SpaceX Launching NASA Jason-3 Ocean Surveillance Satellite Jan. 17; with Barge Rocket Landing – Watch Live

The joint NASA-European ocean surveillance satellite named Jason-3 is poised for blastoff from SpaceX’s California launch pad on Sunday, Jan. 17 – followed immediately by another Falcon 9 rocket recovery landing on a barge at sea.

The weather forecast is outstanding! And you can watch all the excitement live!

The primary goal is to deliver Jason-3 to low Earth orbit, where it will gather global measurements of ocean topography, or wave heights, using radar altimitry. These data provide scientists with essential information about global and regional changes in the Earth’s seas such as tracking sea level rise that threatens the resilience of coastal communities and the health of our environment. Continue reading “SpaceX Launching NASA Jason-3 Ocean Surveillance Satellite Jan. 17; with Barge Rocket Landing – Watch Live”

SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks

SpaceX is on course to move ahead with an ambitious spaceflight agenda, trying a 2nd rocket recovery landing of their Falcon 9 booster in barely 4 weeks time and upcoming this Sunday, Jan. 17, says Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX.

Musk confirmed that SpaceX plans to launch and subsequently land the first stage of its next Falcon 9 rocket on a “droneship” at sea in the Pacific Ocean this weekend. Continue reading “SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks”

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
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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

SpaceX and NASA On Track For Spectacular Predawn Jan. 6 Launch of Critical Cargo Mission to ISS

SpaceX is on track to rollout their Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter this evening, Monday, Jan, 5, 2015 to launch pad 40 on a mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver critical supplies.

The Dragon CRS-5 mission is slated to blast off at 6:20 a.m. EST, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The predawn launch should put on a spectacular sky show for spectators along the Florida space coast.

There is only an instantaneous launch window available, meaning that the blastoff must proceed at that exact instant. Any delays due to technical issues or weather would force a scrub until at least Friday, Jan. 9.

SpaceX Falcon 9 ready for rollout to launch pad for Dragon CRS-5 mission.  Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 ready for rollout to launch pad for Dragon CRS-5 mission. Credit: SpaceX

The launch has already been postponed several times, most recently from Dec. 19, 2014 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully went the full duration of approximately 3 seconds and cleared the path for a liftoff attempt after the Christmas holidays.

The delay allowed the teams to recoup and recover and enjoy the festive holiday season.

“It was a good decision to postpone the launch until after the holidays,” said Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Mission Assurance, SpaceX, at a media briefing today at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Following the catastrophic failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter on Oct. 28 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, officials have been prudently cautious to ensure that all measures were carefully rechecked to maximize the possibilities of a launch success.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit:  SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: SpaceX

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth 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 station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract

The weather odds have improved to 70% GO from 60% GO reported Major Perry Sweat, 45th Weather Squadron rep, USAF, at the briefing today at the Kennedy Space Center.

A frontal boundary has settled in over Central Florida. This front and its associated cloudiness will be very slow to move south of the Space Coast. With the clouds only slowly eroding overhead, the primary weather concern remains thick clouds, according to Sweat.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the space station.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere.

Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore on the International Space Station shared this beautiful image of #sunrise earlier today, 1/3/15.  Credit: NASA/Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore
Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore on the International Space Station shared this beautiful image of #sunrise earlier today, 1/3/15. Credit: NASA/Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore

Assuming all goes well, Dragon will rendezvous at the ISS on Thursday, Jan. 8, for grappling and berthing by the ISS astronauts maneuvering the 57 foot-long (17 meter-long) Canadian built robotic arm.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch is the first cargo launch to the ISS since the doomed Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus launch ended in catastrophe on Oct. 28.

With Antares launches on indefinite hold, the US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX.

Orbital Sciences has now contracted United Launch Alliance
(ULA) to launch the firms Cygnus cargo freighter to the ISS by late 2015 on an Atlas V rocket.

A secondary objective of SpaceX is to attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage on an off shore barge.

NASA Television live launch coverage begins at 5 a.m. EST on Jan. 6.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of replanned CRS-5 mission for NASA launching on Jan. 6, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Successful Engine Test Enables SpaceX Falcon 9 Soar to Space Station in Jan. 2015

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – To ensure the highest possibility of success for the launch of a critical resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX has announced the successful completion of a second static fire test of the first stage propulsion system of the firms commercial Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 19.

The successful engine test clears the path towards a liftoff now rescheduled to early January 2015.

The launch of the Falcon 9 had been slated for Dec. 19, but NASA and SpaceX decided just 1 day before liftoff on Dec. 18 to postpone the launch of the CRS-5 resupply mission into the new year, when the first static fire test failed to run for its full duration of approximately three seconds.

“SpaceX completed a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket [on Dec. 19] in advance of the CRS-5 mission for NASA,” said SpaceX in a statement.

The second test was done because the first test of the Merlin 1D engines did not run for its full duration of about three seconds.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit:  NASA
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: SpaceX

“While the Dec. 17 static fire test accomplished nearly all of our goals, the test did not run the full duration, ”SpaceX spokesman John Taylor confirmed to Universe Today.

“The data suggests we could push forward without a second attempt, but out of an abundance of caution, we are opting to execute a second static fire test prior to launch.”

Both tests were conducted at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“We opted to execute a second test,” noted SpaceX.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter had been slated to liftoff on Dec. 19 on its next unmanned cargo run dubbed CRS-5 to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Following the catastrophic failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter on Oct 28 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, officials are being prudently cautious to ensure that all measures are being carefully rechecked to maximize the possibilities of a launch success.

The new launch date for CRS-5 is now set for no earlier than Jan. 6, 2015

“Given the extra time needed for data review and testing, coupled with the limited launch date availability due to the holidays and other restrictions, our earliest launch opportunity is now January 6 with January 7 as a backup,” said SpaceX.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth 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.

Among the other mission goals, SpaceX is planning a daring and bold attempt to propulsively land and recover the first stage on an ocean going platform called the “autonomous spaceport drone ship.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precision landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precision landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

Watch for Ken’s ongoing SpaceX launch coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket to Attempt Daring Ocean Platform Landing with Next Launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In a key test of rocket reusability, SpaceX will attempt a daring landing of their Falcon 9 first stage rocket on an ocean platform known as the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” following the planned Friday, Dec. 19, blastoff on a high stakes mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter is slated to liftoff on its next unmanned cargo run, dubbed CRS-5, to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. In a late development, there is a possibility the launch could be postponed to January 2015.

The instantaneous launch window for the Falcon 9/Dragon is slated for 1:20 p.m from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

As the Dragon proceeds to orbit, SpaceX engineers will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage via a precision landing for the first time “on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship,” according to a SpaceX statement.

Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5.   Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

“While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging.”

SpaceX rates the chances of success at “perhaps 50% at best.”

Of course since this has never been attempted before, tons of planning is involved and lots can go wrong.

But this is space exploration, and it’s not for the meek and mild.

It’s time to go boldly where no one has gone before and expand the envelope if we hope to achieve great things.

SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40  awaiting launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 prior to launch on Sept 20, 2014, on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The 14 story Falcon 9 will be zooming upwards at 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s). Engineers will then relight the Merlin 1D first stage engines to stabilize and lower the rocket.

Four hypersonic grid fins had been added to the first stage and placed in an X-wing configuration. They will be deployed only during the reentry attempt and will be used to roll, pitch, and yaw the rocket in concert with gimballing of the engines.

Here’s a description from SpaceX:

“To help stabilize the stage and to reduce its speed, SpaceX relights the engines for a series of three burns. The first burn—the boostback burn—adjusts the impact point of the vehicle and is followed by the supersonic retro propulsion burn that, along with the drag of the atmosphere, slows the vehicle’s speed from 1300 m/s to about 250 m/s. The final burn is the landing burn, during which the legs deploy and the vehicle’s speed is further.”

“To complicate matters further, the landing site is limited in size and not entirely stationary. The autonomous spaceport drone ship is 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. While that may sound huge at first, to a Falcon 9 first stage coming from space, it seems very small. The legspan of the Falcon 9 first stage is about 70 feet and while the ship is equipped with powerful thrusters to help it stay in place, it is not actually anchored, so finding the bullseye becomes particularly tricky. During previous attempts, we could only expect a landing accuracy of within 10km. For this attempt, we’re targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters.”

Watch for Ken’s ongoing SpaceX launch coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Orion, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 18: “SpaceX CRS-5, Orion EFT-1, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA and SpaceX targeting Dec. 19 for next Space Station Launch

NASA and SpaceX are now targeting Dec. 19 as the launch date for the next unmanned cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

The fifth SpaceX cargo mission was postponed from Dec. 16 to Dec. 19 to “allow SpaceX to take extra time to ensure they do everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch,” according to a statement from NASA.

The Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft are in good health, according to NASA.

The mission dubbed SpaceX CRS-5 is slated for liftoff at 1:20 p.m.

An on time liftoff will result in a rendezvous with the ISS on Sunday. The crew would grapple the Dragon with the stations 57 foot long robotic arm at about 6 a.m.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is snared by the International Space Station's Canadarm 2. Credit: NASA
The SpaceX Dragon capsule is snared by the International Space Station’s Canadarm 2. Credit: NASA

US astronaut and station commander Barry Wilmore will operate the Canadarm2 to capture the SpaceX Dragon when it arrives Sunday morning. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will assist Wilmore working at a robotics workstation inside the domed Cupola module during the commercial craft’s approach and rendezvous.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere.

A secondary objective of SpaceX is to attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage on an off shore barge.

The SpaceX CRS-4 mission to the ISS concluded with a successful splashdown on Oct 25 after a month long stay.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch is the first cargo launch to the ISS since the doomed Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus launch ended in catastrophe on Oct. 28.

With Antares launches on indefinite hold, the US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX.

Orbital Sciences has now contracted United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch the firms Cygnus cargo freighter to the ISS by late 2015 on an Atlas V rocket.

Boeing and SpaceX Win NASA’s ‘Space Taxi’ Contracts for Space Station Flights

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that Boeing and SpaceX have won the high stakes and history making NASA competition to build the first ever private ‘space taxis’ to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and restore America’s capability to launch our crews from American soil for the first time since 2011.

Bolden made the historic announcement of NASA’s commercial crew contract winners to build America’s next human rated spaceships at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at a briefing for reporters.

The ‘space taxi’ contract to build the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 spaceships is worth a total of $6.8 Billion, with the goal to end the nation’s sole source reliance on Russia in 2017.

SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft unveiled May 29, 2014.  Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft unveiled May 29, 2014. Credit: NASA

Boeing was awarded the larger share of the contract valued at $4.2 Billion while SpaceX was awarded a lesser amount valued at $2.6 Billion.

“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space,” Bolden told reporters at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to 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 awards from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) offices will continue to be implemented as a public-private partnership and are the fruition of NASA’s strategy to foster the development of privately built human spaceships that began in 2010.

Boeing unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial  CST-100  'Space Taxi' on June 9, 2014 at its intended manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The private vehicle will launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ on June 9, 2014 at its intended manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The private vehicle will launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both spaceships are capsule design with parachute assisted landings. The third competitor involving Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle offering runway landings was not selected for further development.

“We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope.”

Both the Boeing CST 100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 will launch from the Florida Space Coast, home to all US astronaut flight since the dawn of the space age.

The Boeing CST-100 will launch atop a man rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The SpaceX Dragon will launch atop a man rated Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from neighboring Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape.

Boeing's CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Boeing and SpaceX issued the following statements after the awards were announced.

“Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we’re honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy,” said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and general manager, Space Exploration, in a statement in response NASA’s award.

“The CST-100 offers NASA the most cost-effective, safe and innovative solution to U.S.-based access to low-Earth orbit.”

“Under the Commercial Crew Transportation (CCtCap) phase of the program, Boeing will build three CST-100s at the company’s Commercial Crew Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft will undergo a pad-abort test in 2016 and an uncrewed flight in early 2017, leading up to the first crewed flight to the ISS in mid-2017.”

“SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us. We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose,” said Elon Musk, CEO & Chief Designer, SpaceX, in a statement in response NASA’s award.

“It is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species.”

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

Ken Kremer

launch-02_0

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. 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.”

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