SpaceX Resets Space Station Launch with Revolutionary Rocket Legs and Robonaut Legs to March 30

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following last week’s sudden and late in the processing flow postponement of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch, SpaceX announced a reset of its next cargo mission launch for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) to a new target date of Sunday, March 30.

The commercially developed Falcon 9 booster and Dragon cargo vessel are slated for a spectacular night time liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:50 p.m. EDT on March 30, SpaceX announced on Friday.

This mission, soaring to space under a resupply contract to NASA, could ignite a revolution in both rocketry and robotics.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket sports a quartet of never before tried landing legs and the Dragon freighter is loaded with a set of lanky legs to enable mobility in space for NASA’s Robonaut 2 standing at the cutting edge of space robotics technology.

Launch preparations were suddenly halted less than 72 hours prior to the then planned March 16 early morning launch because of unspecified technical issues concerning the sudden discovery of “contamination,” sources told me.

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

“To ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance and allow additional time to resolve remaining open items, the team is taking additional time to resolve open items and ensure SpaceX does everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch,” according to a statement from SpaceX.

Several sources told me that the problem related to “contamination” that was found in the “unpressurized truck section” at the rear of the Dragon spacecraft.

“An unknown contaminant of unknown origin was found on a blanket in the Dragon trunk,” independent sources said to Universe Today soon after the postponement was announced.

“After careful review and analysis, engineering teams representing both the ISS and SpaceX have determined Dragon is ready to fly ‘as-is.’ All parties agree that the particular constituents observed in Dragon’s trunk are in line with the previously defined environments levels and do not impose additional risk to the payloads,” SpaceX announced in a new statement.

With the contamination issues now resolved, the launch is back on track.

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

NASA Television will air live coverage on Sunday.

In case the launch is delayed, the backup launch opportunity is at 9:39 p.m. Wednesday, April 2.

Altogether, this unmanned SpaceX CRS-3 mission will deliver over 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment and essential gear, 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.

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.

Following the rescheduled March 30 launch and a series of orbit raising and course corrections over the next two days, Dragon will rendezvous and dock at the Earth facing port on the station’s Harmony module on Wednesday, April 2.

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building.   During 2014, SpaceX plans  two flight tests simulating Dragon emergency abort scenarios launching from pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

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.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6. Also evenings at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, March 24/25 and March 29/30
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And watch for Ken’s upcoming SpaceX launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

Historic SpaceX Landing Leg Rocket and Dragon Bound for Station Check Fires Engines at T Minus 1 Week

The historic blast off of the first SpaceX rocket equipped with ‘landing legs’ and also carrying a private Dragon cargo vessel bound for the Space Station is now slated for March 16 following a short and “successful” hot fire check test of the first stage engines on Saturday, March 8.

It’s T Minus 1 week to lift off !

The brief two second ignition of all nine upgraded Merlin 1D engines powering the first stage of SpaceX’s next generation, commercial Falcon 9 rocket at the end of a simulated countdown is a key test required to clear the way for next Sunday’s planned night time lift off at 4:41 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Falcon 9 and Dragon conducted a successful static fire test in advance of next week’s CRS-3 launch to station!” SpaceX announced today.

The primary goal of the unmanned SpaceX CRS-3 mission is to deliver over 5000 pounds of science experiments, gear and supplies loaded inside Dragon to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS) flying in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

“In this final major preflight test, Falcon 9’s 9 first-stage engines were ignited for 2 seconds while the vehicle was held down to the pad,” said SpaceX.

All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch.  Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

The static hot firing is a full up assessment of the rocket, engines, propellant loading and countdown procedures leading to a launch. The engines typically fire for a barely a few seconds.

SpaceX engineers will evaluate the engine firing to ensure all systems are ready for launch.

This commercial Falcon 9 rocket is equipped for the first time with a quartet of landing legs, Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, announced recently as outlined in my story – here.

The attachment of landing legs to the first stage of SpaceX’s next-generation Falcon 9 rocket counts as a major step towards the firm’s future goal of building a fully reusable rocket.

The eventual goal is to accomplish a successful first stage touchdown by the landing legs on solid ground back at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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

Extensive work and testing remains to develop and refine the technology before a land landing will be attempted by the company.

“F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” Musk says.

1st stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket equipped with landing legs and now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
1st stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket equipped with landing legs and now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

SpaceX hopes the incorporation of landing legs will one day lead to cheaper, reusable boosters that can be manufactured at vastly reduced cost.

The March 16 launch will be the fourth overall for the next generation Falcon 9 rocket, but the first one capped with a Dragon and heading to the massive orbital lab complex.

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

Three prior launches of the more powerful Falcon 9 lofting commercial telecom satellites in September and December 2013 and January 2014 were all successful and paved the way for SpaceX’s new mission to the ISS.

And this Dragon is loaded with the heaviest manifest yet.

The research cargo includes 100 protein crystal experiments that will allow scientists to observe the growth of crystals in zero-G.

In the absence of gravity, the crystals will hopefully grow to much larger sizes than here on Earth and afford scientists new insights into designing and developing new drugs and pesticides.

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.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

If the launch takes place as planned on March 16, Dragon will rendezvous and dock at the Earth facing port on the station’s Harmony module, after a two day orbital chase, on March 18.

The Harmony port was recently vacated by the Orbital Sciences built Cygnus cargo spacecraft to make way for Dragon.

Both the Dragon and Cygnus resupply spacecraft were privately developed with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership in order to restore the cargo up mass capability the US completely lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

The Dragon docking will take place a few days after Monday’s (March 10) scheduled departure of three crew members aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Watch the Soyuz leave live on NASA TV.

The departure of Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy along with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins marks the end of Expedition 38 and the beginning of Expedition 39.

It also leaves only a three person crew on board to greet the Dragon.

The Soyuz return to Earth comes amidst the ongoing Crimean crisis as tensions continue to flare between Russian, Ukraine and the West.

American and station partner astronauts are 100% dependent on Russia’s three seat Soyuz capsule and rocket for rides to the ISS and back.

Expedition 38 crew members proudly sport their national flags in this March 2014 picture from the International Space Station. Pictured (clockwise from top center) are Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, commander; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, all flight engineers. Credit: NASA
Expedition 38 crew members proudly sport their national flags in this March 2014 picture from the International Space Station. Pictured (clockwise from top center) are Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, commander; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, all flight engineers. Credit: NASA

Command of the station was passed today from Oleg Kotov to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata.

With the start of Expedition 39, Wakata thus becomes the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.

Wakata and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio with use the stations Canadarm 2 to grapple and berth Dragon to its docking port.

SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon  CRS-3 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-3 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

Dragon is due to stay at station for about three weeks until April 17.

Then it will undock and set course for a parachute assisted splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.

For the return to Earth, Dragon will be packed with more than 3,500 pounds of highly valuable experiment samples accumulated from the crews onboard research as well as assorted equipment and no longer need items.

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

And watch for Ken’s upcoming SpaceX launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

Next SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Gets Landing Legs for March Blastoff to Space Station – Says Elon Musk

1st stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket newly equipped with landing legs and now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Story updated[/caption]

The next commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that’s set to launch in March carrying an unmanned Dragon cargo vessel will also be equipped with a quartet of landing legs in a key test that will one day lead to cheaper, reusable boosters, announced Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO.

The attachment of landing legs to the first stage of SpaceX’s new and more powerful, next-generation Falcon 9 rocket counts as a major step towards the firm’s eventual goal of building a fully reusable rocket.

Before attempting the use of landing legs “SpaceX needed to gain more confidence” in the new Falcon 9 rocket, Musk told me in an earlier interview.

Blastoff of the upgraded Falcon 9 on the Dragon CRS-3 flight is currently slated for March 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on a resupply mission to bring vital supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit for NASA.

“Mounting landing legs (~60 ft span) to Falcon 9 for next month’s Space Station servicing flight,” Musk tweeted, along with the up close photos above and below.

All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch.  Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for March 16 launch. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

“SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,” according to the firm’s website.

SpaceX hopes to vastly reduce their already low $54 million launch cost when a reusable version of the Falcon 9 becomes feasible.

Although this Falcon 9 will be sprouting legs, a controlled soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean guided by SpaceX engineers is still planned for this trip.

“However, F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” Musk quickly added in a follow-up twitter message.

In a prior interview, I asked Elon Musk when a Falcon 9 flyback would be attempted?

“It will be on one of the upcoming missions to follow [the SES-8 launch],” Musk told me.

“What we need to do is gain more confidence on the three sigma dispersion of the mission performance of the rocket related to parameters such as thrust, specific impulse, steering loss and a whole bunch of other parameters that can impact the mission.”

“If all of those parameters combine in a negative way then you can fall short of the mission performance,” Musk explained to Universe Today.

When the upgraded Falcon 9 performed flawlessly for the SES-8 satellite launch on Dec 3, 2013 and the Thaicom-6 launch on Jan. 6, 2014, the path became clear to attempt the use of landing legs on this upcoming CRS-3 launch this March.

Atmospheric reentry engineering data was gathered during those last two Falcon 9 launches to feed into SpaceX’s future launch planning, Musk said.

That new data collected on the booster stage has now enabled the approval for landing leg utilization in this March 16 flight.

SpaceX engineers will continue to develop and refine the technology needed to accomplish a successful touchdown by the landing legs on solid ground back at the Cape in Florida.

Extensive work and testing remains before a land landing will be attempted by the company.

Ocean recovery teams will retrieve the 1st stage and haul it back to port much like the Space Shuttle’s pair of Solid Rocket Boosters.

This will be the second attempt at a water soft landing with the upgraded Falcon 9 booster.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 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 December 2013 SpaceX upgraded Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two stage Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo carrier are currently in the final stages of processing by SpaceX technicians for the planned March 16 night time liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at 4:41 a.m. that will turn night into day along the Florida Space Coast.

“All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9,” Musk tweeted today, Feb. 25.

SpaceX has carried out extensive landing leg and free flight tests of ever increasing complexity and duration with the Grasshopper reusable pathfinding prototype.

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.

SpaceX Falcon 9 landing leg. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 landing leg. Credit: SpaceX

To date SpaceX has completed two cargo resupply missions. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013.

The Falcon 9 and Dragon were privately developed by SpaceX with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

The goal was to restore the cargo up mass capability the US completely lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

SpaceX along with Orbital Sciences Corp are both partnered with NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program.

Orbital Sciences developed the competing Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

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.

The Merlin 1 D engines are arrayed in an octaweb layout for improved efficiency.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Therefore the upgraded Falcon 9 can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It measures 224 feet tall and is 12 feet in diameter. That compares to a 130 foot tall rocket for the original Falcon 9.

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 – and upcoming launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch nearby SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com