 9 from seaside pad 39A at KSC at 9:38 a.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 19.

SpaceX will also attempt to achieve a secondary mission goal of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

If you can’t personally be here to witness the launch in Florida, you can also watch NASA’s live coverage on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-10 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, Feb. 18, with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX will also feature their own live webcast beginning approximately 20 minutes before launch at 9:41 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can also watch the launch live at SpaceX Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that any delays due to weather or technical issues results in a minimum 1 day postponement.

The long awaited FAA launch license was finally granted at the last minute on Friday afternoon – less than 24 hours before launch.

The weather outlook currently is improving from earlier in the week and looks good for Saturday morning with a 70% chance of favorable condition at launch time. The concerns are for thick clouds according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Feb. 18, the backup launch opportunity is 9:38 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19. with NASA TV coverage starting at about 8:10 a.m. EDT.

CRS-10 marks only the third time SpaceX has attempted a land landing of the 15 story tall first stage booster.

Shotwell confirmed they are attempting the secondary mission of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located about 9 miles south of launch pad 39a.

And it won’t take long to learn the results – the ground landing at LZ -1 will take place about 9 minutes after liftoff.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This marks the first time any fully integrated rocket has stood on pad 39A for a scheduled launch since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission to the space station.

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions as far back as the 1960s.

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.

The LIS lightning mapper will measure lightning from the altitude of the ISS. NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Feb 17- 19: “SpaceX CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 16 Feb 2017 as seen from Launch Complex 39-B. This is the first rocket rolled out to launch from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission slated for 19 Feb. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 19 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 Breathes First Fire at KSC Pad 39A – Successful Static Fire Test Paves Path to Feb. 18 ISS Launch

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SPACE VIEW PARK/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – For the first time in more than half a decade, a rocket came to life at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center when a SpaceX Falcon 9 breathed her first fire at historic pad 39A today, Sunday, Feb. 12 – successfully completing a critical static test firing of the first stage engines that opens the door to a launch to the space station next weekend for NASA.

The hot fire test generated a huge plume of smoke exhausting out the north side of the flame trench of Launch Complex 39A at approximately 4:30 p.m. EST, Feb. 12.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A – which has been repurposed from its days as a shuttle launch pad.

The Merlin 1D engines fired for about 3 seconds while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

SpaceX confirmed the test via social media shortly after it took place.

“First static fire test of Falcon 9 at historic launch complex 39A completed in advance of Dragon’s upcoming mission to the @Space_Station,” SpaceX tweeted in a very brief announcement.

I watched excitedly from a public viewing spot at Space View Park in Titusville as the exhaust plume grew quickly in size to a gigantic grey-white colored mushroom cloud of smoke and ash, heaving out the north side of the flame trench silent since the shuttle era.

Then just as quickly the smoke cloud dissipated completely within about 10 minutes leaving barely a trace of what we can expect to see soon.

Titusville offers a prime viewing location for anyone interested in traveling to the Florida Space Coast to see this Falcon 9 launch in person.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 18 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The test confirms that both the first stage engines and the rocket are suited for liftoff. Over the past few days, launch teams also tested the pad equipment, raised and lowered the rocket and conducted fit checks of the rocket at the pad.

The test had been delayed several days as technicians coped with issues until all was right to carry out the static fire test.

The positive outcome paves the path for a Falcon 9.Dragon blastoff as soon as next Saturday.

This marks the first time any rocket has stood on pad 39A and fired its engines since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission to the space station.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center comes to life with successful static hot fire test at 430 p.m. on 12 Feb. 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, Fl. Liftoff is slated for no earlier than 18 Feb. 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 is slated for no earlier than next Saturday, 18 Feb 2017 on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The rocket – minus the payload comprising the Dragon cargo spacecraft – was rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A on Friday morning using a dedicated transporter-erector.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

After the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and the Dragon resupply ship will be integrated on top.

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions.

Dragon will be loaded with more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, supplies and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX was previously employing pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for Falcon 9 launches to the ISS as well as commercial launches.

But pad 40 suffered severe damage following the unexpected launch pad explosion on Sept 1, 2016 that completely destroyed a Falcon 9 and the $200 million Amos-6 commercial payload during a prelaunch fueling test.

An accident investigation revealed that a second stage helium tank burst due to friction ignition during the fueling test.

SpaceX modified the fueling procedures as a short term fix and is working on redesigning the second stage as a long term fix.

SpaceX is working to repair and refurbish pad 40. It is not known when it will be ready to resume launches.

Thus SpaceX has had to switch launch pads for near term future flights and press pad 39A into service much more urgently, speeding up the refurbishing and repurposing work which at last is sufficient to launch rockets again.

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

STS-135: Last launch using RS-25 engines that will now power NASA’s SLS deep space exploration rocket. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

First SpaceX Falcon 9 Erected at Historic Launch Pad 39A for Feb. 18 Blastoff

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The first SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ever to grace historic launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was erected this afternoon, Friday, Feb. 10, to prepare the booster for a critical static fire sometime Saturday, and a launch to the space station next weekend – if all goes well.

This marks the first time any rocket has stood on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 is slated for no earlier than next Saturday, 18 Feb 2017 on a critical cargo flight for NASA to deliver over two and a half tons of science and supplies to the six person crew living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The rocket – minus the payload comprising the Dragon cargo spacecraft – was rolled out of the SpaceX processing hangar at the perimeter fence and then up the incline to the top of pad 39A this morning using a dedicated transporter-erector.

A wider-angle shot from the top of the CBS bureau at KSC showing the first SpaceX Falcon 9 atop pad 39A 3.1 miles away on Feb 20, 2017. Credit: Bill Harwood/CBS News

The booster was then hoisted into launch position this afternoon.

The scene was viewed by spectators including my space journalist colleague Jeff Seibert.

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017 as seen from Playalinda Beach, Fl. This is the first rocket to stand on pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff to the ISS is slated for 18 Feb 2017 on the CRS-10 resupply mission for NASA. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also posted a photo on instagram with this caption:

“Falcon 9 rocket now vertical at Cape Canaveral on launch complex 39-A. This is the same launch pad used by the Saturn V rocket that first took people to the moon in 1969. We are honored to be allowed to use it.”

First SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands erect atop Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on 10 Feb 2017. The photo was posted to Instagram by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

After the successful completion of the static fire test, the booster will be rolled back to the big processing hangar and the Dragon resupply ship will be integrated on top.

During the brief static fire test, all 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines are ignited for a few seconds to confirm they and the rocket are suited for liftoff while hold down clamps restrain the rocket on the pad.

Dragon will be loaded with more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, supplies and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. New rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Approves First Commercial Airlock for Space Station Science and SmallSat Deployment

Artists concept of first commercially funded airlock on the space station being developed by NanoRacks that will launch on a commercial resupply mission in 2019. It will be installed on the station’s Tranquility module. Credits: NanoRacks

In a significant move towards further expansion of the International Space Station’s (ISS) burgeoning research and commercial space economy capabilities, NASA has approved the development of the first privately developed airlock and is targeting blastoff to the orbiting lab complex in two years.

Plans call for the commercial airlock to be launched on a commercial cargo vessel and installed on the U.S. segment of the ISS in 2019.

It enhances the US capability to place equipment and payloads outside and should triple the number of small satellites like CubeSats able to be deployed.

The privately funded commercial airlock is being developed by Nanoracks in partnership with Boeing, which is the prime contractor for the space station.

The airlock will be installed on an open port on the Tranquility module – that already is home to the seven windowed domed Cupola observation deck and the commercial BEAM expandable module built by Bigelow Aerospace.

“We want to utilize the space station to expose the commercial sector to new and novel uses of space, ultimately creating a new economy in low-Earth orbit for scientific research, technology development and human and cargo transportation,” said Sam Scimemi, director, ISS Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.

“We hope this new airlock will allow a diverse community to experiment and develop opportunities in space for the commercial sector.”

The airlock will launch aboard one of NASA’s commercial cargo suppliers in 2019. But the agency has not specified which contractor. The candidates include the SpaceX cargo Dragon, an enhanced ATK Cygnus or potentially the yet to fly SNC Dream Chaser.

Boeing will supply the airlock’s Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) hardware to connect it to the Tranquility module.

Artists concept of first commercially funded airlock on the space station being developed by NanoRacks that will launch on a commercial resupply mission in 2019. It will be installed on the station’s Tranquility module. Credits: NanoRacks

The airlock will beef up the capability of transferring equipment, payloads and deployable satellites from inside the ISS to outside, significantly increasing the utilization of ISS, says Boeing.

“The International Space Station allows NASA to conduct cutting-edge research and technology demonstrations for the next giant leap in human exploration and supports an emerging space economy in low-Earth orbit. Deployment of CubeSats and other small satellite payloads from the orbiting laboratory by commercial customers and NASA has increased in recent years. To support demand, NASA has accepted a proposal from NanoRacks to develop the first commercially funded airlock on the space station,” says NASA.

“The installation of NanoRacks’ commercial airlock will help us keep up with demand,” said Boeing International Space Station program manager Mark Mulqueen. “This is a big step in facilitating commercial business on the ISS.”

Right now the US uses the airlock on the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) to place payloads on the stations exterior as well as for small satellite deployments. But the demand is outstripping the JEM’s availability.

The Nanoracks airlock will be larger and more robust to take up the slack.

NASA has stipulated that the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), NASA’s manager of the U.S. National Laboratory on the space station, will be responsible for coordinating all payload deployments from the commercial airlock – NASA and non NASA.

“We are entering a new chapter in the space station program where the private sector is taking on more responsibilities. We see this as only the beginning and are delighted to team with our friends at Boeing,” said Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks.

The NanoRacks commercial airlock could potentially launch to the ISS in the trunk of a SpaceX cargo Dragon. This Up close view shows the SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels sitting atop a Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to the ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Shuffles Falcon 9 Launch Schedule, NASA Gets 1st Launch from Historic KSC Pad 39A

SpaceX is repurposing historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida for launches of the Falcon 9 rocket. Ongoing pad preparation by work crews is seen in this current view taken on Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX announced Sunday (Jan. 29) a significant shuffle to the Falcon 9 launch schedule, saying that a key NASA mission to resupply the space station is moving to the head of the line and will now be their first mission to launch from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center – formerly used to launch space shuttles.

The late breaking payload switch will allow SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, additional time to complete all the extensive ground support work and pad testing required for repurposing seaside Launch Complex 39A from launching the NASA Space Shuttle to the SpaceX Falcon 9.

Blastoff of the 22-story tall SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying an unmanned Dragon cargo freighter with NASA as customer on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) could come as soon as mid-February, said SpaceX.

“SpaceX announced today that its first launch from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be the CRS-10 mission to the International Space Station,” said SpaceX in a statement.

CRS-10 counts as SpaceX’s tenth cargo flight to the ISS since 2012 under contract to NASA.

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Crews have been working long hours to modify pad 39A and get it ready for Falcon 9 launches. Also, the newly built transporter erector launcher was seen raised at the pad multiple times in recent days. The transporter will move the rocket horizontally up the incline at the pad, and then erect it vertically.

“This schedule change allows time for additional testing of ground systems ahead of the CRS-10 mission,” SpaceX announced in a statement.

The surprise switch in customers means that the previously planned first Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A of the commercial EchoStar 23 communications satellite is being pushed off to a later date – perhaps late February.

Until now, EchoStar 23 was slated to be the first satellite launched by a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It could have come as soon as by the end of this week.

However, the Falcon 9 launch date from pad 39A has slipped repeatedly in January, with this week on Feb. 3 as the most recently targeted ‘No Earlier Than’ NET date.

SpaceX successfully resumed launches of the Falcon 9 earlier this month when the first flock of 10 Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites blasted off on the Iridium 1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Jan. 14, 2017.

NASA now gets the first dibs for using pad 39A which has lain dormant for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

SpaceX leased pad 39A from NASA for launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy back in April 2014 and was already employing pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for Falcon 9 launches to the ISS.

The last Dragon resupply mission to the ISS blasted off on July 18, 2016 on the CRS-9 mission. The Falcon 9 first stage was also successfully recovered via a propulsive soft landing back at the Cape at night.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The last successful Falcon 9 launch from Space Launch Complex-40 took place on Aug. 14, 2016, carrying the JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

But following the unexpected launch pad explosion on Sept 1, 2016 that completely destroyed a Falcon 9 and the $200 million Amos-6 commercial payload during a prelaunch fueling test, pad 40 suffered extensive damage.

Furthermore it is not known when the pad will be ready to resume launches.

Aerial view of pad and strongback damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 as seen from the VAB roof on Sept. 8, 2016 after fueling test explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

So SpaceX has had to switch launch pads for near term future flights and press pad 39A into service much more urgently, and the refurbishing and repurposing work is not yet complete.

To date SpaceX has not rolled a Falcon 9 rocket to pad 39A, not raised it to launch position, not conducted a fueling exercise and not conducted a static fire test. All the fit checks with a real rocket remain to be run.

Thus the current launch target of mid-February for CRS-10 remains a target date and not a firm launch date. EchoStar 23 is next in line.

“The launch is currently targeted for no earlier than mid-February,” SpaceX elaborated.

“Following the launch of CRS-10, first commercial mission from 39A is currently slated to be EchoStar XXIII.”

Once the pad is ready, SpaceX plans an aggressive launch schedule in 2017.

“The launch vehicles, Dragon, and the EchoStar satellite are all healthy and prepared for launch,” SpaceX stated.

The history making first use of a recycled Falcon 9 carrying the SES-10 communications satellite could follow as soon as March, if all goes well.

Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL, atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. At new rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Russian Progress Cargo Ship Launch Failure Deals Setback to ISS

The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA TV
The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but failed to reach orbit minutes later. Credit: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – An unmanned Russian Progress resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was lost shortly after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday when its Soyuz booster suffered a catastrophic anomaly in the third stage, and the craft and its contents were totally destroyed.

The Russian launch failure deals somewhat of a setback to the ever ongoing efforts by all the space station partners to keep the orbiting outpost well stocked with critical supplies of food and provisions for the multinational six person crew and science experiments to carry out the research activities for which the station was assembled.

The three stage Soyuz-U rocket failed in flight around six and a half minutes after what had been an otherwise flawless nighttime liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time), Thursday, Dec. 1.

Telemetry from the Progress 65 vehicle, also known as Progress MS-04, stopped after 382 seconds of flight while soaring about 190 km over the southern Russian Republic of Tyva.

“The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station and her six person crew has lost shortly after launch,” said NASA.

“According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva,” said Roscosmos in a statement.

The Progress vehicle burned up during the resulting and unplanned fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

This was the second failure of a Russian Progress launch in the past two years. The last failure took place in April 2015 when the third stage separation failed – sending the vehicle spinning wildly out of control and destroying the Progress 59 freighter.

Per protocol, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has formed a state commission to investigate the accident, seek out the root cause and implement measures to prevent such failures in the future.

“The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause,” NASA said.

Crew launches on a different version of the Soyuz rocket were delayed and put on hold several months following last year’s Progress 59 failure and accident investigation.

Despite the failure there was no immediate impact on the current Expedition 50 crew and life goes on.

“The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew,” said Roscosmos.

“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station,” NASA reported.

Currently there is a satisfactory level of supplies.

“Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.”

However the continued useful utilization of the million pound station is totally dependent on receiving a steady train of supplies from Earth – comprising Russian, US and Japanese cargo freighters launching multiple times per year.

The Progress 65 cargo freighter was jam packed with 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware.

The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016.  Credits: NASA
The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016. Credits: NASA

The Progress was carrying a few items from NASA but they are all replaceable, says NASA. The US items packed on board included spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing.

Had all gone well, Progress 65 would have docked to the rear port of the space station’s Russian Zvezda Service Module at 11:43 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.

Japan is all set to launch the next cargo flight to the ISS on Friday, Dec. 9 when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV-6 resupply ship will blast off atop the H-II rocket.

The most recent US commercial cargo launch to the ISS took place on Oct. 17 with blastoff of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket from NASA Wallops in Virginia, which delivered the Cygnus OA-5 resupply freighter to orbit. It docked to the ISS on Oct 23.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

The next US cargo launch could be either an Orbital ATK Cygnus launch atop a ULA Atlas V in March 2017 or a SpaceX Dragon launch perhaps in Jan 2017.

The US has also suffered ISS cargo launch failures from both of the commercial resupply providers; SpaceX on the Dragon CRS-7 mission in Jun 2015 and Orbital ATK on the Cygnus Orb-3 mission in October 2014.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The cargo ships function as a railroad to space and function as the lifeline to keep the station continuously crewed and functioning. Without periodic resupply by visiting vehicles from the partner nations the ISS cannot continue to operate.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down with NASA’s Station Science Cargo

SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 returned to Earth with a splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 after more than a month stay at the International Space Station.  Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 returned to Earth with a splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 after more than a month stay at the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX commercial Dragon cargo ship returned to Earth today, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, by splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean – thus concluding more than a month long stay at the International Space Station (ISS). The vessel was jam packed with some 1.5 tons of NASA cargo and critical science samples for eagerly waiting researchers.

The parachute assisted splashdown of the Dragon CRS-9 cargo freighter took place at 11:47 a.m. EDT today in the Pacific Ocean – located some 326 miles (520 kilometers) southwest of Baja California.

Dragon departed after spending more than five weeks berthed at the ISS.

This image, captured from NASA Television's live coverage, shows SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft departing the International Space Station at 6:10 am EDT Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, after successfully delivering almost 5,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on its ninth resupply mission to the orbiting laboratory.  Credits: NASA Television
This image, captured from NASA Television’s live coverage, shows SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft departing the International Space Station at 6:10 am EDT Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, after successfully delivering almost 5,000 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on its ninth resupply mission to the orbiting laboratory. Credits: NASA Television

It was loaded with more than 3,000 pounds of NASA cargo and critical research samples and technology demonstration samples accumulated by the rotating six person crews of astronauts and cosmonauts living and working aboard the orbiting research laboratory.

This station based research will contribute towards NASA’s strategic plans to send astronauts on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s.

It arrived at the station on July 20 ferrying over 2.5 tons of priceless research equipment, gear, spare parts and supplies, food, water and clothing for the station’s resident astronauts and cosmonauts as well as the first of two international docking adapters (IDAs) in its unpressurized cargo hold known as the “trunk.”

The SpaceX Dragon is captured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon is captured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

Dragon was launched on July 18 during a mesmerizing post midnight, back-to-back liftoff and landing of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in its upgraded, full thrust version.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing  rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off at 12:45 a.m. EDT July 18, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and successfully delivered the Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship to its preliminary orbit about 10 minutes later.

SpaceX also successfully executed a spellbinding ground landing of the Falcon 9 first stage back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 40.

The dramatic ground landing of the 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage at LZ -1 took place about 9 minutes after liftoff. It marked only the second time a spent, orbit class booster has touched down intact and upright on land.

Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS).   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moments before dramatic touchdown of SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage at Landing Zone-1 (LX-1) accompanied by sonic booms after launching Dragon CRS-9 supply ship to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 12:45 a.m., bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The stage was set for today’s return to Earth when ground controllers robotically detached Dragon from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module early this morning using the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) long Canadian-built robotic arm.

Expedition 48 Flight Engineers Kate Rubins of NASA and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) then used Canadarm 2 to release Dragon from the grappling snares at about 6:10 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) this morning.

“Houston, station, on Space to Ground Two, Dragon depart successfully commanded,” radioed Rubins.

The ISS was soaring some 250 miles over the Timor Sea, north of Australia.

“Congratulations to the entire team on the successful release of the Dragon. And thank you very much for bringing all the science, and all the important payloads, and all the important cargo to the station,” Onishi said. “We feel really sad to see it go because we had a great time and enjoyed working on all the science that the Dragon brought to us.”

Dragon then backed away and moved to a safe distance from the station via a trio of burns using its Draco maneuvering thrusters.

The de-orbit burn was conducted at 10:56 a.m. EDT (1456 GMT) to drop Dragon out of orbit and start the descent back to Earth.

SpaceX contracted recovery crews hauled Dragon aboard the recovery ship and are transporting it to a port near Los Angeles, where some time critical cargo items and research samples will be removed and returned to NASA for immediate processing.

SpaceX plans to move Dragon back to the firms test facility in McGregor, Texas, for further processing and to remove the remaining cargo cache.

Among the wealth of over 3900 pounds (1790 kg) of research investigations loaded on board Dragon was an off the shelf instrument designed to perform the first-ever DNA sequencing in space and the first international docking adapter (IDA) that is absolutely essential for docking of the SpaceX and Boeing built human spaceflight taxis that will ferry our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in some 18 months.

During a spacewalk last week on Aug. 19, the initial docking adapter known as International Docking Adapter-2 (IDA-2) was installed Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA.

Other science experiments on board included OsteoOmics to test if magnetic levitation can accurately simulate microgravity to study different types of bone cells and contribute to treatments for diseases like osteoporosis, a Phase Change Heat Exchanger to test temperature control technology in space, the Heart Cells experiments that will culture heart cells on the station to study how microgravity changes the human heart, new and more efficient three-dimensional solar cells, and new marine vessel tracking hardware known as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that will aid in locating and identifying commercial ships across the globe.

The ring shaped IDA-2 unit was stowed in the Dragon’s unpressurized truck section. It weighs 1029 lbs (467 kg), measures about 42 inches tall and sports an inside diameter of 63 inches in diameter – so astronauts and cargo can easily float through. The outer diameter measures about 94 inches.

“Outfitted with a host of sensors and systems, the adapter is built so spacecraft systems can automatically perform all the steps of rendezvous and dock with the station without input from the astronauts. Manual backup systems will be in place on the spacecraft to allow the crew to take over steering duties, if needed,” says NASA.

“It’s a passive system which means it doesn’t take any action by the crew to allow docking to happen and I think that’s really the key,” said David Clemen Boeing’s director of Development/Modifications for the space station.

“Spacecraft flying to the station will use the sensors on the IDA to track to and help the spacecraft’s navigation system steer the spacecraft to a safe docking without astronaut involvement.”

CRS-9 counts as the company’s ninth of 26 scheduled flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station (ISS).

The CRS-9 mission was launched for the crews of Expeditions 48 and 49 to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations in progress under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Watch for Ken’s continuing SpaceX and CRS mission coverage where he reported onsite direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

An illustration of how the IDA will look when attached to the International Space Station. Credits: NASA
An illustration of how the IDA will look when attached to the International Space Station.
Credits: NASA
Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to the ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to the ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) being processed inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at NASA Kennedy Space Center for eventual launch to the ISS in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon on the CRS-9 mission. It will be connected to the station to provide a port for Commercial Crew spacecraft carrying astronauts to dock to the orbiting laboratory as soon as 2017.  The identical IDA-1 was destroyed during SpaceX CRS-7 launch failure on June 28, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) being processed inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at NASA Kennedy Space Center for eventual launch to the ISS in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon on the CRS-9 mission. It will be connected to the station to provide a port for Commercial Crew spacecraft carrying astronauts to dock to the orbiting laboratory as soon as 2017. The identical IDA-1 was destroyed during SpaceX CRS-7 launch failure on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com