Spectacular SpaceX Launch Opens Historic New Era in Spaceflight

[/caption]Following this morning’s (May 22) spectacular nighttime blastoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, human exploration of the cosmos embarked on a radical new course that will never be the same again.

The long awaited liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:44 a.m. lit up the Florida Space Coast for miles around as it roared off Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on a history making mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

In a split second the page was turned to open a new era in humankinds exploration and exploitation of space that promises adventures to come that will one day be viewed as building a bridge from the dawn of the space age and the first human steps on the moon to starships that will one day ply the shores of interstellar space.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket topped by the Dragon cargo capsule thundered to space from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 3:44 am (May 22) and is now safely in orbit with solar arrays deployed and is chasing the ISS flying some 249 miles overhead.

“I congratulate SpaceX for just an absolutely amazing countdown, launch and orbit insertion today, said Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. “I’ve had the pleasure of working down here at the Cape with a lot of fantastic teams that have put together a lot of quality rockets and launched a lot of amazing things. I tell you, the SpaceX team, there is none better than this team that has really done a phenomenal job today.”

The on time Falcon 9 blastoff came three days after the first launch attempt was aborted a T Minus 0 when a computer automatically shutdown the already firing engines as it detected a high chamber pressure in one of the nine first stage Merlin 1 C engines.

“Every bit of adrenaline in my body released at that moment,” said Elon Musk to reporters at the post launch media briefing about the moment the rocket lifted off the pad. Musk is the founder, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX. “People were really giving it their all. For us, it was like winning the Super Bowl.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tower after liftoff at 3:44 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.,on the first commercial mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Dragon will be the first private spacecraft that will rendezvous and dock with the ISS. After conducting a complicated series of rendezvous tests and maneuvers, docking is expected on day 4 of the mission on Friday morning EDT, May 26.

“There’s still a thousand things that have to go right, but we are looking forward to this exciting mission,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program.

Dragon will fly within range of the robotic arm. NASA Astronaut Don Pettit will grapple it and berth the Dragon on the earth facing side of the Harmony module.

NASA TV will provide live docking coverage

Ken Kremer

Repaired SpaceX Rocket Set for 2nd Blastoff Try on May 22

[/caption]

SpaceX engineers have successfully replaced a faulty valve in a first stage engine that triggered a launch abort on May 19 and that now clears the way for a second launch attempt of the firms Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft in the overnight hours early on Tuesday, May 22.

Litfoff of the Falcon 9/Dragon duo on the first private rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) is slated for 3:44 AM on May 22 on the historic test flight mision dubbed COTS 2.

“We are ready for blastoff on May 22,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham told Universe Today during an interview at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida earlier today as the Falcon 9 rocket was standing erect at the pad under a brilliant blue sky.

“The work to replace a faulty nitrogen engine valve is complete and took just a few hours,” Grantham confirmed to me.

After a thorough inspection of the vehicle and analysis of the repair, the SpaceX team cleared the rocket for launch. The rocket remained vertical during the repair work.

SpaceX engineers at work fixing failed rocket engine valve at Pad 40
A team of SpaceX engineers diligently assessed the cause of the May 19 launch abort for the Falcon 9 rocket poised at Pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

The weather forecast has improved markedly to an 80% chance of favorable conditions at launch time because the chance of rain showers has decreased. The primary concern is for cumulus clouds.

The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV and via SpaceX Webcast at http://spacex.com

As on May 19, the launch window is instantaneous meaning SpaceX has just a fraction of a second to get the vehicle off the ground and there is no chance to recycle to a later launch time on the same day.

“The next possibility to launch after May 22 is on May 25,” said Grantham in the event of a scrub on Tuesday. “We could not reserve May 23 due to a conflict with Air Force requirements.”

The two stage Falcon 9 rocket is 157 feet tall. The first stage generates a million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin 1 C engines configured in a 3 by 3 by 3 arrangement.

The May 19 launch was aborted in a split second by the flight computer just 0.5 seconds before liftoff when they detected a slightly high pressure in the combustion chamber of engine number 5 located at the center of the first stage core.

If the launch proceeds as planned, the Dragon will separate from the Falcon 9 second stage some nine minutes after liftoff. Over the next two days, Dragon will close in on the ISS and then perform a series of complicated and stringent rendezvous and abort tests that bring the vehicle to within 1.5 miles and prove it can safely dock at the ISS and pull away in an emergency to prevent any chance of crashing into the ISS.

If NASA is satisfied with the test results, Dragon will be grappled with the robotic arm by US Astronaut Don Pettit and berthed at a port on the ISS on May 25. Astronauts would open the hatch on May 26 and begin unloading the nearly 1200 pounds of cargo consisting of non-critical items such as food, water, clothing and science experiments.

Remote cameras set up to photograph the SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff from Pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 22 at 3:44 a.m. after launch abort on May 19. Credit: Ken Kremer

This is the first third test flight of the Falcon 9 rocket and the first test flight of the Dragon in this vastly upgraded configuration with solar panels.

Only four entities have ever sent a spacecraft to dock at the ISS – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union.

If successful, SpaceX will open a new era in spaceflight by giving birth to the first fully commercial mission to the orbiting space station complex and unlock vast new possibilities for its utilization in science and exploration.

SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS for a cost of some $1.6 Billion over the next few years.

The purpose of Dragon is to carry supplies to the ISS and partially replace the cargo capabilities of NASA’s now retired space shuttle. Dragon is a commercial spacecraft designed and developed by SpaceX that will eventually blast astronauts to space.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Engineers Race to Repair Engines for May 22 Launch

[/caption]

Today’s (May 19) historic launch of the first ever privately developed rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was very surprisingly aborted at the last second when an engine glitch forced a dramatic shutdown of the Falcon 9 rockets 1st stage firing already in progress and as the NASA launch commentator was in the middle of announcing liftoff.

SpaceX and NASA are now targeting liftoff of the mission dubbed COTS 2, for Tuesday, May 22 at 3:44 AM EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There is another launch opportunity on May 23.

Later today, SpaceX engineers determined that a faulty valve caused the engine abort failure. They are now in a race against time to complete all the repair work and mandatory assurance testing required in order to be ready to achieve the new May 22 launch date.

The Falcon 9 rocket was designed and developed by SpaceX and the first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1 C engines. As the countdown clock ticked down to T-minus zero, all nine engines ignited. But engine #5 suddenly developed a “high chamber pressure” and computers instantaneously ordered a shutdown of thrust generation by all nine engines just 0.5 seconds from liftoff and the rocket therefore never left the pad, said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell at a briefing for reporters.

“We’ve had a cutoff,” announced NASA launch commentator George Diller. “Liftoff did not occur. We’ve had a launch abort. Standing by.”

After draining the explosive propellants, SpaceX engineers began inspecting the engines later today within hours of the aborted liftoff to determine the cause of the rocket engine malfunction.

“This is not a failure,” Shotwell told reporters at a post scrub media briefing. “We aborted with purpose. It would have been a failure if we lifted off with an engine trending in this direction.”

SpaceX may have caught a lucky break by being able to fix the rocket at the pad instead of a time consuming engine changout. Shotwell said that one possibility was to roll the Falcon 9 rocket back into the processing hangar and swap out the engine with a new one.

This evening SpaceX announced they had determined the cause of the engine failure.

“Today’s launch was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber, said SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham. “We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 engines ignite and shutdown at T Minus 0.5 seconds during May 19, 2012 launch abort at Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

“During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve. Those repairs should be complete tonight. We will continue to review data on Sunday. If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.”

The purpose of Dragon is to carry some 1200 pounds of supplies up to orbit and dock at the ISS and partially replace the capabilities of NASA’s now retired space shuttle.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch abort on May 19, 2012 at Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert

SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS for a cost of some $1.6 Billion.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX says All Systems GO for Historic May 19 Blast Off to ISS

[/caption]

In less than 48 hours, SpaceX is primed to make history and launch the first ever commercial rocket and spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) early Saturday morning on May 19.

Following today’s Launch Readiness Review (LRR), SpaceX was just given the official “GO” from NASA to proceed with the blastoff of the Falcon 9 at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This also marks the first night time liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket.

“Just passed final launch review with NASA”, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted this evening. “All systems go for liftoff on Sat morn”.

The SpaceX developed Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft is bolted on top of the two stage Falcon 9 rocket and stands 157 feet tall for the mission dubbed “COTS 2”. The Falcon 9 booster generates 1 million pounds of thrust

The official Air Force weather forecast gives a 70% chance of acceptable conditions for launch. The primary concern for launch day is a violation of the Cumulus Cloud Rule. On the heels of a significant drought, stormy weather has rolled into the Florida Space Coast and thunder is striking the area at the moment.

In the event of a launch scrub, the next launch opportunity comes in three days on May 22.

The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV and via SpaceX Webcast at http://spacex.com

This SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket inside the processing hanger at Pad 40 is due for liftoff on May 19, 2012 to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Technicians plan to roll the Falcon 9/Dragon duo out to the seaside launch pad tonight. The rocket will be moved on rail tracks about 600 feet from the processing hanger to the pad and vertically erected.

The purpose of Dragon is to carry supplies up to orbit and dock at the ISS and partially replace the capabilities of NASA’s now retired space shuttle. Dragon is a commercial spacecraft designed and developed by SpaceX.

SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve resupply missions to the ISS to carry cargo back and forth for a cost of some $1.6 Billion.

The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with nearly 1200 pounds of non-critical cargo such as food and clothing on this flight. A collection of student experiments, commemorative patches, pins and emblems will also be on board Dragon’s upcoming test flight.

On Friday, Ken will be reporting from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Launch Slides to May 19

[/caption]SpaceX has announced that the upcoming launch of the firms Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft on the commercial COTS 2 mission has been postponed to a new target date of no earlier than May 19 with a backup launch date of May 22.

On May 19, the Falcon 9 rocket would lift off on its first night time launch at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Two launch opportunities had been available this week on May 7 and May 10, following the most recent slip from April 30.

SpaceX managers made the decision – in consultation with NASA – to delay the COTS 2 launch in order to complete further highly critical testing and verifications of all the flight software requirements for the Dragon spacecraft to safely and successfully carry its mission of rendezvousing and docking with the International Space Station (ISS).

“SpaceX and NASA are nearing completion of the software assurance process, and SpaceX is submitting a request to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a May 19th launch target with a backup on May 22nd,” said SpaceX spokesperson Kirstin Grantham.

“Thus far, no issues have been uncovered during this process, but with a mission of this complexity we want to be extremely diligent.”

May 10 was the last window of opportunity this week because of the pending May 14 blast off of a new Russian Soyuz TMA-04M capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with three fresh crew members bound for the ISS which will restore the outpost to a full crew complement of 6 human residents.

The Falcon 9 and Dragon can only be launched about every three days.

The purpose of Dragon is to carry supplies up to and back from the ISS. Dragon is a commercial spacecraft developed by SpaceX and designed to replace some of the cargo resupply functions previously conducted by NASA’s fleet of prematurely retired Space Shuttle orbiters. At this moment the US has zero capability to launch cargo or crews to the ISS.

SpaceX Dragon approaches the ISS on 1st test flight and Station Docking in 2012. Astronauts will grapple it with the robotic arm and berth it at the Earth facing port of the Harmony node. Illustration: NASA /SpaceX

In response to the SpaceX announcement, NASA issued the following statement from from William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington:

“After additional reviews and discussions between the SpaceX and NASA teams, we are in a position to proceed toward this important launch. The teamwork provided by these teams is phenomenal. There are a few remaining open items, but we are ready to support SpaceX for its new launch date of May 19.”

SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve resupply missions to the ISS to carry cargo back and forth for a cost of some $1.6 Billion.

Dragon is loaded with nearly 1200 pounds of non-critical cargo such as food and clothing on this flight.

The COTS 2 mission has been repeatedly delayed since the originally planned target of mid-2011 when SpaceX requested that the COTS 2 and 3 flights be combined into one mission to save time. The first Dragon docking to the ISS was initially planned for the COTS 3 mission.

This SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket inside the processing hanger at Pad 40 is due for liftoff on May 19, 2012 to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Static Test Fire a Success

It was short but sweet. SpaceX conducted a 2-second static fire test of their Falcon 9 rocket that will send the first COTS flight to the International Space Station. “Woohoo, rocket hold down firing completed and all looks good!!” Tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk. SpaceX’s Twitter feed said with the successful firing, engineers will now review data as they continue to prepare for the upcoming mission, slated to launch on May 7.

A first attempt was aborted with 30 seconds left in the countdown, due to “overly restrictive redline on second stage engine position.” Engineers recycled all the rocket’s systems and began another countdown.

Fire and smoke erupted just briefly from the base of the rocket, and there seemed to be a bit of confusion on the webcast, as the word “abort” was used, but then there was word of success and the webcast ended abruptly.

[/caption]

For the static fire test, the nine Merlin engines on the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket were ignited at 20:15 UTC (4:15 p.m. EDT). The test was part of a full dress rehearsal for the SpaceX team. Last week was a final full simulation between NASA and SpaceX for the series of demonstration maneuvers and tests the Dragon capsule will make as it approaches the ISS; then the astronauts on board will capture and berth the cargo capsule to the Harmony module’s Earth-facing docking port.

If the abort problem had occured on the launch day, there would be no second attempt; there is no recycling of the systems for an actual launch. Additionally, the Falcon 9 can only attempt launch every 3 days because of limited propellant on Dragon capsule. SpaceX needs to ensure there is enough propellant on board Dragon for the pre-berthing maneuvers and tests.

If the Falcon 9 launch is delayed by weather or technical problems, another attempt could be made on May 10, but after that they would have to until after the launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that will bring three new crew members to the space station. That mission is scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 14, and would dock two days later.

The launch of the Falcon 9 and Dragon has been delayed from its initial planned flight in February, but with today’s apparently successful test, SpaceX and NASA are hopeful for going forward with next week’s launch.

SpaceX is one of two companies, along with Orbital Sciences, competing for contracts to deliver cargo to low Earth orbit for NASA under the Commercial Orbital Transportation System program.

The launch is currently set for 13:38 UTC (9:38 a.m. EDT) on Monday.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Set for Critical Engine Test Firing on Monday, April 30

[/caption]

On Monday, April 30, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) is all set to conduct a critical static engine test fire of the Falcon 9 rocket at the firm’s launch pad on Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If all goes well, SpaceX and NASA are targeting a May 7 liftoff of the rocket and Dragon spacecraft at 9:38 AM, bound for the International Space Station (ISS). This launch signifies the first time that a commercial company is attempting to dock at the ISS.

The Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon bolted on top was rolled out to the pad at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) on the transporter-erecter on Sunday morning (April 29), SpaceX spokesperson Kirstin Grantham told Universe Today.

“The Falcon 9 is vertical. Fueling begins Monday,” said Grantham.

On Sunday night, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Dragon review completed. All systems now ready for full thrust hold down firing on Monday.”

Today the 180 foot long rocket was moved about 600 feet on rail tracks from the processing hanger to Pad 40 in anticipation of the engine test firing.

During the hotfire test, all nine of the powerful liquid fueled Merlin 1C first stage engines will be ignited at full power for two seconds as part of a full launch dress rehearsel for the flight, dubbed COTS 2. SpaceX engineers will run through all launch procedures on Monday as though this were an actual launch on launch day.

This is the second Falcon 9 launch for NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program designed to enable commercial firms to deliver cargo to the ISS following the retirement of NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttles. The first Falcon 9 COTS test flight took place in December 2010.

The Dragon spacecraft being rotated before it is mated to the Falcon 9 rocket in SpaceX’s hangar in Cape Canaveral, FL. CREDIT: NASA

You can watch a live webcast of the engine test at www.spacex.com starting at 2:30 PM ET/ 11:30 AM PT, with the actual static fire targeted for 3:00 PM ET/ 12:00 PM PT according to SpaceX.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to conduct twelve resupply missions to the ISS to carry cargo back and forth for a cost of some $1.6 Billion.

This SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket inside the processing hanger at Pad 40 is due for liftoff on May 7, 2012 to the ISS. The Falcon 9 booster was moved on rail tracks to the pad on April 29 and the Merlin 1C first stage engines (at right) will be test fired on April 30. Credit: Ken Kremer

SpaceX Launch to Space Station Delayed

[/caption]

The historic flight of the first commercial transport to the International Space Station will have to wait at least another week. “After reviewing our recent progress, it was clear that we needed more time to finish hardware-in-the-loop testing and properly review and follow up on all data,” SpaceX said in a statement today. “While it is still possible that we could launch on May 3rd, it would be wise to add a few more days of margin in case things take longer than expected. As a result, our launch is likely to be pushed back by one week, pending coordination with NASA.”

And so, the launch which was going to take place on April 30 is now pushed back to no earlier than May 7. A static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX had hoped to do today was slipped to the 27th, making the all the preparations for the launch next Monday a tight squeeze.

When launched, the Dragon will arrive at the ISS one to three days later and once there, Dragon will begin the demonstrations related to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Phase 2 agreements (COTS 2) to show proper performance and control in the vicinity of the ISS, while remaining outside the Station’s safe zone. Then, if all goes well, Dragon will receive approval to begin the COTS 3 activities, where it will gradually approach within a few meters of the ISS, allowing astronauts to reach out and grapple Dragon with the Station’s robotic arm and then maneuver it carefully into one of the docking ports.

SpaceX Test Fires SuperDraco Abort Engines Critical To Astronaut Launch Safety

[/caption]

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has test fired a prototype of its new SuperDraco engine that will be critical to saving the lives of astronauts flying aboard a manned Dragon spacecraft soaring to orbit in the event of an in-flight emergency.

The successful full-duration, full-thrust firing of the new SuperDraco engine prototype was completed at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The SuperDraco is a key component of the launch abort system of the Dragon spacecraft that must fire in a split second to insure crew safety during launch and the entire ascent to orbit.

The Dragon spacecraft is SpaceX’s entry into NASA’s commercial crew development program – known as CCDEV2 – that seeks to develop a commercial ‘space taxi’ to launch human crews to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

The engine fired for 5 seconds during the test, which is the same length of time the engines need to burn during an actual emergency abort to safely thrust the astronauts away.

Watch the SpaceX SuperDraco Engine Test Video:

Nine months ago NASA awarded $75 million to SpaceX to design and test the Dragon’s launch abort system . The SuperDraco firing was the ninth of ten milestones that are to be completed by SpaceX by around May 2012 and that were stipulated and funded by a Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

“SpaceX and all our industry partners are being extremely innovative in their approaches to developing commercial transportation capabilities,” said Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango in a NASA statement. “We are happy that our investment in SpaceX was met with success in the firing of its new engine.”

Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket, also developed by SpaceX.

SpaceX test-fires its SuperDraco engine that will eventually power the manned Dragon spacecrafts launch escape system critical for Astronaut safety during launch to orbit. Credit: SpaceX

“Eight SuperDracos will be built into the sidewalls of the Dragon spacecraft, producing up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to quickly carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX chief executive officer and chief technology officer in a statement. “Those engines will have the ability to deep throttle, providing astronauts with precise control and enormous power.”

“Crews will have the unprecedented ability to escape from danger at any point during the launch because the launch abort engines are integrated into the side walls of the vehicle,” Musk said. “With eight SuperDracos, if any one engine fails the abort still can be carried out successfully.”

SuperDraco engines will power the launch escape system of SpaceX’s Dragon. Eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is one of four commercial firms working to develop a new human rated spacecraft with NASA funding. The other firms vying for a commercial crew contract are Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin.

“SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology,” says Musk. “These engines will power a revolutionarylaunch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.”

The privately developed space taxi’s will eventually revive the capability to ferry American astronauts to and from the ISS that was totally lost when NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters were forcibly retired before a replacement crew vehicle was ready to launch.

Because the US Congress slashed NASA’s commercial crew development funding by more than 50% -over $400 million – the first launch of a commercial space taxi is likely to be delayed several more years to about 2017. Until that time, all American astronauts must hitch a ride to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

This week the Russian manned space program suffered the latest in a string of failures when when technicians performing a crucial test mistakenly over pressurized and damaged the descent module of the next manned Soyuz vehicle set to fly to the ISS in late March, thereby forcing about a 45 day delay to the launch of the next manned Soyuz from Kazakhstan.

SpaceX Delays Upcoming 1st Dragon Launch to ISS

[/caption]

The first test launch of a commercially built spacecraft to the International Space Station has been delayed by its builder, Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX, in order to carry out additional testing to ensure that the vehicle is fully ready for the high stakes Earth orbital mission.

SpaceX and NASA had been working towards a Feb. 7 launch date of the company’s Dragon spacecraft and announced the postponement in a statement today (Jan. 16).

A new target launch date has not been set and it is not known whether the delay amounts to a few days, weeks or more. The critical test flight has already been rescheduled several times and was originally planned for 2011.

The unmanned Dragon is a privately developed cargo vessel constructed by SpaceX under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the ISS and partially replace the transport to orbit capabilities that were fully lost following the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

“In preparation for the upcoming launch, SpaceX continues to conduct extensive testing and analysis, said SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham in the statement.

“We [SpaceX] believe that there are a few areas that will benefit from additional work and will optimize the safety and success of this mission.”

“We are now working with NASA to establish a new target launch date, but note that we will continue to test and review data. We will launch when the vehicle is ready,” said Grantham.

This SpaceX Dragon will launch to the ISS sometime in 2012 on COTS2/3 mission. Protective fairings are installed over folded solar arrays, at the SpaceX Cape Canaveral launch site.

Dragon’s purpose is to ship food, water, provisions, equipment and science experiments to the ISS.

The demonstration flight – dubbed COTS 2/3 – will be the premiere test flight in NASA’s new strategy to resupply the ISS with privately developed rockets and cargo carriers under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative.

The Dragon will blast off atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket also built by SpaceX and, if all goes well, conduct the first ever rendezvous and docking of a privately built spacecraft with the 1 million pound orbiting outpost.

After closely approaching the ISS, the crew will grapple Dragon with the station’s robotic arm and berth it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node.

“We’re very excited about it,” said ISS Commander Dan Burbank in a recent televised interview from space.

An astronaut operating the ISS robotic arm will grab Dragon and position it at a berthing port at the Harmony node. Illustration: NASA /SpaceX

Since the demonstration mission also involves many other first time milestones for the Dragon such as the first flight with integrated solar arrays and the first ISS rendezvous, extra special care and extensive preparatory activities are prudent and absolutely mandatory.

NASA’s international partners, including Russia, must be consulted and agree that all engineering and safety requirements, issues and questions related to the docking by new space vehicles such as Dragon have been fully addressed and answered.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate recently stated that the launch date depends on completing all the work necessary to ensure safety and success, “There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it.”

“As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success.”

“A successful mission will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery to the international orbiting laboratory,” said Gerstenmaier.

SpaceX is also working on a modified version of the spacecraft, dubbed DragonRider, that could launch astronaut crews to the ISS in perhaps 3 to 5 years depending on the amount of NASA funding available, says SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk

Read Ken’s recent features about the ISS and SpaceX/Dragon here:
Dazzling Photos of the International Space Station Crossing the Moon!
Solar Powered Dragon gets Wings for Station Soar
Absolutely Spectacular Photos of Comet Lovejoy from the Space Station
NASA announces Feb. 7 launch for 1st SpaceX Docking to ISS