Liftoff! SpaceX Launches First Official Commercial Resupply Mission to ISS

The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sending the Dragon capsule to orbit. Credit: KSC Twitter Feed

SpaceX has successfully launched the first official Cargo Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station. The commercial company’s Falcon 9 rumbled rocket to life at 8:35 EDT on Oct 7 (00:35 UTC Oct. 8) in a picture perfect launch, sending the Dragon capsule on its way in the first of a dozen operational missions to deliver supplies to the orbiting laboratory. The launch took place at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, just a few miles south of the space shuttle launch pads.

“This was a critical event for NASA and the nation tonight,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden after the launch. “We are once again launching spacecraft from American soil with supplies that the ISS astronauts need.”

Watch the launch video below:

All the major milestones of the launch ticked off in perfect timing and execution, and the Dragon capsule is now in orbit with its solar arrays deployed. The Dragon capsule separated from the Falcon 9 about 10 minutes and 24 seconds after liftoff. Dragon should arrive at the ISS on Oct. 10 and the crew will begin berthing operations after everything checks out.

All three members of the current ISS crew were able to watch the launch live via a NASA uplink to the ISS, and Commander Suni Williams passed on her congratulations to the SpaceX team, saying “We are ready to grab Dragon!”

Williams and astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will use the CanadArm 2 to grapple the Dragon capsule around 7:22 a.m. EDT (11:22 UTC) Wednesday, moving it to a berthing at the Earth-facing port of the forward Harmony module.

Even though SpaceX sent the Dragon to the ISS in May, that was considered a demonstration flight and this flight is considered the first operational mission.

“No question, we are very excited,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell just before the launch. “Everyone was very excited in May and we are very much looking forward to moving forward with the operational missions.”

Dragon is carrying approximately 450 kg (1,000 pounds) of supplies, including food, water, scientific experiments and Space Station parts. There are also 23 student experiments from the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) involving 7,420 pre-college students engaged in formal microgravity experiment design, according to SSEP director Dr. Jeff Goldstein.

SpaceX and NASA revealed this weekend a special treat is on board a new freezer called GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator): Blue Bell ice cream, a brand that is a favorite of astronauts training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The freezer will be used to return frozen science experiments to Earth.

In the next three days, Dragon will perform systems checks, and start a series of Draco thruster firings to reach the International Space Station.

Dragon will return a total of 750 kg (1,673 pounds) of supplies and hardware to the ground. NASA says Dragon’s capability to return cargo from the station “is critical for supporting scientific research in the orbiting laboratory’s unique microgravity environment, which enables important benefits for humanity and vastly increases understanding of how humans can safely work, live and thrive in space for long periods. The ability to return frozen samples is a first for this flight and will be tremendously beneficial to the station’s research community. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for analysis.”

Dragon is currently scheduled to return to Earth at the end of the month, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on October 29.

1000 SpaceX employees watch Falcon 9 and Dragon launch, at the Hawthorne, California headquarter. Credit: SpaceX

Taking a cue from the Mars Science Laboratory “Mohawk Guy” this SpaceX employee watching from Hawthorne sports a blue mohawk with a SpaceX logo shaved on her head. Credit: SpaceX.

Here’s a shorter video version of the launch from SpaceX:

Surreal Photos: CubeSats Launched from the Space Station

Three small CubeSats are deployed from the International Space Station on October 4, 2012. Credit: NASA

Five tiny CubeSats were deployed from the International Space Station on Thursday and astronaut Chris Hadfield called the image above “surreal” on Twitter. And rightly so, as they look like a cross between Star Wars training droids and mini Borg Cubes from Star Trek. The Cubesats measure about 10 centimeters (4 inches) on a side and each will conduct a range of scientific missions, ranging from Earth observation and photography to technology demonstrations to sending LED pulses in Morse Code (which should be visible from Earth) to test out a potential type of optical communication system.

These are low-cost satellites that could be the wave of the future to enable students and smaller companies to send equipment into space. If you’re worried about these tiny sats creating more space junk, Hadfield assured that since they are very light and in such a low orbit, the Cubesat orbits will decay within a few months.

The Rubic-cube-sized Cubesats were deployed from the new Japanese Small Satellite Orbital Deployer that was brought to the space station in July by the Japanese HTV cargo carrier.

The Japanese FITSAT-1 will investigate the potential for new kinds of optical communication by transmitting text information to the ground via pulses of light set to Morse code. The message was originally intended to be seen just in Japan, but people around the world have asked for the satellite to communicate when it overflies them, said Takushi Tanaka, professor at The Fukuoka Institute of Technology.

Observers, ideally with binoculars, will be able to see flashes of light — green in the northern hemisphere, where people will see the “front” of the satellite, and red in the southern hemisphere, where the “back” will be visible.

The message it will send is “Hi this is Niwaka Japan.” Niwaka is the satellite’s nickname and reflects a play on words in the local dialect of southwestern Japan, according to an article on Discovery Space. To see the Morse Code message, the Cubesat will be near the ISS, so find out when you can see the ISS from NASA or Heaven’s Above. Find out more about the FITSAT at this website.

The other Cubesats include NASA’s TechEdSat which carries a ham radio transmitter and was developed by a group of student interns from San Jose State University (SJSU) in California with mentoring and support from staff at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

“TechEdSat will evaluate plug-and-play technologies, like avionics designed by commercial providers, and will allow a group of very talented aerospace engineering students from San Jose State University to experience a spaceflight project from formulation through decommission of a small spacecraft,” said Ames Director S. Pete Worden.

The other Cubesats include RAIKO, which will do photography from space, We Wish, an infrared camera for environmental studies, and and the F-1 Vietnam Student CubeSat which has an on-board camera for Earth observation.

See more cool-looking images and video of the deployement below (all images credit the Expedition 32 crew from the ISS/NASA):

Antares Commercial Rocket Reaches New Atlantic Coast Launch Pad

Image Caption: Antares Rocket At Wallops Flight Facility Launch Pad. Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket at the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. In a few months, Antares is scheduled to launch a cargo delivery demonstration mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Credit: NASA

At long last, Orbital Sciences Corporation has rolled their new commercially developed Antares medium class rocket to the nation’s newest spaceport – the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island,Va – and commenced on pad operations as of Monday, Oct 1.

The long awaited rollout marks a key milestone on the path to the maiden test flight of the Antares, planned to blast off before year’s end if all goes well.

This is a highly noteworthy event because Antares is the launcher for Orbital’s unmanned commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft that NASA’s hopes will reestablish resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) lost with the shuttle’s shutdown.

“MARS has completed construction and testing operations on its launch complex at Wallops Island, the first all-new large-scale liquid-fuel launch site to be built in the U.S. in decades,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

“Accordingly, our pad operations are commencing immediately in preparation for an important series of ground and flight tests of our Antares medium-class launch vehicle over the next few months. In fact, earlier today (Oct. 1), an Antares first stage test article was transported to the pad from its final assembly building about a mile away, marking the beginning of full pad operations.”

Antares 1st stage rocket erected at Launch Pad 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA

In about 4 to 6 weeks, Orbital plans to conduct a 30 second long hot fire test of the first stage, generating a total thrust of 680,000 lbs. If successful, a full up test flight of the 131 foot tall Antares with a Cygnus mass simulator bolted on top is planned for roughly a month later.

An ISS docking demonstration mission to the ISS would then occur early in 2013 which would be nearly identical in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight successfully launched and accomplished in May 2012.

The first commercial resupply mission to the ISS by SpaceX (CRS-1) is now set to lift off on Oct. 7 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 700,000 lb thrust Antares first stage is powered by a pair of Soviet era NK-33 engines built during the 1960 and 1970’s as part of Russia’s ill-fated N-1 manned moon program. The engines have since been upgraded and requalified by Aerojet Corp. and integrated into the Ukrainian built first stage rocket as AJ-26 engines.

Image Caption: Antares first stage arrives on the pad at NASA_Wallops on Oct. 1. First stage approaching adapter ring on the right. Credit: NASA

NASA awarded contracts to Orbital Sciences Corp and SpaceX in 2008 to develop unmanned commercial resupply systems with the goal of recreating an American capability to deliver cargo to the ISS which completely evaporated following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in 2011 with no follow on program ready to go.

“Today’s (Oct. 1) rollout of Orbital’s Antares test vehicle and the upcoming SpaceX mission are significant milestones in our effort to return space station resupply activities to the United States and insource the jobs associated with this important work,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver. “NASA’s commercial space program is helping to ensure American companies launch our astronauts and their supplies from U.S. soil.”

The public will be invited to watch the Antares blastoff and there are a lot of locations for spectators to gather nearby for an up close and personal experience.

“Antares is the biggest rocket ever launched from Wallops,” NASA Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler told me. “The launches will definitely be publicized.”

Ken Kremer

New Stunning ISS Time-lapse: Earth Illuminated

“If you could see the Earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more spendid than the Moon.”

— Galileo Galilei.

400 years ago, Galileo could only imagine what the view of Earth would be like from space. Today, we have people on board the International Space Station who see that view every day. This new beautiful time-lapse shows aurora, lightning, our Milky Way Galaxy, city lights and other sights as seen from orbit.

Below is a great still image from this video, an amazing look through the ISS’s Cupola as Earth whizzes by:

Image caption: A view out the Cupola of the ISS. Credit: NASA

For more time-lapse videos and imagery, visit NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth website.

Dragon’s Ocean Splashdown Caps Historic Opening of New Space Era

1st picture of the Dragon spacecraft as it floats in the ocean awaiting recovery ships. Dragon splashed down successfully on May 31, 2012 at 11:42 a.m. EDT in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of California. In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual drogue parachutes deploy at 45,000 feet to stabilize and slow the spacecraft. Full deployment of the drogues triggers the release of the main parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, at about 10,000 feet, with the drogues detaching from the spacecraft. Main parachutes further slow the spacecraft's descent to approximately 16 to 18 feet per second. Credit: Michael Altenhofen

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Concluding a perfectly executed and history making test flight, the first private spacecraft ever to visit and dock at the International Space Station (ISS) performed a picture perfect splashdown at 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT) today, May 31, in the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of Baja, California, some 560 miles southwest of Los Angeles to cap the opening to a historic new Era in Space Exploration.

Dragon is the linchpin in NASA’s bold Commercial Crew and Cargo program aimed at significantly driving down the cost of transporting cargo and crews to low Earth orbit by using private commercial companies to foster competition and innovation in the free market setting of the new, post-shuttle Era of Commercial Space Transportation.

NASA aircraft were able to transmit live video of the last few minutes of the Dragon’s breathtaking descent, unfurling of the trio of parachutes and ocean splashdown – pretty much on target at 27 degrees latitude and 127 degrees west longitude.

The official mission elapsed time on landing was 9 days, 7 hours and 58 minutes.

Splashdown of the Dragon cargo craft took place barely 6 hours after departing the orbiting lab complex following detachment from the station using the station robotic arm. The ISS astronauts released the craft from the grip of the station’s robot arm at 5:49 a.m. EST (949 GMT) this morning, May 31.

Screen shot of Dragon after May 31 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA TV

The two spacecraft were soaring some 250 miles (400 km) high above the Indian Ocean east of Africa at the moment of release and departure. Altogether, Dragon spent 5 days, 16 hours and 5 minutes mated to the station.

The gumdrop shaped Dragon capsule is 4.4 meters (14.4 ft) tall, and 3.66 m (12 ft) in diameter and has an internal pressurized volume of about 350 cubic feet .

The Dragon cargo resupply capsule was built by SpaceX and is being retrieved from the ocean by a flotilla of three recovery ships. The ships reached Dragon, detached the chutes and are in the process of recovery. It will take about two days to deliver the craft to the port of Los Angeles where the most critical cargo items will be removed for quick shipment to NASA. The capsule will then be shipped to SpaceX’s McGregor,Texas facility for post-flight evaluation.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft whose purpose is to carry supplies to and from the ISS and partially replace the cargo capabilities previously performed by NASA’s now retired fleet of space shuttle orbiters. Dragon was designed, developed and built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

“This has been a fantastic day,” said Musk at a post splashdown briefing for reporters. “I want to thank NASA and the whole SpaceX team for an amazing job.”

“I’m really proud of everyone. This really couldn’t have gone better. We’re looking forward to doing lots more missions in the future and continuing to upgrade the technology and push the frontier of space transportation.”

“In baseball terminology this would be a grand slam. I am overwhelmed with joy.”

The de-orbit burn to drop Dragon out of orbit took place precisely on time at 10:51 a.m. EDT for a change in velocity of 100 m/sec about 246 miles above the Indian Ocean directly to the south of India as the craft was some 200 miles in front of the ISS.

Screen shot of Dragon after May 31 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA TV

The Draco thruster firing lasted 9 minutes and 50 seconds and sent Dragon plummeting through the Earth’s atmosphere where it had to survive extreme temperatures exceeding 3000 degrees F (1600 degrees C) before landing.

The Dragon capsule is the first US vehicle of any kind to arrive at the ISS since the July 2011 forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program resulted in the total loss of all US capability to send cargo and humans crews to the massive orbiting outpost.

SpaceX signed a contract with NASA in 2006 to conduct twelve Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS at a cost of some $1.6 Billion over the next few years.

This was the third test flight of the Falcon 9 rocket and the first test flight of the Dragon in this vastly upgraded configuration with solar panels. A future variant of Dragon will eventually blast US astronauts to space and restore US crew capability – perhaps by 2017 thanks to repeated cuts to NASA’s budget.

Only four entities have ever sent a spacecraft to dock at the ISS – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union. SpaceX is the first commercial entity to accomplish the same feat.

The precedent setting Dragon mission has opened a new era in spaceflight by giving birth to the first fully commercial mission to the orbiting space station complex and unlocking vast new possibilities for its utilization in science and exploration.

On May 22, Dragon thundered to orbit atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 rocket during a pre-dawn liftoff at 3:44 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

After a three day chase, Dragon arrived at the ISS on May 25 and was deftly berthed at an open Earth-facing port on the Harmony Node 2 module after being dramatically captured by the astronaut crew using the station’s robotic arm in a landmark event in space history as the Dragon and the ISS were passing about 251 miles above Earth. Capture was confirmed at a mission elapsed time of 3 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes and 23 seconds.

Working in tandem, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers snared the Dragon craft as it was drifting in free space about 10 m (32 ft) away with the 18 m (58 ft) long Canadian robot arm at 9:56 a.m. EDT and parked the first privately built capsule to an open port at 12:02 p.m. EDT on May 25.

The astronauts opened the hatch and ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time a day later on May 26 and then proceeded to unload the stowed cargo and refill it for the return trip to Earth.

On this first NASA sponsored Dragon test flight to rendezvous and dock at the ISS, the cargo craft was packed with 460 kilograms (1014 lbs) of non-critical cargo including 306 kg (674 lbs) of food and crew provisions; 21 kg (46 lbs) of science experiment; 123 kg (271 lbs) prepositioned cargo bags to be used for future flights; and 10 kg (22 lbs) of assorted computer supplies and a laptop.

Dragon splashed down successfully on May 31, 2012 at 11:42 a.m. EDT in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of California. In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual drogue parachutes deployed at 45,000 feet to stabilize and slow the spacecraft. Full deployment of the drogues triggers the release of the main parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, at about 10,000 feet, with the drogues detaching from the spacecraft. Main parachutes further slow the spacecraft's descent to approximately 16 to 18 feet per second.

Unlike the other Russian, European and Japanese cargo freighters that service the ISS and then disintegrate on reentry, the SpaceX Dragon is uniquely equipped with a state of the art PICA-X heat shield that allows it to plunge safely through the Earth’s atmosphere and survive the fiery temperatures exceeding more than 3000 degrees F (1600 degrees C).

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tower after liftoff at 3:44 a.m. on May 22, 2012 from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the first commercial mission to loft the Dragon cargo resupply vehicle to the International Space Station. The Dragon mission was a resounding success from launch to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on May 31 at 11:42 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

The down mass capability restores another critical capability lost with the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011. The astronauts filled Dragon with about 620 kilograms (1367 pounds) of science experiments, trash and non-critical items on this historic test flight.

The first operational Dragon resupply mission to the ISS could blast off as early as September, said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program.

“We’ll await the final post flight report to make the determination that this was an extremely successful mission. But they should be well on their way to starting [delivery] services,” said Lindenmoyer at the briefing. “Of course, officially we will look at the post flight data and make an official determination. But I would say at this point it looks like 100 percent success.”

Ken Kremer

Dragon Heading to Ocean Splashdown

SpaceX Dragon has undocked from the International Space Station and is on course for May 31 splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the Baja California coast. Credit: NASA

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History’s first commercial cargo ship ever to visit the International Space Station (ISS) has safely and successfully departed the orbiting lab complex after astronauts released the craft from the grip of the station’s robotic arm at 5:49 a.m. EST (949 GMT) this morning, May 31, 2012 for the return trip to Earth to conclude a precedent setting stay that fully accomplished all objectives.

“Dragon is Free !” announced Josh Byerly, a NASA spokesman at Houston Mission control a short while ago as NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Don Pettit released the first ever private spacecraft to attach to the ISS into a free drift mode for a fiery plunge through Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California less than 6 hours from now.

“Everything looking safe and sound.”

The two spacecraft were some 250 miles (400 km) high above the Indian Ocean east of Africa at the moment of release and departure. Altogether, Dragon spent 5 days, 16 hours and 5 minutes mated to the station.

A minute later Dragon successfully conducted its first departure burn to back away from the massive orbiting complex followed shortly thereafter by two more short pulsed firings of the capsules thrusters. The last of the three short separation burns took place at 6:02 a.m. EDT.

Dragon released from ISS robot arm on May 31. Credit: NASA

The Dragon then passed outside the imaginary 200 meter (656 ft) circular zone known as the Keep-Out-Sphere (KOS) and was placed under the exclusive control of SpaceX mission controllers with NASA control duties completed

The next major event is the de-orbit burn scheduled for 10:51 a.m. EDT which is a 100 m/sec burn lasting 9 minutes and 50 seconds. The thruster firing will send Dragon plummeting through the Earth’s atmosphere at 17000 MPH where it must survive temperatures exceeding 3000 degrees F before landing.

Earlier this morning, Acaba and Pettit unhooked the final 16 motorized bolts and latches holding Dragon firmly to the station at the common berthing mechanism and detached Dragon from the station’s Earth facing Harmony node at 4:07 a.m. EDT using the 18 m (58 ft) Canadian robot arm. The astronauts worked at robotic work stations inside the multi-windowed Cupola observation dome.

Dragon Splashdown Zone

The SpaceX Dragon is now headed for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:44 a.m. EST (1544 GMT) some 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles off the West Coast of California.

SpaceX has dispatched three recovery vessels to retrieve Dragon from the ocean.

Following launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 22, Dragon arrived at the ISS on May 25 and the astronauts opened the hatch on May 26 and then proceeded to unload the cargo and refill it for the return trip.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft and was built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

“This is SpaceX’s second demonstration flight under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station’” says SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham.

“With the first demonstration flight, in December of 2010, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to orbit the Earth and safely return. During that mission SpaceX conducted similar recovery operations to retrieve Dragon from a water landing in the Pacific. Demonstration missions are conducted to determine potential issues so that they might be addressed; by their very nature, they carry a significant risk. If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again.”

Live NASA TV coverage of the Dragon splashdown resumes at 10:15 a.m. EDT

Ken Kremer

……..

Updated Dragon Return Timeline from SpaceX – (times are approximate and subject to change)
Time (Pacific) Event
02:49 Dragon released by the station’s robotic arm
02:36 Dragon’s Draco thrusters fire first departure burn
07:51 Draco thrusters fire deorbit burn
08:09 Dragon’s trunk is jettisoned
08:35 Drogue parachutes are deployed
08:36 Main parachutes are deployed
08:44 Dragon lands in the Pacific

SpaceX Dragon Sealed for Earth Return on May 31

SpaceX Dragon was grappled by robot arm, on May 25, 2012 and then became the first commercial space capsule in history to be connected to the International Space Station. Dragon will be detached on May 31 and splashdown hours later at about 11:44 a.m. EDT several hundered kilometers (mi) off the coast of California. Credit: NASA

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The historic flight of the first private spaceship to ever connect to the International Space Station (ISS) has entered its waning hours and by all accounts it’s been a resounding success thus far ahead of the imminent return trip to Earth.

All objectives have been fully accomplished and all that remains is for the unmanned Dragon cargo capsule to be detached from the huge outpost early Thursday morning, May 31, following by a mission ending splashdown and ocean recovery off the coast of California some 6 hours later.

Astronauts living aboard the huge Earth orbiting lab closed the hatches to the SpaceX Dragon capsule earlier today (May 30) and will finish their activities to seal the capsule for a safe departure before going to sleep later today ahead of tomorrow’s momentous final feats on this landmark mission.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft and was built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

This view of European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, Expedition 31 flight engineer, is among the first set of imagery from the crew showing the freshly opened SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. Credit: NASA

NASA and SpaceX described the Dragon’s upcoming unberthing and return to Earth activities at a news media briefing today.

The ISS crew is scheduled to disconnect the Dragon from the Earth-facing Harmony node using the station’s robotic arm at 4:05 a.m. EDT (0805 GMT), said NASA flight director Holly Ridings. They will release the Dragon from the arm’s grip into space at 5:35 a.m. EDT (0935 GMT).

“The Dragon really looks great,” Ridings told Universe Today.

Ridings said that the crew completed virtually “all the cargo [unloading and refilling] operations in a single day on Monday”.

Dragon will fire the first of a series of three small orbit transfer burns starting at 5:36 a.m. EDT (0936 GMT) to back it away from the orbiting lab complex. The big de-orbit burn lasting about 7 minutes is set for 10:51 am, the Dragon trunk will be jettisoned at 11:09 a.m., main chutes deploy at 11:36 a.m. and the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is due at 11:44 a.m. (1544 GMT) some 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles off the West Coast of California using a flotilla of recovery vessels rented by SpaceX for the ocean retrieval process.

Although SpaceX has demonstrated the capability to safely return Dragon to Earth once before in December 2010, the firm is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s still a very challenging phase of flight,” said SpaceX Dragon Mission Manager John Couluris at the briefing. “Only a few countries have done this so far, so we’re not taking this lightly.”

“It will take about 2 to 3 days to return the capsule to the port of Los Angeles and then to the SpaceX facility in Texas for cargo unloading.”

Unlike the other Russian, European and Japanese cargo freighters that service the ISS and then disintegrate on reentry, the SpaceX Dragon is uniquely equipped with a heat shield (made of PICA-X) that allows it to plunge safely through the Earth’s atmosphere and survive the fiery temperatures exceeding more than 3000 degrees F (1600 degrees C).

The down mass capability restores another critical capability lost with the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011. The astronauts filled Dragon with about 620 kilograms (1367 pounds) of science experiments, trash and non-critical items on this historic test flight.

The Dragon arrived at the million pound orbiting space lab on May 25. On May 26, the crew opened the hatches and ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time.

Look here for a collection of incredible images snapped by European ISS astronaut Andre Kuipers who berthed Dragon at an open parking port on the ISS after it was snared with the 18 m (58 ft) Canadian robot arm by NASA astronaut Don Pettit.

Ridings said the astronauts used the robot arm to thoroughly inspect the Dragon’s exterior, trunk space and solar arrays.

“The results were very positive and our models were very accurate and match the on orbit Dragon configuration and clearances. On downstream flights we’ll be using Dextre on the end of the robot arm to reach around into the Dragon’s truck and grab payloads out,” Ridings told Universe Today.

Capturing SpaceX's Dragon. With clouds and land forming a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station. Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers grappled Dragon at 9:56 a.m. EDT and used the robotic arm to berth Dragon to the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony node at 12:02 p.m. May 25, 2012. Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to be launched to the station to join Russian, European and Japanese resupply craft that service the complex while restoring a U.S. capability to deliver cargo to the orbital laboratory. Dragon is scheduled to spend about a week docked with the station before returning to Earth on May 31 for retrieval. Credit: NASA

Dragon is the world’s first commercial resupply vehicle. It was launched atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 booster on May 22 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX signed a contract with NASA in 2006 to conduct twelve Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS at a cost of some $1.6 Billion over the next several years.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of Dragon’s return to Earth and ocean splash down starting at 2:30 a.m. EDT.

Ken Kremer

…………………….
Dragon Return Timeline from SpaceX – (times are approximate and subject to change)

5/31/12

Time (Pacific) — Event
01:05 — Dragon uninstalled using station’s robotic arm
02:35 — Dragon released by the station’s robotic arm
03:11 — Dragon’s Draco thrusters fire departure burns
04:07 — Unlatch/close/latch GNC door holding sensors
07:51 — Dragon’s Draco thrusters fire deorbit burn
08:09 — Dragon’s trunk is jettisoned
08:35 — Dragon’s drogue parachutes are deployed
08:36 — Dragon’s main parachutes are deployed
08:44 — Dragon lands in the Pacific

Station Astronauts Say Dragon is Plenty Roomy for Hauling Big Crews to Orbit

ISS Astronaut Trio speak to media from Inside newly docked SpaceX Dragon on May 26. NASA astronaut Don Pettit (right), European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andre Kuipers (center) and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba (left) speak to reporters on May 26, 2012 soon after opening the Dragon’s hatch. Dragon is the first private space capsule to dock at the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA TV

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Just how many astronauts can you cram inside a Dragon ? – think Volkswagen Beetle!

Well at least 6 human space flyers can easily fit inside a SpaceX Dragon vehicle, said NASA Astronaut Don Pettit from aboard the ISS during a Q & A session with reporters on Saturday, May 26. The discussion with the media took place only hours after Pettit’s history making hatch opening to the first private space capsule ever to dock at the International Space Station (ISS).

“We’ve already had all 6 people in here for a brief period,” Pettit told Universe Today during the media session on Saturday, soon after the hatch opening. “We haven’t taken any pictures of all 6 [together] yet.”

NASA astronaut Don Pettit (left), European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andre Kuipers (center) and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba (right) speak to reporters on May 26, 2012 from inside the Dragon capsule soon after opening the hatch from the ISS. Credit: NASA TV

The three current station residents who played the key roles in the milestone events of grappling the Dragon cargo resupply craft with the station’s robotic arm and parking it at an open port on the Harmony Node 2 module on Friday, May 25, spoke to reporters while floating inside Dragon for about 20 minutes all told – including Pettit, ESA Astronaut Andre Kuipers and newly arrived fellow NASA astronaut Joe Acaba.

“There’s not enough room in here to hold a barn dance, but for transportation of crew up and down through Earth’s atmosphere and into space, which is a rather short period of time, there’s plenty of room in here for the envisioned crews,” Pettit told me while soaring some 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft to attach to the ISS and was built by SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

All three crew members seemed quite pleased with the Dragon’s layout and quite willing to fly aboard a human rated version in the future. SpaceX is designing Dragon to be capable of carrying 7 passengers in the crew configuration – and it looked spacious to me during the media briefing.

Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi...
Caption and Photo Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA

“I spent quite a bit of time poking around in here this morning, just looking at the engineering and the layout, and I’m very pleased,” said Pettit. “It looks like it carries about as much cargo as I could put in my pickup truck. And it’s roomier than a Soyuz, so flying up in a human-rated Dragon is not going to be an issue.”

The gumdrop shaped Dragon capsule is 4.4 meters (14.4 ft) tall, and 3.66 m (12 ft) in diameter. It has an internal pressurized volume of about 350 cubic feet

On this first NASA sponsored test flight to rendezvous and dock at the ISS it was packed with 460 kilograms (1014 lbs) of non-critical cargo including 306 kg (674 lbs) of food and crew provisions; 21 kg (46 lbs) of science experiment; 123 kg (271 lbs) prepositioned cargo bags to be used for future flights; and 10 kg (22 lbs) of assorted computer supplies and a laptop.

The crew starts unloading Dragon today. It will remain berthed at the million pound orbiting outpost for about 6 days until it is detached on May 31 for a return trip to Earth and splashdown and retrieval in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred km (mi) off the coast of California.

The Dragon launched flawlessly atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 booster on May 22 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet in July 2011 and for at least the next 3 to 5 years, the only way U.S. astronauts can reach the ISS is aboard ferry flights on the cramped three person Russian Soyuz capsule at a cost of some $60 million per seat to U.S. taxpayers.

SpaceX is one of four private companies receiving NASA funding under the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program and seeking to develop commercial “space taxis” to low Earth orbit.

A human-rated Dragon is one of the vehicles engaged in the on-going competition and vying for a NASA contract. But the first crewed flight to restore US human spaceflight capability has been delayed by years because of repeated slashes to NASA’s budget by the US Congress.

NASA now estimates that the first space taxi – possibly the SpaceX Dragon – won’t fly until about 2017.

Ken Kremer

Incredible Dragon Approach and Berthing – Image Gallery from Andre Kuipers aboard ISS

Dragon approaching International Space Station (ISS) over Namibia Hours on end monitoring Dragon's approach is no punishment. Here over Namibia. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA

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On Friday, May 25, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) made space history when they deftly reached out with the stations robotic arm and grabbed the approaching SpaceX Dragon resupply carrier and then parked the first ever commercial cargo craft at an open port on the massive lab complex while orbiting some 407 kilometers (253 miles) above Earth – check out the gallery here !

Working in tandem, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers snared the Dragon craft as it was drifting in free space about 10 m (32 ft) away with the 18 m (58 ft) long Canadian robot arm at 9:56 a.m. EDT and connected the first privately built capsule to a parking spot on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony Node 2 module on the ISS at 12:02 p.m. EDT on May 25.

Dragon over the Rocky Mountains. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA

Here’s a gallery of images from Andre Kuipers showing the Dragon’s rendezvous, grappling and docking at the million pound Earth orbiting space station currently inhabited by a crew of 6 astronauts and cosmonauts working as a united team from the US, Russia and the Netherlands and representing humanities tenuous foothold at the High Frontier.

All these photos were taken on May 25, 2012 using a Nikon D2Xs.

The crew ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time on Saturday, May 26.

Over the next few days, the crew will unload the living provisions, supplies and equipment loaded aboard the Dragon capsule and then refill it with science samples and trash for the return trip to Earth.

Dragon will undock from the ISS on May 31 and splash down hours later off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean.

And through May 31, you can spot and photograph the Dragon/ISS combo orbiting overhead – read my article here for further details.

Approach to 10 metres. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Manoeuvring Dragon to the docking port. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Like this it looks a bit like a model from a 70's sci-fi film. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Dragon and Earth. Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA
Teamwork in the Cupola during Dragon approach - Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers. Credit: ESA/NASA

Dragon is the world’s first commercial resupply vehicle. It was launched flawlessly atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 booster on May 22 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Ken Kremer

Spot the New Space Era as ISS & Dragon Streak Across the Sky – This Week Only !

The New Commercial Space Era Streaks Across the Night Sky - Docked Dragon and International Space Station (ISS) at 4:07 AM EDT near Princeton, NJ on May 26, 2012, less than 24 hours after the Dragon was attached to the Harmony node. 25 sec exposure. Credit: Ken Kremer

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This week and this week only you can see the dawn of the new Commercial Space Era with your own eyes – it’s soaring above your head a mere 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. All you have to do is a quick search, hope for clear skies and traipse outside.

Following the historic attachment of the maiden commercial Dragon cargo carrier to the Harmony node on the International Space Station (ISS) on May 25, the massive orbiting laboratory will be shining just a little bit brighter and prouder as it steaks overhead across the sky at 17,500 MPH (32140 KPH).

Dragon and ISS are literally trailblazing the pathway to the new Commercial Space Era for all to see.

So, for a limited time only between right now and the scheduled May 31 undocking of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from the ISS there will be occasional viewing opportunities to catch the dynamic duo speeding merrily across the night time sky.

And the station crew of 6 astronauts and cosmonauts living aboard just opened the hatch from the ISS and “Entered the Dragon” earlier today, May 26 – To make it even more special !

Many folks have never seen an ISS flyover and I can’t think of a better time than now to get started. I’ve held several ISS Sighting star parties in different US States and everyone is thrilled and amazed at how bright the ISS shines – In fact it’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Sun and the Moon.

Docked Commercial SpaceX Dragon and International Space Station (ISS) streak across the pre dawn sky at 4:07 AM EDT near Princeton, NJ on May 26, 2012, less than 24 hours after the Dragon was attached to the Harmony node. 25 sec exposure. Credit: Ken Kremer

To determine if there are any favorable sighting opportunities in your area, check out the NASA website on Human Spaceflight Sighting Opportunities – here – for a detailed listing of the precise times, elevations, direction and durations. It’s an easy to use viewing guide. Just plug in the particulars of the country in which you live

Another great source is Heaven’s Above – here

ISS streaks over Florida skies at a star party for space enthusiasts around the KSC Quality Inn days prior to SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Last night I shot some time lapse astrophotos (above) when the gloomy New Jersey clouds finally cleared using a digital SLR and exposure times of 20 to 30 seconds.

Read my eyewitness account of the spectacular pre-dawn May 19 launch of the Dragon resupply vehicle atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida here and the docking here

Now – Go Spot the Dragon and the Station !

and send Ken your blazing Astrophotos to post at Universe Today

Happy Viewing and Clear Skies

Ken Kremer