SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has gotten its wings and is set to soar to the International Space Station (ISS) in about a month. NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting a liftoff on Feb. 7 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Dragon is a commercially developed unmanned cargo vessel constructed by SpaceX under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA. The Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket also built by SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies.
The Feb. 7 demonstration flight – dubbed COTS 2/3 – represents the first test of NASA’s new strategy to resupply the ISS with privately developed rockets and cargo carriers under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative.
Following the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle after Atlantis final flight in July 2011, NASA has no choice but to rely on private companies to loft virtually all of the US share of supplies and equipment to the ISS.
The Feb. 7 flight will be the first Dragon mission actually tasked to dock to the ISS and is also the first time that the Dragon will fly with deployable solar arrays. The twin arrays are the primary power source for the Dragon. They will be deployed a few minutes after launch, following Dragon separation from the Falcon 9 second stage.
The solar arrays can generate up to 5000 watts of power on a long term basis to run the sensors and communications systems, drive the heating and cooling systems and recharge the battery pack.
SpaceX designed, developed and manufactured the solar arrays in house with their own team of engineers. As with all space hardware, the arrays have been rigorously tested for hundreds of hours under the utterly harsh conditions that simulate the unforgiving environment of outer space, including thermal, vacuum, vibration, structural and electrical testing.
The two arrays were then shipped to Florida and have been attached to the side of the Dragon’s bottom trunk at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral launch processing facilities. They are housed behind protective shielding until commanded to deploy in flight.
Video Caption: SpaceX testing of the Dragon solar arrays. Credit: SpaceX
I’ve toured the SpaceX facilities several times and seen the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule launching on Feb. 7. The young age and enthusiasm of the employees is impressive and quite evident.
NASA recently granted SpaceX the permission to combine the next two COTS demonstration flights into one mission and dock the Dragon at the ISS if all the rendezvous practice activities in the vicinity of the ISS are completed flawlessly.
The ISS crew is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Dragon, for whch they have long trained.
“We’re very excited about it,” said ISS Commander Dan Burbank in a televised interview from on board the ISS earlier this week.
The ISS crew will grapple the Dragon with the station’s robotic arm when it comes within reach and berth it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node.
“From the standpoint of a pilot it is a fun, interesting, very dynamic activity and we are very much looking forward to it,” Burbank said. “It is the start of a new era, having commercial vehicles that come to Station.”
Burbank is a US astronaut and captured stunning images of Comet Lovejoy from the ISS just before Christmas, collected here.
Make or break time for NASA’s big bet on commercial space transportation is at last in view. NASA has announced Feb. 7, 2012 as the launch target date for the first attempt by SpaceX to dock the firms Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), pending final safety reviews.
The Feb. 7 flight will be the second of the so-called Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flights to be conducted by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, under a contact with NASA.
Several months ago SpaceX had requested that the objectives of the next two COTS flights, known as COTS 2 and COTS 3, be merged into one very ambitious flight and allow the Dragon vehicle to actually dock at the ISS instead of only accomplishing a rendezvous test on the next flight and waiting until the third COTS flight to carry out the final docking attempt.
The Dragon will remain attached to the ISS for about one week and astronauts will unload the cargo. Then the spacecraft will depart, re-enter the Earth atmosphere splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
“The cargo is hundreds of pounds of astronaut provisions,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham told Universe Today.
“SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory.”
Since the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle following the final fight with orbiter Atlantis in July 2011 on the STS-135 mission, the US has had absolutely zero capability to launch either supplies or human crews to the massive orbiting complex, which is composed primarily of US components.
In a NASA statement, Gerstenmaier added, “There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. 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.”
SpaceX lofted the COTS 1 flight a year ago on Dec. 8, 2010 and became the first private company to successfully launch and return a spacecraft from Earth orbit. SpaceX assembled both the Falcon 9 booster rocket and the Dragon cargo vessel from US built components.
The new demonstration flight is now dubbed COTS 2/3. The objectives include Dragon safely demonstrating all COTS 2 operations in the vicinity of the ISS by conducting check out procedures and a series of rendezvous operations at a distance of approximately two miles and the ability to abort if necessary.
The European ATV and Japanese HTV cargo vessels carried out a similar series of tests during their respective first flights.
After accomplishing all the rendezvous tasks, Dragon will then receive approval to begin the COTS 3 activities, gradually approaching the ISS from below to within a few meters.
Specially trained astronauts working in the Cupola will then reach out and grapple Dragon with the Station’s robotic arm and then maneuver it carefully into place onto the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node. The operations are expected to take several hours.
If successful, the Feb. 7 SpaceX demonstration flight will become the first commercial mission to visit the ISS and vindicate the advocates of commercial space transportation who contend that allowing private companies to compete for contracts to provide cargo delivery services to the ISS will result in dramatically reduced costs and risks and increased efficiencies.
The new commercial paradigm would also thereby allow NASA to focus more of its scarce funds on research activities to come up with the next breakthroughs enabling bolder missions to deep space.
If the flight fails, then the future of the ISS could be in serious jeopardy in the medium to long term because there would not be sufficient alternative launch cargo capacity to maintain the research and living requirements for a full crew complement of six residents aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Feb. 7 represents nothing less than ‘High Stakes on the High Frontier’.
NASA is all about bold objectives in space exploration in both the manned and robotic arenas – and that’s perfectly represented by the agencies huge gamble with the commercial cargo and commercial crew initiatives.
[/caption]Elon Musk, the CEO and chief rocket designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced today (April 5) that SpaceX will build and launch the world’s most powerful rocket – dubbed the Falcon Heavy – within two years.
Musk said that he expects SpaceX will launch the first Falcon Heavy by late 2012 or early 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
“We are excited to announce the Falcon Heavy and only recently completed the design,” said Musk.
“Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions.”
Musk unveiled the design plans for the privately developed, 227 foot tall heavy lift rocket at a briefing for reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Falcon Heavy would lift from 100,000 to 120,000 pounds to orbit, about three times the performance of the Falcon 9. It is comprised of three nine- engine Falcon 9 first stage booster cores and would utilize upgraded Merlin 1D engines currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. The Falcon booster cores would be the first to have cross feed propellant capability enabling significant enhancements in payload performance, Musk explained.
“We expect to launch a lot, maybe 20 launches per year,” said Musk. He thinks that the launches would be spilt about equally between the current Falcon 9 and the new Falcon Heavy allowing SpaceX to compete in the full gamut of opportunities for commercial rocket providers. The Falcon Heavy could even be used for interplanetaryscience missions to Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System (watch for follow up article).
The Falcon Heavy would also be launched from Cape Canaveral after upgrading the existing Falcon 9 pad at the Cape. Indeed a majority of launches is expected from Florida vs. California.
“The Falcon Heavy will have more payload capability than any rocket since the Saturn V moon rocket.”
Musk said the Falcon Heavy will be dramatically cheaper and more cost effective compared to current rockets and set new world records in affordability and cost per pound. “The cost will be about $1000 per pound to orbit.” That price is a long sought and near mythical goal. It is also a critical selling point during these times of flat, very tight and declining budgets.
SpaceX says they are offering the Falcon 9 for some $50-60M and the Falcon Heavy for $80-$125M per launch. They say this compares to the projected Air Force average cost of $435M per launch for the 2012 budget year.
“The Falcon Heavy will be about one third the cost of the Delta IV Heavy and with twice the performance. That’s about 6 times more cost effective,” Musk stated. “That’s a pretty huge leap in capability.”
SpaceX will finance the cost of the first demonstration launch. The rocket will only loft several small payloads unless some organization is willing to take a gamble for a reduced cost. Without being specific, Musk added that SpaceX has had “strong interest from U.S. government agencies and commercial entities” for the second launch and beyond. “No one wants to be first.”
Ensuring reliability is key to SpaceX future. Musk explained that the Falcon Heavy is also designed to meet NASA human rating standards, unlike other satellite launch vehicles. The rocket is designed to meet higher structural safety margins of 40% above flight loads, rather than the 25% level of other rockets, and triple redundant avionics.
To date, SpaceX has launched two Falcon 9 rockets. NASA has awarded SpaceX with a $1.6 billion contract to conduct a minimum of twelve Falcon 9 flights with the Dragon spacecraft to deliver at least 20,000 kg of cargo to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) after the Space Shuttle is retired.
Musk said that there is a lot to be learned and applied from using high volume production techniques used in the automotive industry while maintaining stringent quality control.
The date of the frist Falcon Heavy launch is expected to depend greatly on regulatory requirements, just like the maiden launch of the Falcon 9.
Watch a SpaceX YouTube video about Falcon Heavy here:
Hailed as a both a great day for commercial spaceflight as well as for NASA, SpaceX made history on Wednesday with a 100% successful test flight of its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. “This is a new way of doing business,” said Alan Lindenmoyer manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, “and I would say today this is an indication that this public/private partnership is working and has proven to be successful. Thanks to SpaceX for the early Christmas present – this is a great way to start the holidays.”
At the press conference following the flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at first appeared to be speechless: “Really, this has been better than I expected,” he said. “It all went right. I am sort of in semi shock—I wish I could be more articulate in moments like this, bit it’s hard to be articulate with a blown mind!”
But Musk soon found his words – and lots of them (with many great quotes, so keep reading…)
Lindenmoyer said SpaceX’s accomplishments are quite an achievement, since over the last 20 years, for new launch vehicles only about 50% of them are success are successful on their first or second flights, and only 1 out of 3 new vehicles have two successful flights in a row, which SpaceX has achieved.
Musk said the success really shouldn’t be a surprise since the Dragon spacecraft has so many redundancies: 18 thruster engines instead of 9, 3 parachutes when they really could land with one, extra thermal protection, and a very advanced heat shield. But in the end, SpaceX didn’t need to use any of the backup systems.
Preliminary data said the Dragon reentered the atmosphere spot on at a 12% angle of attack, with 2% dispersion. “This is a testament to the incredible work of the people at SpaceX,” he said. “Everyone did their jobs so well.”
Musk also emphasize that his company couldn’t have gotten to where they are without NASA, in not only monetary support ($278 million for the COTS program), but in leading the way in spaceflight.
“The core concepts of Falcon 9 and Dragon were demonstrated decades ago by NASA, and its an old saying, but we are only here because we stand on the shoulders of giants. So thank you,” he said.
Musk noted a few key things about the flight: The restart of Falcon 9’s second stage went perfectly; the second stage as restarted after the release of Dragon, and rose to an altitude of more than 11,000 km (6,800 miles), Musk said. Secondary satellite payloads of nanosatellites were released during the flight. And, Musk added, that altitude was with the trimmed, repaired nozzle. Reaching an altitude that high was not part of SpaceX’s primary objectives, but nice to have, Musk said.
Dragon went to an altitude of 300 km.
Musk also stressed that the difference between this Dragon capsule and one that could carry people isn’t that different.
“People sometimes think the different between cargo and crew required enormous amount of magical pixie dust,” he said “This is not the case. If there would have been people sitting in Dragon today, they would have had a nice ride, feeling about 4-5 G’s, which is about what an amusement park ride is like,” with an 8 meter per second descent speed which is quite comfortable from a landing perspective.
The only differences, Musk said, would be the addition of a launch escape system. And, he revealed, what SpaceX really hopes to do with future spacecraft is not a splashdown in the ocean but a propulsive landing on the ground.
“The architecture you saw today was similar to what was employed in Apollo era, but we are aiming for propulsive landing with gear, kind of like the Eagle landing on the moon, and being able to take off again” he said. “Full reusability of Dragon and Falcon 9 is important as well, and something we want to figure out over time.”
Musk also said this mission didn’t have many significant differences in one that would send the Dragon the ISS. “In our discussions with NASA they said if this flight went well they would strongly consider letting us go to the space station on next mission,” he said. “I hope that is what NASA will allow us to do, we need to still examine the data from this mission first, but I’m highly optimistic. There are additional elements to be added to Dragon such as solar panels and redundancy on flight computers and electronics, but feel highly confident we could make it to the ISS on our next flight by middle of next year.”
Today’s flight tested the fundamentals of a heat shield and precision landing. Musk said the performance of heat shield was spectacular, and projected that is could not only handle Earth reentry, but also lunar and Mars reentry.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell noted some other technical details, of how Dragon was able to maintain attitude and thermal control, as well as maintain communications with ground stations and TEDRIS satellites, which requires specific directional pointing.
The entire launch and two orbit flight took 3 hours 19 min 52 seconds, and initial data said they landed within 10 km of their target, and a communiqué from the Air force said Dragon came within 800 meters.
Asked about the flame flare that came about 2 seconds after launch, Musk said the first look by engineers said it was a check valve on the second stage umbilical that came off and caught fire as the spacecraft engines passed by — not an explosion but a just little fire.
Musk said the point in the flight where he felt the most jubilation and great relief was when the parachutes deployed. “Drogue and main chute deploy were riskiest parts, so when that happened, it was done deal. Just mind-blowingly awesome.”
Asked if the success today would silence any of SpaceX’s critics, Musk said, “I think if there really are people who are going still find a way to cast aversions on what we’ve done today, I pity them. It just wouldn’t make any sense.”
He said politicians who initially wanted to cut commercial crew funds from NASA’s budget soon learned that such a move would not decrease but increase the deficit and also meant increased time with no American access to space. “I think some politicians were initially mislead, but then they realized the value of commercial crew, which is why it the cuts didn’t make it into the final report.”
Asked about the differences in Dragon and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, Musk said that Space X would probably be the most rapid path to an American crew transport system. “If we would have had people on this flight we would have taken them to orbit and returned them safely,” he said. “Going to a crew system is just adding some additional safety systems for highly off nominal activities. Even for cargo missions we will be carrying plants and animals so I think we are in a very strong position to be one of the winners of the commercial crew contract.”
Musk added that competition is good, however, and NASA shouldn’t be too dependent on one company,” so hopefully there will be two or maybe three commercial crew providers and hopefully we are one of them.”
Musk agreed with Lindenmoyer on how this appears to vindicate the public/private model of space flight and shows that the commercial model works just as well in space flight as in air flight, or other arenas.
“The air mail program was a huge boost when the Post Office went commercial,” he said “and that resulted in explosion of innovation and improvement in technology. It really was the dawn of aviation in American where it went from joy rides that rich people could do, to today where aviation is accessible to almost everyone. I think historically COTS program will be seen in that light.”
On board Dragon was a few small satellites, and look for Musk to reveal tomorrow the nature of a humorous item that was on board. “I’m not going to reveal it today, as I don’t want some of the editors to use it in the first headlines,” he said. “It is kind of funny and if you like Monty Python you’ll like this one.”
Spam in a can?
Universe Today extends their congratulations to SpaceX. The future appears to be now.
SpaceX will delay the launch attempt of the Falcon 9 rocket until at least Thursday, Dec. 9. At a press conference today, company president Gwynne Shotwell said a final review of closeout photos this morning found some indications of a potential issue on a second stage nozzle. Reports from journalist Robert Pearlman on Twitter said the Falcon 9 had been lowered from the vertical launch position. And Shotwell said if they have to replace the nozzle, the launch would be no earlier than Friday, Dec. 10.
“During an inspection of final closeout photos they determined there were some indications in a weld joint that they wanted to take some additional steps to look at,” said Shotwell, “and they brought the vehicle down to horizontal. I believe it is back up to vertical now.” When asked for details, Shotwell said “porosity and potential cracking in a weld joint.”
There were some weather concerns for the early to mid part of this week, but the weather improves later in the week, so perhaps the delay was going to happen anyway.
This is the first demonstration launch for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, with a functional Dragon capsule.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said he thinks they have a 70% chance of successful first flight of the Falcon 9/Dragon capsule.
Shotwell agreed, saying history predicts SpaceX will likely have a substantial issue to deal with in this test flight.
“Given we got Falcon 9 to orbit on our first test flight, I’d say 70% for this flight, too,” she said.
At the press conference, NASA’s Phil McAlister, from the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, provided some insight into NASA’s thinking on if there were to be substantial problems with any of the COTS test flights. “We expect anomalies and the purpose of a test flight is to find the problems,” he said. “We won’t know until the end of the program if we’ve been completely successful, but to date this has been remarkably successful. Even if we have a bad day on this flight, for example, we expect to move forward. It is not a condition that every test flights be successful. We are committed to learn from each flight. But we would certainly like to have a a successful flight. So far we are on very good track and we will learn a lot from this test flight and move forward regardless of the outcome.”
The key milestones for this flight are a successful launch, separation of the Dragon vehicle from the rocket and successful reentry of Dragon.
No matter the outcome of this flight, SpaceX plans on having next Dragon flight ready by late spring/early summer 2011.
For the future, McAlister also said that he believe competition is very important, and that NASA would like to have at least 2 cargo service companies. “We would like to have routine, cost effective cargo services to LEO by 2020.”
Shotwell said it would be at least two and a half to three years after the cargo program is initiated is the first chance for astronauts to be ferried on board the Dragon capsule.
A static test firing of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was cut short as computer systems shut down the first-stage engines before the test was complete. The firing was only going to last two seconds, but the engines ran for 1.1 sec due to high engine chamber pressure, according to SpaceX. Space News reported that engineers are analyzing the data and that a second attempt is likely to occur tomorrow, Dec. 4. This abort occurred just four days before SpaceX is schedule to conduct the maiden launch of its Dragon space capsule on board the medium-class Falcon 9.
This video is from SpaceX’s webcast of the firing and unfortunately is a bit jumpy.
The first-stage firing was part of a dress rehearsal conducted in preparation for the planned Dec. 7 launch, the first of three increasingly complicated flight demonstrations of Falcon 9 and Dragon under the company’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA.
In a press release from SpaceX from Dec. 2, the company said the rehearsal would “exercise the countdown processes and end after the engines fire at full power for two seconds, with only the hold-down system restraining the rocket from flight.”
After the test, SpaceX said they would conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch.
The rockets uses kerosene and liquid oxygen, and the nine Merlin engines generate one million pounds of thrust in vacuum.
The $278 million COTS agreement has SpaceX developing and demonstrating hardware capable of ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station.
We’ll post more information about the abort as it becomes available.
Home made rockets launched from home made submarines next to dragon wings floating in the ocean on your SpacePod for August 24th, 2010
Before we begin I just wanted to give a shout out to our new viewers on both Space.com and Universe Today. Hopefully you like what you’ll see and you’ll stick around for a while, check out some of our other videos and join us for our live weekly show all about space. For today though, lets start over the Pacific Ocean where SpaceX tested the Dragon’s parachute deployment system on August 12th, 2010. Continue reading “Dragon Drop Tests and Heat1X-Tycho Brahe Set to Launch – SpacePod 2010.08.24”
Logical explanations take all the fun out of UFO’s. After the Falcon 9 rocket launched successfully, later, over on the other side of the world, people in Australia saw a spiraling object in their early morning skies, about 6 am local time. Geoffrey Wyatt, from the Sydney Observatory, said it appeared to have been the Falcon 9 rocket, which launched about an hour earlier.
Universe Today photographer Alan Walters was on hand for Friday’s spectacular and picture-perfect launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Enjoy a gallery of images, including this great shot of a Prandtl–Glauert singularity, or shock cone that formed around the rocket, which sometimes occurs when a sudden drop in air pressure occurs when rockets or aircraft are traveling at transonic speeds.
“This has really been a fantastic day,” said an exuberant Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, speaking with reporters after the flight. “It’s been one of the best days of my life. It’s certainly been one of the greatest days for the people of SpaceX.”
SpaceX announced Thursday that all flight hardware for the first launch of the Falcon 9 rocket has arrived at the SpaceX launch site, at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which I was able to see earlier this week. The final delivery included the Falcon 9 second stage, which recently completed testing at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX has now initiated full vehicle integration of the 47 meter (154 feet) tall, 3.6 meter (12 feet) diameter rocket. In an upcoming launch, possibly as early as March, SpaceX will test their the cargo- and crew-carrying ability, using a Dragon spacecraft qualification unit. Since SpaceX is poised to figure prominently in the future of human spaceflight, the upcoming test flight is crucial, both for SpaceX and NASA.
“We expect to launch in one to three months after completing full vehicle integration,” said Brian Mosdell, Director of Florida Launch Operations for SpaceX. “Our primary objective is a successful first launch and we are taking whatever time necessary to work through the data to our satisfaction before moving forward.”
Following full vehicle integration, SpaceX will conduct a static firing to demonstrate flight readiness and confirm operation of ground control systems in preparation for actual launch.
Though designed from the beginning to transport crew, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft will initially be used to transport cargo. Falcon 9 and Dragon were selected by NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) once Shuttle retires. The $1.6B contract represents 12 flights for a minimum of 20 tons to and from the ISS with the first demonstration flights beginning in 2010.