NASA Names Four Astronauts for First Boeing, SpaceX U.S. Commercial Spaceflights

NASA today (July 9) named the first four astronauts who will fly on the first U.S. commercial spaceflights in private crew transportation vehicles being built by Boeing and SpaceX – marking a major milestone towards restoring American human launches to U.S. soil as soon as mid-2017, if all goes well.

The four astronauts chosen are all veterans of flights on NASA’s Space Shuttles and to the International Space Station (ISS); Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams. They now form the core of NASA’s commercial crew astronaut corps eligible for the maiden test flights on board the Boeing CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut capsules.

Behnken, Boe and Hurley have each launched on two shuttle missions and Williams is a veteran of two long-duration flights aboard the ISS after launching on both the shuttle and Soyuz. All four served as military test pilots prior to being selected as NASA astronauts.

The experienced quartet of space flyers will work closely with Boeing and SpaceX as they begin training and prepare to launch aboard the first ever commercial ‘space taxi’ ferry flight missions to the ISS and back – that will also end our sole source reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule for crewed missions to low-Earth orbit and further serve to open up space exploration and transportation services to the private sector.

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in September 2014 worth $6.8 Billion to complete the development and manufacture of the privately developed CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut transporters under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The selection of astronauts for rides with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) comes almost exactly four years to the day since the last American manned space launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission to the space station on July 8, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hurley was a member of the STS-135 crew and served as shuttle pilot under NASA’s last shuttle commander, Chris Ferguson, who is now Director of Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew program. Read my earlier exclusive interviews with Ferguson about the CST-100 – here and here.

Since the retirement of the shuttle orbiters, all American and ISS partner astronauts have been forced to hitch a ride on the Soyuz for flights to the ISS and back, at a current cost of over $70 million per seat.

“Our plans to return launches to American soil make fiscal sense,” Bolden elaborated. “It currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. On an American-owned spacecraft, the average cost will be $58 million per astronaut.

Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams are all eager to work with the Boeing and SpaceX teams to “understand their designs and operations as they finalize their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies in support of their crewed flight tests and certification activities as part of their contracts with NASA.”

Until June 2015, Williams held the record for longest time in space by a woman, accumulating 322 days in orbit. Behnken is currently the chief of the astronaut core and conducted six space walks at the station. Boe has spent over 28 days in space and flew on the final mission of Space Shuttle Discovery in Feb. 2011 on STS-133.

The first commercial crew flights under the CCtCAP contract could take place in 2017 with at least one member of the two person crews being a NASA astronaut – who will be “on board to verify the fully-integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all systems perform as expected, and land safely,” according to a NASA statement.

The second crew member could be a company test pilot as the details remain to be worked out.

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA
Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

The actual launch date depends on the NASA budget allocation for the Commercial Crew Program approved by the US Congress.

Congress has never approved NASA’s full funding request for the CCP program and has again cut the program significantly in initial votes this year. So the outlook for a 2017 launch is very uncertain.

Were it not for the drastic CCP cuts we would be launching astronauts this year on the space taxis.

“Every dollar we invest in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, rather than in the Russian economy,” Bolden emphasizes about the multifaceted benefits of the commercial crew initiative.

Under the CCtCAP contract, NASA recently ordered the agency’s first commercial crew mission from Boeing – as outlined in my story here. SpaceX will receive a similar CCtCAP mission order later this year.

At a later date, NASA will decide whether Boeing or SpaceX will launch the actual first commercial crew test flight mission to low Earth orbit.

Boeing’s commercial CST-100 'Space Taxi' will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“This is a new and exciting era in the history of U.S. human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement.

“These four individuals, like so many at NASA and the Flight Operations Directorate, have dedicated their careers to becoming experts in the field of aeronautics and furthering human space exploration. The selection of these experienced astronauts who are eligible to fly aboard the test flights for the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to the ISS and low-Earth orbit ensures that the crews will be well-prepared and thoroughly trained for their missions.”

Both the CST-100 and Crew Dragon will typically carry a crew of four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members, along with some 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. Each will also be capable of carrying up to seven crew members depending on how the capsule is configured.

The spacecraft will be capable to remaining docked at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

The NASA CCtCAP contracts call for a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions from each provider.

The station crew will also be enlarged to seven people that will enable a doubling of research time.
The CST-100 will be carried to low Earth orbit atop a man-rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It enjoys a 100% success rate.

Boeing will first conduct a pair of unmanned and manned orbital CST-100 test flights earlier in 2017 in April and July, prior to the operational commercial crew rotation mission to confirm that their capsule is ready and able and met all certification milestone requirements set by NASA.

The Crew Dragon will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It enjoyed a 100% success rate until last weeks launch on its 19th flight which ended with an explosion two minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral on June 28, 2015.

Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch  from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX conducted a successful Pad Abort Test of the Crew Dragon on May 6, as I reported here. The goal was to test the spacecrafts abort systems that will save astronauts lives in a split second in the case of a launch emergency such as occurred during the June 28 rocket failure in flight that was bound for the ISS with the initial cargo version of the SpaceX Dragon.

SpaceX plans an unmanned orbital test flight of Crew Dragon perhaps by the end of 2016. The crewed orbital test flight would follow sometime in 2017.

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

Ken Kremer

Falcon 9 Rocket Failure a Huge Blow to SpaceX: Musk

In his first public comments since the surprise disintegration of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket some two minutes after last week’s liftoff on June 28, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said today (July 7) that the launch failure was a “huge blow” to his company and the cause remains elusive and is under intense investigation.

“The accident was a huge blow to SpaceX,” Musk told the opening session of the International Space Station Research & Development Conference being held in Boston, Mass, during an on-stage conversation with NASA’s International Space Station manager Mike Suffredini.

The private SpaceX Falcon 9 booster broke up just minutes after a picture perfect blastoff from Cape Canaveral on a crucial logistics flight for NASA, carrying a SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter that was headed to the International Space Station (ISS).

Dragon was chock full of over two tons of research experiments and much needed supplies and gear for the multinational crews serving aboard.

“There’s still no clear theory that fits with all the data,” Musk said. “We take these missions incredibly seriously.”

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

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon were destroyed just over two minutes after a stunning liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in sunny Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT.

The upper stage of the rocket suddenly exploded due to an as yet unexplained anomaly as the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines kept firing. Moments later it vaporized into a grayish cloud at supersonic speed, raining debris down into the Atlantic Ocean.

Although the second stage appears to be the culprit in the disaster, Musk said that there is still not a coherent cause and explanation of the data and was hard to interpret.

“Whatever happened is clearly not a sort of simple, straightforward thing,” he explained. “In this case, the data does seem to be quite difficult to interpret.”

“So we want to spend as much time as possible just reviewing the data. No clear theory fits all the data.”

The Falcon 9 was transmitting data on over 3,000 channels of flight data streams.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Virtually since the moment of the mishap approximately 139 seconds after the otherwise successful launch, SpaceX engineers have been pouring over the data to try and determine the root cause of the accident.

“Everyone that can engage in the investigation at SpaceX is very, very focused on that,”Musk elaborated. “We want to spend as much time as possible just reviewing the data.”

From the beginning Musk indicated that there was some type of over pressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank and he elaborated a bit at the conference.

“At this point, the only thing that’s really clear was there was some kind of over-pressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank, but the exact cause and sequence of events, there’s still no clear theory that fits with all the data.”

“So we have to determine if some of the data is a measurement error of some kind, or if there’s actually a theory that matches what appear to be conflicting data points.”

SpaceX is conducting an intense and thorough investigation with the active support of various government agencies including the FAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

“The interaction with NASA has been great so far,” Musk said. “The biggest challenge is that there are a lot of inquiries coming in simultaneously, so it’s hard to keep responding to everyone right away.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The accident investigation is in full swing both at the Cape and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Ca.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Mission Assurance, is leading the accident investigation for SpaceX.

“The process for determining the root cause of Sunday’s mishap is complex, and there is no one theory yet that is consistent with the data,” SpaceX spokesman John Taylor told me earlier.

“Our engineering teams are heads down reviewing every available piece of flight data as we work through a thorough fault tree analysis in order to identify root cause.”

Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch  from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The June 28 launch was the 19th overall for the Falcon 9 booster and the first failure in an otherwise hugely successful program by the new space company founded by Musk and headquartered in Hawthorne, CA. Musk’s oft stated goals include radically slashing the cost of access to space to enable much wider participation in the space frontier by entrepreneurs and individuals and foster much greater exploration that will aid human missions to the Red Planet.

SpaceX may have more to say publicly later this week.

“I think we’ll be able to say something more definitive towards the end of the week,” Musk noted.

In the meantime all SpaceX launches are on hold for several months at least.

The SpaceX CRS-7 cargo launch failure was the second of two back to back cargo delivery launch failures run to the space station, including both American and Russian rockets since April, and the third in the past eight months that significantly crimped the stations stockpiles and abruptly impacted upcoming crew rotations and launches throughout the remainder of 2015.

Fortunately, the string of launch failures with the successful launch the Russian Progress 60 cargo freighter on July 3, five days after the SpaceX CRS-7 failure. Progress 60 docked at the ISS on July 5 with three tons of supplies, to the relief of the station partners worldwide.

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

Ken Kremer

Mike Suffredini,  NASA International Space Station manager and Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Mission Assurance discuss Space CRS-7 mission to the ISS at media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mike Suffredini, NASA International Space Station manager and Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Mission Assurance discuss SpaceX CRS-7 mission to the ISS at media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Falcon 9 Failure Investigation Focuses on Data not Debris as SpaceX Seeks Root Cause

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX and NASA are diligently working to “identify the root cause” of the June 28 in flight failure of the firms Falcon 9 rocket, as the accident investigation team focuses on “flight data” rather than recovered debris as the best avenue for determining exactly what went wrong, a SpaceX spokesperson told Universe Today.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 booster broke up just minutes after a picture perfect blastoff from a seaside Florida launch pad on a critical mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station (ISS). It was carrying a SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter loaded with research equipment and new hardware to enable crewed spaceships to dock at the orbiting outpost.

The accident investigation team is still seeking the root cause of the launch failure through a complex fault tree analysis.

“The process for determining the root cause of Sunday’s mishap is complex, and there is no one theory yet that is consistent with the data,” said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor.

The accident investigation is in full swing both at the Cape and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Ca.

“Our engineering teams are heads down reviewing every available piece of flight data as we work through a thorough fault tree analysis in order to identify root cause.”

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of Mission Assurance, is leading the accident investigation for SpaceX.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX is conducting an intense and thorough investigation with the active support of various government agencies including the FAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon were destroyed just over two minutes after a stunning liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in sunny Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT.

The SpaceX CRS-7 cargo resupply mission to the ISS began flawlessly. The nine Merlin 1D engines powering the Falcon 9 rockets first stage were firing nominally at launch to produce about 1.3 million pounds of liftoff thrust for almost their entire duration.

However, approximately 139 seconds into the planned 159 second firing of the first stage engine, the majestic blastoff went awry as the upper stage of the vehicle experienced an as yet unexplained anomaly and suddenly exploded, vaporizing into a grayish cloud at supersonic speed and raining debris down into the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015. Credit: Alex Polimeni
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015. Credit: Alex Polimeni

The Falcon 9 has transmitting data on over 3,000 channels of flight data streams.

But something went wrong apparently with the upper stage said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

“There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause,” tweeted Musk.

But why that happened and the vehicle disintegrated in mere seconds is still a mystery to be resolved through careful fault tree analysis of the data.

“Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds.”

While SpaceX and Coast Guard ships have recovered some debris in the days since the launch mishap, the data streams are expected to be the most useful source of information to the investigation team.

Hex editors are being used to comb through the data.

A hex editor (or binary file editor or byte editor) is a type of computer program that allows for manipulation of the fundamental binary data that constitutes a computer file.

The name ‘hex’ comes from ‘hexadecimal’: a standard numerical format for representing binary data.

Some data was transmitted after the breakup.

The accident investigation teams are currently in the process of recreating the final milliseconds of the flight to give them some additional insights into what may have happened, when and why.

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

In the meantime all SpaceX launches are on hold for several months at least.

The next Falcon 9 launch scheduled was for NASA’s Jason 3 from Vandenberg Air Dorce Base in California

The next SpaceX cargo Dragon had been scheduled for liftoff in September 2015 on the CRS-8 mission, but is now postponed pending the results of the return to flight investigation.

Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch  from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

There are sufficient supplies on board the ISS to keep the crew continuing their mission until at least October 2015.

The SpaceX CRS-7 Dragon was loaded with over 4,000 pounds (1987 kg) of research experiments, an EVA spacesuit, water filtration equipment, spare parts, gear, computer equipment, high pressure tanks of oxygen and nitrogen supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These included critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko.

The Dragon was also packed with the first of two new International Docking Adapters (IDS’s) required for the new commercial crew space taxis to dock at the ISS starting in 2017.

Another Russian Progress vehicle is set to fly on the next resupply mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Friday, July 3.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Cause of SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Failure Unknown; Launch Explosion Photos

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story and photos expanded[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The root cause of Sundays (June 28) devastating launch failure of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is “still unknown” says SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk, following the loss of the NASA contracted resupply mission carrying crucial gear and research experiments to the crew serving aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

Meanwhile, search and recovery teams from SpaceX and the Coast Guard are scouring the ocean and beaches along the Florida Space Coast for any signs of potentially dangerous Falcon rocket debris that rained down from the sky into the Atlantic Ocean after the sudden explosion unexpectedly destroyed the vehicle barely two minutes after a sun drenched liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT.

All appeared normal as the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon resupply spaceship were streaking skywards through majestically blue Florida skies when catastrophe struck at approximately 148 seconds after blastoff and the rocket exploded violently- utterly destroying the rocket ship and its two ton load of critical supplies heading to the astronauts and cosmonauts living on board the ISS.

The upper stage appeared to break up in flight as the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines were firing as planned and the rocket was arcing over.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

But why that happened and the vehicle disintegrated in mere seconds is still a mystery which will take some time to resolve.

“Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Although the cause is unknown, Musk also announced that the failure might be related to a problem with the Falcon 9 upper stage. since the first stage engines were still firing as planned.

“There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause,” tweeted Musk.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship streaking skywards until explosion about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship streaking skywards until explosion about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The rocket was traveling about 5000 km/h at an altitude of 45 kilometers at the time of the mishap.

“Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk soon after the explosion.

The pressurized section of the Dragon was packed with over 4,000 pounds of research experiments, spare parts, gear, high pressure supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45 on the ISS.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Sunday’s launch was the 19th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and the first failure after 18 straight successes.

SpaceX formed a failure investigation board immediately following the launch failure of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission bound for the ISS. The FAA and NASA will assist in the investigation.

The launch was the sixth for SpaceX this year, which had been picking up its launch pace dramatically compared to 2014.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was the third launch failure of a cargo delivery run to the space station in the past half year -including both American and Russian rockets.

The Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus Orb 3 mission exploded in a massive an frightening fireball on October 28, 2014 which I witnessed from the press site from NASA Wallops in Virginia.

The Russian Soyuz/Progress 59 mission failed after the cargo vessel separated from the booster rockets third stage and spun wildly out of control in April 2015 and eventually crashed.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Myself and other members of the media were watching and photographing the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from atop the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) when the launch mishap occurred.

See a galley of my launch failure explosion photos herein.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-7 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX set for Station Resupply Blastoff with Crew Docking Adapter and Bold Landing Attempt on June 28 – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon are due to blastoff on June 28, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT on the CRS-7 mission to the International Space Station. Photo of last SpaceX launch to ISS in April 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With launch less than a day away for SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission carrying a two ton payload of critical science and cargo for the future buildup of human spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, June 28, “everything is looking great” and all systems are GO, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of mission assurance announced at a media briefing for reporters at the Kennedy Space Center.

The weather outlook along the Florida Space Coast is fantastic as U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron forecasters are predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions for lift off of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, slated for 10:21 a.m. EDT, Sunday, June 28, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX. Cargo delivery to the station is the overriding primary objective and the entire reason for the CRS-7 mission.

If you are free this weekend and all continues to go well, this could well be your chance to be an eyewitness to a magnificent space launch in sunny Florida – and see a flight that signifies significant progress towards restoring America’s ability to once again launch our astronauts on American rockets from American soil.

NASA Television plans live launch coverage starting at 9 a.m EDT on June 28:

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

SpaceX also plans live launch coverage: www.spacex.com/webcast

Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that the rocket must liftoff at the precisely appointed time. Any delays like on Monday due to weather or technical factors will force a scrub.

The mission is critical for NASA in more ways than one, in addition to the science cargo, the SpaceX Dragon spaceship is loaded with the first of two International Docking Adapters (IDA’s), pictured below, that will be connected to the space station to provide a place for Commercial Crew spacecraft carrying astronauts to dock to the orbiting laboratory as soon as 2017.

The approximately 30 inch thick and ring shaped IDA is loaded in the unpressurized truck section at the rear of the Dragon.

The pressurized section of the Dragon is packed with over 4,000 pounds of research experiments, spare parts, gear, high pressure supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These include critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The science payloads will offer new insight to combustion in microgravity, perform the first space-based observations of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere, continue solving potential crew health risks and make new strides toward being able to grow food in space, says NASA.

Some three dozen student science experiments are also flying aboard. The cargo also includes the METEOR camera.

Both IDA’s were built by Boeing. They will enable docking by the new space taxis being built by Boeing and Space X – the CST-100 and crew Dragon respectively, to carry our crews to the ISS and end our sole source reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule.

IDA 1 will be attached to the forward port on the Harmony node, where the space shuttles used to dock.

Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

If Dragon launches on Sunday as planned, it will reach the space station after a two day pursuit on Tuesday, June 30.

NASA’s Scott Kelly of NASA will use the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at about 7 a.m. He will be assisted by Station commander Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) as they operate the 57 foot long arm from the station’s cupola.

NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and grapple of Dragon will begin at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Coverage of Dragon’s installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 8:30 a.m.

The ship will remain berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-7 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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, Boeing, Space Taxis, Europa, Rosetta, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jun 27-28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon poised at Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida for planned April 14 launch to the International Space Station on the CRS-6 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon poised at Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida for planned April 14 launch to the International Space Station on the CRS-6 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

U.S. Air Force Certifies SpaceX for National Security Launches, Ending Monopoly

SpaceX Falcon 9 is now certified for USAF launches. SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that they have certified SpaceX to launch the nations critical and highly valuable national security satellites on the firms Falcon 9 rocket, thereby breaking the decade old launch monopoly held by launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a joint venture owned by aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force’s goal in approving the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is aimed at drastically cutting the high cost of access to space by introducing competition in the awarding of military mission launch contacts. The prior contract involved a sole source $11 Billion “block buy” bid for 36 rocket cores from ULA in December 2013 which was legally challenged by SpaceX in April 2014, but eventually settled by SpaceX in an agreement with the USAF earlier this year.

Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), announced the long awaited decision on Tuesday, May 26.

The certification milestone came after a grueling two year review process in which the Air Force invested more than $60 million and 150 people to thoroughly review all aspects of the Falcon 9 booster. The review was based on three successful flights by the Falcon 9 v1.1 which first launched in late 2013.

The purpose of certification is to assure that qualified launch providers could meet the challenge of safely, securely and reliably lofting expensive U.S. national security military missions to space and into their intended orbits with full mission capability that are critical for maintaining national defense.

“The SpaceX and SMC teams have worked hard to achieve certification,” said Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, in a statement.

“And we’re also maintaining our spaceflight worthiness process supporting the National Security Space missions. Our intent is to promote the viability of multiple EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible.”

And the competitive launch races “for award of qualified national security space launch missions” between SpaceX and ULA start very soon, within the next month says the USAF.

In June, the Air Force will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for GPS III launch services. ULA has three GPS launches in its manifest for 2015.

Of course SpaceX was overjoyed on hearing the certification news.

“This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch, said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Lead Designer.

‘We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well.”

Until today, ULA has held a launch monopoly over military missions since the company was founded in 2006. ULA also launches many NASA science missions, but very few commercial satellites.

Thus the U.S. military and NASA provide the core of ULA’s business and the source of much of its income and profits.

SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is now certified by the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, in a statement.

“SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”

Other military spacecraft in the future could involve vehicles such as the X-37B space plane which recently launched on an Atlas V, as well as weather satellites, signals intelligence and missile warning satellites and a range of top secret missions for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that have been routinely launched by ULA with a 100% success rate to date.

USAF X-37B orbital test vehicle launches atop  United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015 on OTV-4 mission. Credit: Alex Polimeni
USAF X-37B orbital test vehicle launches atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015 on OTV-4 mission. Credit: Alex Polimeni

ULA’s stable of launchers includes the Atlas V and Delta IV families of vehicles. ULA is phasing out the Delta IV due to its high costs. Only the Delta IV Heavy will remain in service as required to launch the very heaviest satellites that cannot be accommodated by less powerful rockets.

ULA is also replacing the Atlas V with the partly reusable new Vulcan rocket, that will be phased in starting in 2019 using American-made engines from either Blue Origin or Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The Atlas V uses Russian made RD-180 engines, who’s use has become highly contentious since the deadly crisis in Ukraine erupted in 2014.

The ensuing threats of RD-180 engine embargoes and imposition of sanctions and counter sanctions imposed by the US and Russia have thus placed US national security at risk by being dependent on a rocket with foreign made engines whose future supply chain was uncertain.

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been highly critical of the ULA dependence on the Russian RD-180 engines and issued this statement in response to the Air Force announcement.

“The certification of SpaceX as a provider for defense space launch contracts is a win for competition, said McCain.

“Over the last 15 years, as sole-source contracts were awarded, the cost of EELV was quickly becoming unjustifiably high. I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies.”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for launch of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission on March 12, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for launch of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission on March 12, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Overall the Air Force “invested more than $60 million and 150 people in the certification effort which encompassed 125 certification criteria, including more than 2,800 discreet tasks, 3 certification flight demonstrations, verifying 160 payload interface requirements, 21 major subsystem reviews and 700 audits in order to establish the technical baseline from which the Air Force will make future flight worthiness determinations for launch.”

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Russia’s Out of Control Progress Freighter Doomed to Fiery Finale Friday

Russia’s out-of-control Progress 59 cargo freighter is doomed to a fiery finale overnight Friday, May 8, according to Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency.

The errant spaceship is expected to fall back to Earth and reenter the atmosphere early in the morning Moscow time following the latest orbital analysis by Roscosmos.

“The time window for the failed Progress spacecraft reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere was changed to a span between 01.13 a.m. and 04.51 a.m. Moscow time on May 8, according to Russia’s space agency Roscosmos,” according to the latest update today, May 7, from the Russian Sputnik news outlet.

According to a Roscosmos source, the unmanned Progress 59, also known as M-27M , would most likely make the atmospheric reentry over the Indian Ocean.

Roscosmos said in a statement that Progress 59 “will cease to exist” on Friday.

Most of the debris is expected to burn up. But any remaining fragments are likely to hit north of Madagascar.

Russian mission controllers lost control of the Progress 59 spacecraft ship – bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a routine resupply mission – shortly after its otherwise successful launch on April 28 from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.

Soon after detaching from the rockets third stage, it began to spin out of control at about 1.8 times per second, as seen in a video transmitted from the doomed ship.

After control could not be reestablished, all hope of docking with the ISS was abandoned by Roscosmos.

Here’s a short video taken by the spinning Progress with NASA commentary:

The 7 ton vehicle was loaded with 2.5 tons of supplies for the ISS and the six person Expedition 43 crew. Items included personal mail for the crew, scientific equipment, as well as replaceable parts for the station’s life support systems and a stockpile of water and oxygen, according to Russia Today.

The Progress spacecraft is also loaded with a significant amount of fuel as it orbits Earth at an inclination of 51.6 degrees to the equator. This carries it over most of the populated world between 51.6 degrees north and south latitudes. But most of the area is over unpopulated oceans, making the chances of danger from falling debris very small.

The latest ground track reentry prediction for the Progress 59 (M-27M)  spacecraft showing orbital path around Earth as of May 7, 2015. Note: subject to change.  Credit: Aerospace Corp.
The latest ground track reentry prediction for the Progress 59 (M-27M) spacecraft showing orbital path around Earth as of May 7, 2015. Note: subject to change. Credit: Aerospace Corp.

To date the Progress vehicle have been highly reliable. The last failure occurred in 2011, shortly after the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011.

Roscosmos has established an investigation board to determine the cause of the Progress failure and any commonalities it might have with manned launches of the Soyuz rocket and capsule.

“The conclusions are to be made by May 13, 2015,” according to a Roscosmos statement.

The potential exists for a delay in the next planned manned Soyuz launch with a three person international crew later on May 26 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The ISS crew is in no danger and has sufficient supplies to last until at least September.

Besides the Russian Progress cargo ship, the ISS is resupplied by the commercial US SpaceX Dragon and Orbital Sciences Cygnus vessels and the Japanese HTV. ESA’s ATV has been retired after 5 flights.

The next Falcon 9 launch carrying the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship on a resupply mission for NASA to the ISS is slated for mid-June. The most recent Dragon was launched on the CRS-6 mission on April 14, 2015.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The last Orbital Sciences launch of an Antares rocket with the Orb-3 Cygnus resupply ship ended in a catastrophic explosion just seconds after liftoff on October 28, 2014.

The ISS lifeline hangs by a delicate thread.

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

Ken Kremer

Base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

SpaceX Picks Up Launch Pace; Sets April 27 Commercial Launch and May 5 Crew Dragon Pad Abort Test

SpaceX Dragon V2 test flight vehicle set for May 5, 2015 pad abort test. Credit: SpaceX
See below SpaceX live launch webcast link[/caption]

As promised, SpaceX is picking up its launch pace in 2015 with a pair of liftoffs from the Florida space coast slated for the next week and a half. They follow closely on the heels of a quartet of successful blastoffs from Cape Canaveral, already accomplished since January.

If all goes well, a commercial satellite launch and a human spaceflight related pad abort test launch for NASA are scheduled for April 27 and May 5 respectively.

Mondays launch of a communications satellite for Thales Alenia Space takes place just 13 days after SpaceX successfully launching the Dragon CRS-6 resupply freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA on April 14.

The 13 day turnaround time will mark a new launch cadence record for SpaceX if the weather and rocket cooperate, eclipsing the 14 day turnaround record set last September.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 224 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch at approximately 6:14 p.m. EDT (2214 GMT) on April 27 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It will deliver the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

This first satellite ever for Turkmenistan will be deployed approximately 32 minutes after liftoff of the fifth Falcon 9 rocket this year.

The outlook is currently 60 percent GO for favorable weather conditions at launch time.

You can watch the launch live via a SpaceX webcast that begins about 20 minutes before launch at: spacex.com/webcast

The May 5 pad abort test for NASA is critical for the timely development of the human rated Dragon that NASA is counting on to restore the US capability to launch astronauts from US soil to the space station.

The test will simulate an emergency abort from a test stand and will also take place from the Cape’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida.

SpaceX has a four hour launch window in which to conduct the test. The test window opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT) on May 5. There is a backup opportunity on May 6.

The pad abort demonstration will test the ability of a set of eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the crew Dragon to pull the vehicle away from the launch pad in a split second in a simulated emergency.

First look at the SpaceX Crew Dragon’s pad abort vehicle set for flight test in March 2014.  Credit: SpaceX.
First look at the SpaceX Crew Dragon’s pad abort vehicle set for flight test in March 2014. Credit: SpaceX.

The purpose is to test the ability of the abort system to save astronauts lives in the event of a real emergency.

The SuperDraco engines are located in four jet packs around the base. Each enigne can produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety, according to a SpaceX description.

Here is a SpaceX video of SuperDraco’s being hot fire tested in Texas.

Video caption: Full functionality of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco jetpacks demonstrated with hotfire test in McGregor, TX. Credit: SpaceX

The pad abort test is being done under SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA.

The initial pad abort test will test the ability of the full-size Dragon to safely push away and escape in case of a failure of its Falcon 9 booster rocket in the moments around launch, right at the launch pad.

“The purpose of the pad abort test is to demonstrate Dragon has enough total impulse (thrust) to safely abort,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin informed me.

For that test, Dragon will use its pusher escape abort thrusters to lift the Dragon safely away from the failing rocket.

The vehicle will be positioned on a structural facsimile of the Dragon trunk in which the actual Falcon 9/Dragon interfaces will be represented by mockups. The test will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.

A second Dragon flight test follow later in the year. It involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure at about T plus 1 minute, to save astronauts lives. The pusher abort thrusters would propel the capsule and crew safely away from a failing Falcon 9 booster for a parachute assisted landing into the Atlantic Ocean.

The SpaceX Dragon V2 and Boeing CST-100 vehicles were selected by NASA last fall for further funding under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), as the worlds privately developed spaceships to ferry astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS).

Both SpaceX and Boeing plan to launch the first manned test flights to the ISS with their respective transports in 2017.

During the Sept. 16, 2014 news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that contracts worth a total of $6.8 Billion were awarded to SpaceX to build the manned Dragon V2 and to Boeing to build the manned CST-100.

There will be no attempt to soft land the Falcon 9 first stage during the April 27 launch. The next landing attempt is set for mid-June.

Up close view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket landing legs prior to launch on April 14, 2015 on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket landing legs prior to launch on April 14, 2015 on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer