Commercial Antares/Cygnus Rocket Loaded with Science for July 13 Virginia Launch – Watch Live

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Following further weather delays this week Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial Antares rocket is at last set to soar to space at lunchtime Sunday, July 13, from a beachside launch pad in Virginia carrying a private Cygnus cargo freighter loaded with a diverse array of science experiments including a flock of nanosatellites and deployers, student science experiments and small cubesat prototypes that may one day fly to Mars.

The privately developed Antares rocket is on a critical cargo resupply mission – named Orb-2 – bound for the International Space Station (ISS) and now targeting liftoff at 12:52 p.m. on July 13 from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern shore.

Read my complete Antares launch viewing guide here – “How to See the Antares/Cygnus July 13 Blastoff”

Severe thunderstorms up and down the US East coast forced two consecutive postponements this week from the Atlantic Ocean region launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, from July 11 to July 13.

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“Orbital’s launch team has made great progress in preparing the rocket for the Orb-2 mission, which will be the fourth flight of Antares in the past 15 months,” Orbital said in a statement.

“However, severe weather in the Wallops area has repeatedly interrupted the team’s normal operational schedule leading up to the launch. As a result, these activities have taken longer than expected. Orbital has decided to postpone the Orb-2 mission by an additional day in order to maintain normal launch operations processing.”

The pressurized Cygnus cargo freighter will deliver 1,657 kg (3653 lbs) of cargo to the ISS Expedition 40 crew including over 700 pounds (300 kg) of science experiments and instruments, crew supplies, food, water, computer equipment, spacewalk tools and student research experiments.

A flock of 28 nanosatellites from Planet Labs of San Francisco are aboard to take pictures of Earth.

Close-up view of Cygnus spacecraft atop Antares rocket on Orb 2 mission launching on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Close-up view of Cygnus spacecraft atop Antares rocket on Orb 2 mission launching on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

After deployment from the Japanese JEM module they will form “the largest constellation of imaging satellites in Earth orbit,” said Robbie Schingler, Co-Founder of PlanetLabs.

“The individual satellites will take images that will be combined into a whole Earth mosaic,” Schingler told me in an interview at Wallops.

15 student experiments on the “Charlie Brown” mission are aboard and hosted by the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, an initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) and NanoRacks.

“The student experiments were chosen from over 1000 proposals from Grades 5 to 12,” said Jeff Goldstein, NCESSE director.

They will investigate plant, lettuce, raddish and mold growth and seed germination in zero-G, penecilium growth, corrosion inhibitors, oxidation in space and microencapsulation experiments.

The TechEdSat-4 is a small cubesat built by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California that will investigate technology to return small samples to Earth from the space station.

NASA will broadcast the Antares launch live on NASA TV starting at 12 Noon – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

The weather prognosis is very favorable with a 90% chance of acceptable weather at launch time during the 5 minute window.

The Antares/Cygnus Orbital-2 (Orb-2) mission is the second of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

NASA will broadcast the Antares launch live on NASA TV starting at 12 Noon – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Depending on local weather conditions, portions of the daylight liftoff could be visible to millions of spectators along the US Eastern seaboard stretching from South Carolina to Massachusetts.

Here’s a viewing map:

Orbital 2 Launch from NASA Wallops Island, VA on July 12, 2014- Time of First Sighting Map   This map shows the rough time at which you can first expect to see Antares after it is launched on July 12, 2014. It represents the time at which the rocket will reach 5 degrees above the horizon and varies depending on your location . We have selected 5 degrees as it is unlikely that you'll be able to view the rocket when it is below 5 degrees due to buildings, vegetation, and other terrain features. As an example, using this map when observing from Washington, DC shows that Antares will reach 5 degrees above the horizon more than a minute.   Credit: Orbital Sciences
Orbital 2 Launch from NASA Wallops Island, VA on July 13, 2014- Time of First Sighting Map This map shows the rough time at which you can first expect to see Antares after it is launched on July 13, 2014. It represents the time at which the rocket will reach 5 degrees above the horizon and varies depending on your location . We have selected 5 degrees as it is unlikely that you’ll be able to view the rocket when it is below 5 degrees due to buildings, vegetation, and other terrain features. As an example, using this map when observing from Washington, DC shows that Antares will reach 5 degrees above the horizon more than a minute. Credit: Orbital Sciences

The best viewing will be in the mid-Atlantic region closest to Wallops Island.

Locally at Wallops you’ll get a magnificent view and hear the rockets thunder at either the NASA Wallops Visitor Center or the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague National Seashore.

For more information about the Wallops Visitors Center, including directions, see: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/visitorcenter

NASA will have special “countdown speakers” set up at the NASA Wallops Visitor Center, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague National Seashore and Ocean City inlet.

ATK built 2nd stage integrated onto 1st stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket slated for July 11, 2014 launch on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS.  The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
ATK built 2nd stage integrated onto 1st stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket slated for July 11, 2014 launch on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS. The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital Sciences was awarded a $1.9 Billion supply contract by NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for 8 flight to the ISS through 2016 under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiative.

The July mission marks the second operational Antares/Cygnus flight.

The two stage Antares rocket stands 132 feet tall. It takes about 10 minutes from launch until separation of Cygnus from the Antares vehicle.

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. LADEE lunar mission launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. LADEE lunar mission launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

SpaceX has a similar resupply contract using their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo carrier and just completed their 3rd operational mission to the ISS in May.

Watch for Ken’s onsite Antares Orb-2 mission reports from NASA Wallops, VA.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing ISS, OCO-2, GPM, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about NASA’s Mars missions and Orbital Sciences Antares ISS launch on July 13 from NASA Wallops, VA in July and more about SpaceX, Boeing and commercial space and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations.

July 11/12/13: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Launch from Virginia” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to Unveil Manned Dragon ‘Space Taxi’ on May 29

SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter berthed to the International Space Station during recently concluded SpaceX-3 mission in May 2014. An upgraded, manrated version will carry US astronauts to space in the next two to three years. Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

SpaceX CEO, founder and chief designer Elon Musk is set to unveil the manned version of his firms commercial Dragon spaceship later this week, setting in motion an effort that he hopes will soon restore America’s capability to launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.

Musk will personally introduce SpaceX’s ‘Space Taxi’ dubbed ‘Dragon V2’ at what amounts to sort of a world premiere event on May 29 at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, according to an official announcement this evening (May 27) from SpaceX.

“SpaceX’s new Dragon V2 spacecraft is a next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into space,” according to the SpaceX statement.

The manned Dragon will launch atop the powerful SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from a SpaceX pad on the Florida Space Coast.

Dragon was initially developed as a commercial unmanned resupply freighter to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of supplies and science experiments to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

Musk is making good on a recent comment he posted to twitter on April 29, with respect to the continuing fallout from the deadly crisis in Ukraine which has resulted in some US economic sanctions imposed against Russia, that now potentially threaten US access to the ISS in a boomerang action from the Russian government:

“Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that @SpaceX has been working on with @NASA. No trampoline needed,” Musk tweeted.

“Cover drops on May 29. Actual flight design hardware of crew Dragon, not a mockup,” Musk added.

The ‘Dragon V2’ is an upgraded, man rated version of the unmanned spaceship that can carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS.

NASA astronauts and industry experts check out the crew accommodations in the Dragon spacecraft under development by SpaceX. The evaluation in Hawthorne, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2012, was part of SpaceX's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Credit: NASA
NASA astronauts and industry experts check out the crew accommodations in the Dragon spacecraft under development by SpaceX. The evaluation in Hawthorne, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2012, was part of SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credit: NASA

Dragon is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.

Since that day, US astronauts have been totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsules for ferry rides to orbit and back.

The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014.

All three company’s have been making excellent progress in meeting their NASA mandated milestones in the current contract period known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

However, US progress getting the space taxis actually built and flying has been repeatedly stifled by the US Congress who have severely cut NASA’s budget request for the Commercial Crew Program by about half each year. Thus forcing NASA to delay the first manned orbital test flights by at least 18 months from 2015 to 2017.

The situation with regard to US dependency on Russian rocketry to reach the ISS has always been awkward.

But it finally took on new found importance and urgency from politicos in Washington, DC, since the ongoing crisis in Ukraine this year exposed US vulnerability in a wide range of space endeavors affecting not just astronaut rides to the ISS but also the launch of the most critical US national security surveillance satellites essential to US defense.

US space vulnerability became obvious to everyone when Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin. who is in charge of space and defense industries, said that US sanctions could “boomerang” against the US space program and that perhaps NASA should “deliver their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.   File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Rogozin also threatened to cut off exports of the Russian made RD-180 rocket engines which power the first stage of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket used to launch numerous US National Security spy satellites.

“Moscow is banning Washington from using Russian-made rocket engines, which the US has used to deliver its military satellites into orbit,” Rogozin said at a media briefing held on May 13.

NASA is also a hefty user of the Atlas V for many of the agency’s science and communication satellites like the Curiosity Mars rover, MAVEN Mars orbiter, MMS, Juno Jupiter orbiter and TDRS.

Musk and SpaceX have also filed lawsuits against the US Air Force to legally block the importation of the RD-180 engines by ULA for the Atlas V as a violation of the US economic sanctions.

So overall, US space policy is in a murky and uncertain situation and Musk clearly aims for SpaceX to be a central and significant player in a wide range of US space activities, both manned and unmanned.

Read my earlier articles about the Atlas V controversy, Rogozin’s statements, Musk’s suit and more about the effects of economic sanctions imposed by the US and Western nations in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea; here, here, here, here and here.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 3rd operational Dragon cargo resupply mission completed the 30 day SpaceX-3 flight to the ISS with a successful Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 18.

SpaceX will webcast the Dragon unveiling event LIVE on May 29 at 7 p.m. PST for anyone wishing to watch at: www.spacex.com/webcast

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Return of the SpaceX-3 Dragon to Earth Caps Super Science Mission for NASA

SpaceX-3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter was detached from the ISS at 8 AM EDT on May 18, 2014 and released by station crew at 9:26 AM for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean with science samples and cargo. Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

The 30 day flight of the SpaceX-3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter loaded with a huge cache of precious NASA science experiments including a freezer packed with research samples ended today with a spectacular departure from the orbiting lab complex soaring some 266 miles (428 km) above Earth.

Update 3:05 PM EDT May 18: SpaceX confirms successful splashdown at 3:05 p.m. EDT today.

“Splashdown is confirmed!! Welcome home, Dragon!”

Robotics officers at Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center detached Dragon from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at 8 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) this morning, Sunday, May 18, 2014 using the stations Canadian-built robotic arm.

Engineers had earlier unbolted all 16 hooks and latches firmly connecting the vehicle to the station in preparation.

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson then commanded the gum dropped shaped Dragon capsule’s release from Canadarm2 as planned at 9:26 a.m. EDT (1326 GMT) while the pair were flying majestically over southern Australia.

The undocking operation was shown live on NASA TV.

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft was in the grips of the Canadarm2 before being released for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.  Credit: NASA
The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft was in the grips of the Canadarm2 before being released for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA

Swanson was assisted by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov as the US- Russian team were working together inside the domed Cupola module.

Following the cargo ships release by the 57 foot long arms grappling snares, Swanson carefully maneuvered the arm back and away from Dragon as it moved ever so slowly in free drift mode.

It was already four feet distant within three minutes of release.

Three departure burns by the Dragon’s Draco maneuvering thrusters followed quickly in succession and occurred precisely on time at 9:29, 9:30 and 9:38 a.m. EST.

Dragon exited the 200 meter wide keep out zone – an imaginary bubble around the station with highly restricted access – at the conclusion of the 3rd departure burn.

“The Dragon mission went very well. It was very nice to have a vehicle take science equipment to the station, and maybe some day even humans,” Swanson radioed after the safe and successful departure was completed.

“Thanks to everyone who worked on the Dragon mission.”

The private SpaceX Dragon spent a total of 28 days attached to the ISS.

The six person international crew from Russia, the US and Japan on Expeditions 39 and 40 unloaded some 2.5 tons of supplies aboard and then repacked it for the voyage home.

The SpaceX resupply capsule is carrying back about 3500 pounds of spacewalk equipment, vehicle hardware, science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities, as well as no longer needed trash.

“The space station is our springboard to deep space and the science samples returned to Earth are critical to improving our knowledge of how space affects humans who live and work there for long durations,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

“Now that Dragon has returned, scientists can complete their analyses, so we can see how results may impact future human space exploration or provide direct benefits to people on Earth.”

Among the research investigations conducted that returned samples in the cargo hold were an examination of the decreased effectives of antibiotics in space, better growth of plants in space, T-Cell activation in aging and causes of human immune system depression in the microgravity environment.

The 10 minute long deorbit burn took place as scheduled at 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT) today.

Dragon returned to Earth for a triple parachute assisted splash down today at around 3:02 p.m. EDT (19:02 GMT) in the Pacific Ocean – some 300 miles west of Baja California.

Dragon is free flying after release from ISS at 9:26 a.m. EDT on May 18, 2014. Credit: NASA
Dragon is free flying after release from ISS at 9:26 a.m. EDT on May 18, 2014. Credit: NASA

It will be retrieved by recovery boats commissioned by SpaceX. The science cargo will be extracted and then delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center within 48 hours.

Dragon thundered to orbit atop SpaceX’s powerful new Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket on April 18, from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

This unmanned Dragon delivered about 4600 pounds of cargo to the ISS including over 150 science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), the laser optical communications experiment (OPALS), the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment as well as essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard in low Earth orbit.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those delivered to the ISS on the SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

It reached the ISS on April 20 for berthing.

Dragon is the only unmanned resupply vessel supply that also returns cargo back to Earth.

The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under the $1.6 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

The SpaceX Dragon is among a trio of American vehicles, including the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser vying to restore America’s capability to fly humans to Earth orbit and the space station by late 2017, using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public/private partnership. The next round of contracts will be awarded by NASA about late summer 2014.

Another significant milestone was the apparently successful attempt by SpaceX to accomplish a controlled soft landing of the Falcon 9 boosters first stage in the Atlantic Ocean for eventual recovery and reuse. It was a first step in a guided 1st stage soft landing back at the Cape.

The next unmanned US cargo mission to the ISS is set for early morning on June 10 with the launch of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus freighter atop an Antares booster from a launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Ken’s upcoming presentation: Mercy College, NY, May 19: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars” and “NASA’s Future Crewed Spaceships.”

Dangling Dextre Digs out Docked Dragon Depot prior to Station Departure

To close out their final week aboard the International Space Station, three of the six Expedition 39 crew members are completing their unloading tasks inside the docked commercial SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter and other duties while teams at Mission Control in Houston conduct delicate robotics work outside with dazzling maneuvers of the Dextre robot to remove the last external experiment from the vessels storage truck.

See a dazzling gallery of photos of Dextre dangling outside the docked Dragon depot – above and below.

On Monday, May 5, the robotics team at NASA Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston carefully guided Canada’s Dextre robotic “handyman” attached to the end of the 57-foot long Canadarm2 to basically dig out the final payload item housed in the unpressurized trunk section at the rear of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel docked to the ISS.

Dextre stands for “Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator” and was contributed to the station by the Canadian Space Agency. It measures 12 feet tall and is outfitted with a pair of arms and an array of finely detailed tools to carry out intricate and complex tasks that would otherwise require spacewalking astronauts.

The Canadarm2 with Dextre in its grasp conducts external cargo transfers from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.  Credit: NASA TV
The Canadarm2 with Dextre in its grasp conducts external cargo transfers from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. Credit: NASA TV

The massive orbiting outpost was soaring some 225 miles above the home planet as Dextre’s work was in progress to remove the Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science, or OPALS, from the Dragon’s truck.

The next step is to install OPALS on the Express Logistics Carrier-1 (ELC-1) depot at the end of the station’s port truss on Wednesday.

Monday’s attempt was the second try at grappling OPALS. The initial attempt last Thursday “was unsuccessful due to a problem gripping the payload’s grapple fixture with the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, or Dextre,” NASA reported.

A software patch solved the problem.

Canada’s Dextre manipulator attached to Canadarm2 conducts external cargo transfers from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.  Credit: NASA TV
Canada’s Dextre manipulator attached to Canadarm2 conducts external cargo transfers from the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. Credit: NASA TV

Dragon thundered to orbit atop SpaceX’s powerful new Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket on April 18, from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

This unmanned Dragon delivered about 4600 pounds of cargo to the ISS including over 150 science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), the laser optical communications experiment (OPALS), the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment as well as essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard in low Earth orbit, under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

OPALS uses laser light instead of radio waves to beam back precisely guided data packages to ground stations. The use of lasers should greatly increase the amount of information transmitted over the same period of time, says NASA.

The science experiments carried aboard Dragon are intended for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

Robotics teams had already pulled out the other payload item from the truck, namely the HDEV imaging suite. It is already transmitting back breathtaking real time video views of Earth from a quartet of video cameras pointing in different directions mounted on the stations exterior.

The SpaceX CRS-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

After spending six months in space, Station Commander Koichi Wakata from Japan as well as NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be departing the station in a week aboard their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft on May 13 at 6:33 p.m. EDT.

They are scheduled to land some 3.5 hours later in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 9:57 p.m. (7:57 a.m. Kazakh time on May 14). The events will be carried live on NASA TV.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply ship launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014.   Credit:  Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply ship launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
To prepare for the journey home, the trio also completed fit checks on their Russian Sokol launch and entry suits on Monday.

Meanwhile Dragon is also set to depart the station soon on May 18 for a parachute assisted splashdown and recovery by boats in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.

Dragon has been docked to the station since arriving on Easter Sunday morning, April 20.

It was grappled using Canadarm 2 and berthed at the Earth facing port of the Harmony module by Commander Wakata and flight engineer Mastracchio while working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed domed Cupola module.

For the return trip, the Expedition 39 crew is also loading Dragon with precious science samples collected over many months from the crews research activities as well as trash and no longer needed items.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Stunning Original Drawing of the Latest SpaceX Launch

Here’s something you don’t see much anymore: an original pencil drawing of a launch. This drawing by Wendy Clark from the UK is reminiscent of the pre-spaceflight days, before we had actual images of launches, and just our dreams of spaceflight. This isn’t the first time Clark has drawn a launch (here’s an article we posted of her drawings of the MAVEN launch and the final space shuttle launch) but this one is almost a contrast in themes: the latest technology in launches from the upstart SpaceX team vs. an old-school, old fashioned, by-hand product.

For this drawing, she reiterated what she told us previously: “Don’t let anyone tell you drawing a rocket is easy!” Clark said on Flickr. “The Strongback was a complete dog of an object to draw, such a maze of engineering.”

She also captured the ‘dirty’ side of launches: “Dust and gravel being thrown up everywhere, and the lovely Falcon 9 rocket was a little grubby on lift-off and I’ve tried to reflect that in the drawing,” she said.

Thanks to Wendy Clark for sharing her work on Universe Today’s Flickr site. See more of her drawings and photography on her own Flickr page.

Easter Sunday Space Station Rendezvous and Berthing for SpaceX Dragon Freighter Successful

The SpaceX 3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Easter Sunday morning, April 20, as planned and was deftly captured by Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata at 7:15 a.m. EDT at the controls of the Canadian built robotic arm.

The next step due shortly is berthing of Dragon at the Earth facing port of the Harmony module at approximately 9:30 a.m. EDT.

Berthing was officially completed at 10:06 a.m. EDT while the massive complex was soaring 260 miles above Brazil.

This story is being updated as events unfold. The mission is the company’s third cargo delivery flight to the station.

The Dragon vehicle loaded with nearly 2.5 tons of science experiments and supplies moved ever so slowly closely to within grappling distance – dramatically backdropped with gorgeous and ever changing scenery of our Home Planet sliding below.

The million pound orbiting lab complex and free flying SpaceX Dragon were soaring some 260 miles above Egypt and the Nile River as the 57 foot long robotic arm grappled the resupply ship.

SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft arrives for berthing at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Credit: NASA TV
SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft arrives for berthing at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

Dragon was approximately 30 feet (10 meters) away from the stations hull at the time of capture.

Wakata, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was assisted by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, while both were working from inside the 7 windowed Cupola robotics work station. Newly arrived NASA astronaut Steve Swanson observed the proceedings with a big smile.

“Congratulations to the entire ops team for the successful launch, rendezvous and capture of Dragon,” Wakata radioed mission control moments after the successful grapple.

“Great work catching the Dragon, enabling fantastic science,” radioed Capcom Steve Fisher from NASA Houston Mission Control.

SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft grappled by Canada robotic arm for berthing at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Backdrop of Erath look like dried out river channel on Mars! Credit: NASA TV
SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft grappled by Canada robotic arm for berthing at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Backdrop of Earth looks like dried out river channel on Mars! Credit: NASA TV

Cheers and celebrations erupted at SpaceX Mission Control at the firms headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

Dragon arrived this morning following Friday afternoons, Apr 18, spectacular blastoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla, atop an upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

A two day orbital chase ensued with a series of critical engine burns targeting the ISS for Easter Sunday’s rendezvous and docking activities.

Rick Mastracchio was at the controls for the actual berthing and latching in place at Harmony with Dragon’s Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM).

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, ISS Commander Koichi Wakata and NASA Astronaut Rick Mastracchio work inside the 7 windowed Cupola robotics work station module during Dragon berthing on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2017. Credit: NASA TV
NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, ISS Commander Koichi Wakata and NASA Astronaut Rick Mastracchio work inside the 7 windowed Cupola robotics work station module during Dragon berthing on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2017. Credit: NASA TV

The berthing process started at about 9:30 a.m. EDT.

4 latches were driven for 1st stage of capture. Followed by all 16 bolts and latches in total during second stage capture to firmly hold Dragon in place.

The crew and mission control concluded the berthing procedure at 10:06 a.m. EDT flying over Brazil.

The next step is for the crew to pressurize the vestibule connecting Dragon to station.

Hatch opening is set to take place on Monday morning.

It’s a busy week ahead for the six person international crew representing the US, Russia and Japan.

A Russian Progress departs on Wednesday followed by the 2 person US spacewalk to replace the failed MDM unit.

Dragon will remain attached to the station until May 18.

This story is being updated. Check back.

ISS Schematic showing modules and Dragon, Soyuz and Progress docking ports.  Credit: NASA TV
ISS Schematic showing modules and Dragon, Soyuz and Progress docking ports. Credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third operational resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

There are over 150 science experiments loaded aboard the Dragon capsule for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

This unmanned SpaceX mission dubbed CRS-3 mission will deliver some 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), a laser optical communications experiment (OPALS) and essential gear, the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

NASA TV coverage of the Easter Sunday grappling process began at 5:45 a.m. EDT with berthing coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m. EDT: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Screenshots by Rob v. Mackelenbergh.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Commercial Dragon Resupply Ship Thunders to Space Bound for ISS and Easter Sunday Berthing – Photo Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply ship launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
See expanding launch gallery below[/caption]

A mighty SpaceX rocket carrying the firms commercial Dragon resupply ship loaded with nearly 2.5 tons of NASA science instruments and critical supplies thundered to space this afternoon on a two day journey bound for the International Space Station.

The Dragon vessel launched atop the 20 story tall, upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida precisely on time at 3:25 p.m. EDT (1925 GMT), Friday, April 18.

“I want to congratulate SpaceX. Everyone did a great job” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, at a post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

“The SpaceX team went the extra mile to get everything ready for an on time launch.”

The spectacular blastoff went off without a hitch despite a poor weather prognosis in the morning that brightened considerably in the final hours leading up to the afternnon liftoff.

“Everything went well with the ascent,” said SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Muck at the briefing.

“I’m pretty excited. We did a good gob for our NASA customer and that’s very important,” Musk added.

The on time blastoff sets the stage for an Easter Sunday, April 20, rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon resupply spacecraft at the massive orbiting outpost packed with a striking variety of science experiments and needed supplies for the six person crew.

Station crew members Rick Mastracchio and Steven Swanson will grapple the Dragon cargo freighter with the 57 foot long Canadarm2 on Easter Sunday at about 7:14 a.m. if all goes well and then berth it at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

There are over 150 science experiments loaded aboard the Dragon capsule for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

“SpaceX is delivering important research experiments and cargo to the space station,” said Gerstenmaier.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tree line on April 18, 2014 on science mission bound for the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida   Credit:  Nicole Solomon
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tree line on April 18, 2014 on science mission bound for the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Nicole Solomon

“The diversity and number of new experiments is phenomenal. The investigations aboard Dragon will help us improve our understanding of how humans adapt to living in space for long periods of time and help us develop technologies that will enable deep space exploration.”

This unmanned SpaceX mission dubbed CRS-3 mission will deliver some 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment (OPALS) and essential gear, the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX had completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The next launch of Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus commercial rocket to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, was tentatively slated for May 6. But the target date will now slip to into mid-June since it can’t arrive until the Dragon departs.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:  Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Both the Dragon and Antares dock at the same port on the Harmony module at the end of the station.

This extra powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: Julian Leek
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:  John Studwell
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:   NASA TV
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX Dragon launch to ISS Marches Towards April 18 Liftoff after Helium Leak Forces Scrub – Watch Live

NASA and SpaceX are marching forward towards a Friday, April 18 liftoff attempt for the Falcon 9 rocket sending a commercial Dragon cargo craft on the company’s third resupply mission to the International Space Station following the scrubbed launch attempt on Monday, April 14 – forced by the discovery of a Helium gas leak inside the rocket during the latter stages of the countdown.

An on time blastoff of the upgraded Falcon 9 sets the stage for an Easter Sunday rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon resupply spacecraft at the massive orbiting outpost packed with almost 5000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the six person crew.

However the weather prognosis is rather iffy for Friday afternoons launch attempt at 3:25:21 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Forecasters predict only a 40 percent “GO” of acceptable weather conditions at the appointed liftoff time of the SpaceX-3 mission – roughly the time when the Earth’s rotation moves the rocket into the plane of the space stations orbit.

Remote cameras set up at SpaceX Falcon 9 launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral.   Adorned with patch - Space for America’s Economic Growth.  Credit: Nicole Solomon
Remote cameras set up at SpaceX Falcon 9 launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral. Adorned with patch – Space for America’s Economic Growth. Credit: Nicole Solomon

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting a significant chance of rain showers and thunderstorms in the Florida Space coast launch area that could violate three launch rules, namely the Thick Cloud, Lightning and Flight Through Precipitation rules.

In the event of a scrub for any reason on Friday, NASA, SpaceX and Air Force managers approved another backup launch opportunity on Saturday, April 19 at 3:02:42 p.m.

The weather outlook for a Saturday liftoff improves somewhat to 60 percent “GO”.

Originally, Monday and Friday were the only available launch target dates this week.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket preparing for April 18, 2014 liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket preparing for April 18, 2014 liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Julian Leek

Assuming a successful Falcon 9 launch on Friday, station crew members Rick Mastracchio and Steven Swanson will grapple the Dragon cargo freighter with the 57 foot long Canadarm2 on Easter Sunday morning, April 20, at 7:14 a.m. at then berth it at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

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

NASA TV live coverage will begin at at 2:15 p.m. EDT

SpaceX live launch coverage begins at 2:45 p.m. ET: Webcast at www.spacex.com/webcast

NASA TV coverage of the Easter Sunday grappling process will begin at 5:45 a.m. with berthing coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m. : http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Monday’s launch attempt was scrubbed about an hour before liftoff when SpaceX mission controllers and engineers detected that a helium valve in the pneumatic system for stage separation between the first and second stages was not holding the specified pressure.

The success of the mission was therefore dependent on the perfect operation of a backup check valve for the stage separation pistons.

Although no technical issues were detected with the backup valve, the anamolous situation violated SpaceX launch rules.

“SpaceX policy is not to launch with any known anomalies,” said SpaceX in a statement.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS is slated to launch on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.   File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS is slated to launch on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The erect Falcon 9 was lowered back to the horizontal position so that SpaceX engineers could swap out the faulty helium valve, as well as conduct a complete inspection of the rocket to look for signs of any other issues that may have contributed to the valve not working as designed, said SpaceX.

This unmanned SpaceX mission dubbed CRS-3 will deliver some 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment (OPALS) and essential gear, the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

To date SpaceX has completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and competitor Orbital Sciences to develop unmanned cargo freighters via CRS to restore US capability to resupply the ISS following the shutdown of the space shuttle program in 2011.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 at a cost of about $1.6 Billion.

The next launch of Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus commercial rocket to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, is tentatively slated for May 6. But the target date hinges on when this SpaceX-3 mission actually flies and could slip into mid-June.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Cargo Launch to Station “GO” for April 14 – Watch Live Here

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket preparing for April 14, 2014 liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Julian Leek
Watch the SpaceX Launch Live here – NASA TV link below[/caption]

Following closely on the heels of Thursday’s spectacular Atlas V rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral and a last moment computer failure at the ISS over the weekend, an upgraded Space X Falcon 9 rocket is now poised to launch on Monday (April 14) and complete a double barreled salvo of liftoffs from the Florida Space Coast merely 4 days apart – if all goes well.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon resupply freighter is slated to launch on Monday at 4:58 p.m. EDT, 2058 GMT, from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Update 4/14- 345 PM: Todays launch attempt scrubbed due to 1st stage Helium leak. Friday is earliest target date

This flight marks the third operational Dragon resupply mission to the 1 million pound International Space Station (ISS).

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

NASA TV live coverage will begin at 3:45 p.m. EDT and conclude at approximately 5:20 p.m.

Weather forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at the scheduled liftoff time.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket preparing for April 14, 2014 liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket preparing for April 14, 2014 liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Julian Leek

Monday’s launch was temporarily put in doubt by the unexpected loss on Friday (April 11) of a backup computer command relay box called a multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM) that resides in the station’s S0 truss.

The primary MDM continued to function normally.

The MDM’s provide commanding to the station’s external cooling system, Solar Alpha Rotary joints, Mobile Transporter rail car and insight into other truss systems.

It must function in order for the astronauts to use the robotic arm to grapple and berth the Dragon at a station docking port when it arrives on Wednesday, April 16, at about 7 a.m. EDT.

NASA managers held an extensive series of review meetings since Friday with ISS program managers, station partners, and SpaceX to exhaustively consider all possibilities and insure it was safe to fly the Dragon mission.

NASA gave the final go ahead after a readiness review this Sunday morning of managers, engineers and flight controllers.

ISS crew members will conduct a spacewalk to replace the failed MDM unit after the Dragon arrives.

This unmanned SpaceX mission dubbed CRS-3 mission will deliver some 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment (OPALS) and essential gear, the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

This launch has already been postponed twice since mid-March.

The original March 16 launch target was postponed 2 days before liftoff due to contamination issues with insulation blankets located inside the unpressurized trunk section of Dragon.

The second postponement from March 30 occurred when an electrical short knocked out the critical Air Force tracking required to insure a safe launch from the Eastern Range in case the rocket veers off course towards populated ares and has to be destroyed in a split second.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights over the next few years at a cost of about $1.6 Billion.

To date SpaceX has completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The Falcon 9 rocket with landing legs in SpaceX’s hangar at Cape Canaveral, Fl, preparing to launch Dragon to the space station this Sunday March 30.  Credit: SpaceX
The Falcon 9 rocket with landing legs in SpaceX’s hangar at Cape Canaveral, Fl, preparing to launch Dragon to the space station this Sunday March 30. Credit: SpaceX
Another major goal for SpaceX with this launch involves the attachment of landing legs to the first stage of the firm’s next-generation Falcon 9 rocket that counts as a major first step towards a future goal of building a fully reusable rocket.

For this Falcon 9 flight, the rocket will sprout legs for a controlled soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean, guided by SpaceX engineers.

Eventually SpaceX will test land landings in a ramped up series of rocket tests

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

US Spy Sat and SpaceX Set for Double Barreled Blastoffs After Critical Cape Canaveral Radar Revitalized

The Florida Space Coast is about to ignite with a doubled barreled dose of spectacular rocket launches from Cape Canaveral over the next few days that were suddenly postponed two weeks ago amidst final launch preparations when an electrical short completely knocked out use of the US Air Force’s crucial tracking radar that is mandatory to insure public safety.

A pair of liftoffs vital to US National Security and NASA/SpaceX are now slated for April 10 and April 14 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after revitalizing the radar systems.

The tracking radar is an absolutely essential asset for the Eastern Range that oversees all launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V is now slated to launch on Thursday, April 10 at 1:45 p.m. EDT.

Artwork for Super Secret NROL-67 payload launching on Atlas V rocket. Credit: NRO/ULA
Artwork for Super Secret NROL-67 payload launching on Atlas V rocket. Credit: NRO/ULA

The Atlas V rocket is carrying the super secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is slated to launch on Monday, April 14 at 4:58 p.m. EDT.

The Falcon 9 is lofting a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and delivering some 5000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the six man space station crew – under a resupply contract with NASA.

The pair of liftoffs of the Atlas V and Falcon 9 boosters for the NRO and SpaceX/NASA had been slated just days apart on March 25 and March 30, respectively.

Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

I was on site at Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 41 photographing the Atlas V rocket carrying the NRO payload in anticipation of the launch.

Shortly thereafter a fire of unexplained origin in the radar equipment unexpected occurred and knocked the tracking radar off line. When no quick fix was possible, both launches were delayed indefinitely pending repairs.

“The tracking radar experienced an electrical short, overheating the unit and rendering the radar inoperable,” said the USAF in a statement I received from the 45th Space Wing that controls the critical launch control systems, communications, computers and radar elements at the Eastern Range.

On Monday, April 7, the Air Force announced that range repairs were on target and that a retired, inactive radar had been brought back online.

“A radar that was previously in standby status has been brought back to operational status while the repair work is being accomplished,” said the USAF in a statement.

A fully functional tracking radar is an absolute requirement to ensure the success and safety of every rocket launch.

Insufficient maintenance and antiquated equipment due to a lack of US government funding and investment in infrastructure may be at fault for the electrical short.

The Eastern range radar must function perfectly in order to destroy any rocket in a split second in the event it abruptly veers off course towards the nearby populated areas along the Florida Space Coast.

The Atlas V rocket was rolled out earlier today to Space Launch Complex 41 in preparation for Thursday’s NROL-67 launch. The weather forecast shows a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch.

The Dragon spacecraft, filled with about 4,600 lbs of cargo bound for the space station, is mated with Falcon 9.  Credit: SpaceX
The Dragon spacecraft, filled with about 4,600 lbs of cargo bound for the space station, is mated with Falcon 9. Credit: SpaceX

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Atlas V NROL 67, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13.

Ken Kremer