NASA’s RapidScat Ocean Wind Watcher Starts Earth Science Operations at Space Station

Barely two months after being launched to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA’s first science payload aimed at conducting Earth science from the station’s exterior has started its ocean wind monitoring operations two months ahead of schedule.

Data from the ISS Rapid Scatterometer, or ISS-RapidScat, payload is now available to the world’s weather and marine forecasting agencies following the successful completion of check out and calibration activities by the mission team.

Indeed it was already producing high quality, usable data following its power-on and activation at the station in late September and has monitored recent tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans prior to the end of the current hurricane season.

RapidScat is designed to monitor ocean winds for climate research, weather predictions, and hurricane monitoring for a minimum mission duration of two years.

“RapidScat is a short mission by NASA standards,” said RapidScat Project Scientist Ernesto Rodriguez of JPL.

“Its data will be ready to help support U.S. weather forecasting needs during the tail end of the 2014 hurricane season. The dissemination of these data to the international operational weather and marine forecasting communities ensures that RapidScat’s benefits will be felt throughout the world.”

ISS-RapidScat instrument, shown in this artist's rendering, was launched to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX CRS-4 mission on Sept. 21, 2014 and attached at ESA’s Columbus module.  It will measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center.
ISS-RapidScat instrument, shown in this artist’s rendering, was launched to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX CRS-4 mission on Sept. 21, 2014, and attached at ESA’s Columbus module. It will measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center.

The 1280 pound (580kilogram) experimental instrument was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s a cost-effective replacement to NASA’s former QuikScat satellite.

The $26 million remote sensing instrument uses radar pulses reflected from the ocean’s surface at different angles to calculate the speed and direction of winds over the ocean for the improvement of weather and marine forecasting and hurricane monitoring.

The RapidScat, payload was hauled up to the station as part of the science cargo launched aboard the commercial SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 cargo resupply mission that thundered to space on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 21.

ISS-RapidScat is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting near global Earth science from the station’s exterior and will be augmented with others in coming years.

ISS-RapidScat viewed the winds within post-tropical cyclone Nuri as it moved parallel to Japan on Nov. 6, 2014 05:30 UTC. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
ISS-RapidScat viewed the winds within post-tropical cyclone Nuri as it moved parallel to Japan on Nov. 6, 2014, 05:30 UTC. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It was robotically assembled and attached to the exterior of the station’s Columbus module using the station’s robotic arm and DEXTRE manipulator over a two day period on Sept 29 and 30.

Ground controllers at Johnson Space Center intricately maneuvered DEXTRE to pluck RapidScat and its nadir adapter from the unpressurized trunk section of the Dragon cargo ship and attached it to a vacant external mounting platform on the Columbus module holding mechanical and electrical connections.

The nadir adapter orients the instrument to point its antennae at Earth.

The couch sized instrument and adapter together measure about 49 x 46 x 83 inches (124 x 117 x 211 centimeters).

“The initial quality of the RapidScat wind data and the timely availability of products so soon after launch are remarkable,” said Paul Chang, ocean vector winds science team lead at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS)/Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR), Silver Spring, Maryland.

“NOAA is looking forward to using RapidScat data to help support marine wind and wave forecasting and warning, and to exploring the unique sampling of the ocean wind fields provided by the space station’s orbit.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This has been a banner year for NASA’s Earth science missions. At least five missions will be launched to space within a 12 month period, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade.

ISS-RapidScat is the third of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch over a year.

NASA has already launched the of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint mission with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, in February and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) carbon observatory in July 2014.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Departs Space Station after Delivering Slew of Science and Returns with Ocean Splashdown

Concluding a busy five week mission, the SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 commercial cargo ship departed the International Space Station (ISS) this morning, Oct. 25, after delivering a slew of some 2.5 tons of ground breaking science experiments and critical supplies that also inaugurated a new era in Earth science at the massive orbiting outpost following installation of the ISS-RapidScat payload.

Dragon was released from the snares of the station’s robotic arm at 9: 57 a.m. EDT while soaring some 250 mi (400 km) over the northwest coast of Australia.

It returned safely to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean some six hours later, capping the fourth of SpaceX’s twelve contracted station resupply missions for NASA through 2016.

“The Dragon is free!” exclaimed NASA commentator Rob Navias during a live broadcast on NASA TV following the ungrappling this morning. “The release was very clean.”

Dragon released from snares of ISS robotic arm on Oct. 25, 2014 for return to Earth.  Credit: NASA
Dragon released from snares of ISS robotic arm on Oct. 25, 2014, for return to Earth. Credit: NASA

The private resupply ship was loaded for return to Earth with more than 3,276 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from the station crew’s investigations on “human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations, and education activities sponsored by NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the nonprofit organization responsible for managing research aboard the U.S. national laboratory portion of the space station,” said NASA.

The release set up a quick series of three burns by the ship’s Draco thrusters designed to carry Dragon safely away from the station.

NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Butch Wilmore quickly retracted the arm working from their robotics workstation in the domed Cupola module.

“Thanks for the help down there,” the astronauts radioed. “It was a great day.”

Dragon moves away from ISS on Oct. 25, 2014 for return to Earth.  Credit: NASA  TV
Dragon moves away from ISS on Oct. 25, 2014, for return to Earth. Credit: NASA TV

The first burn took place a minute later at about 9:58 a.m. EDT and the second at about 10:00 a.m. A yaw maneuver at 10:05 a.m. set up the orientation required for the third burn at about 10:08 a.m.

Dragon moved away quickly during the nighttime release and was already outside the Keep Out Sphere (KOS), an imaginary bubble surrounding the station at a distance of 200 m. It disappeared quickly in the dark and was barely visible within minutes.

“The propulsion systems are in good shape,” said Navias. “All systems on Dragon are functioning perfectly.”

With Dragon safely gone following the trio of burns, the next major event was the deorbit burn at 2:43 p.m. EDT at a distance of about 90 statute miles from the station.

Dragon slipped out of orbit. After surviving the scorching heat of reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere, the ship sequentially deployed its drogue chutes and three main parachutes at about 3:30 p.m.

Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean occurred as expected at about 3:39 p.m., approximately 265 miles west of the Baja peninsula.

Dragon is the only vehicle that can return intact from the ISS with a substantial load of cargo and is carrying critical science samples for distribution to researchers.

Today’s Dragon departure starts a week of heavy traffic of comings and goings to the ISS involving a series of US and Russian unmanned cargo ships.

SpaceX Dragon captures view of ISS after departure on Oct. 25, 2014 for return to Earth.  Credit: NASA  TV
SpaceX Dragon captures view of ISS after departure on Oct. 25, 2014, for return to Earth. Credit: NASA TV

The Orbital Sciences Antares rocket with the commercial Cygnus cargo freighter is set to launch on Monday, Oct. 27, from NASA Wallops, VA. It will dock at the ISS on Nov. 2 at the Earth-facing port on the Harmony module just vacated by Dragon.

Russia’s Progress 56 unmanned cargo ship will also undock on Oct. 27. And Progress 57 will launch from Baikonur on Wednesday, Oct 29.

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 cargo resupply mission thundered to space on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 21.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dragon was successfully berthed at the Harmony module on Sept. 23, 2014.

Among the nearly 5000 pounds of cargo hauled up by Dragon was as an Earth observation platform named ISS-RapidScat loaded in the unpressurized trunk section.

Also loaded aboard were a slew of science experiments, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

It also carried the first 3-D printer to space for the first such space based studies ever attempted by the astronaut crews. The printer will remain at the station for at least the next two years.

20 mice housed in a special rodent habitat were also aboard, as well as fruit flies.

The ISS Rapid Scatterometer, or ISS-RapidScat, is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting near global Earth science from the station’s exterior and will be augmented with others in coming years.

ISS-RapidScat instrument, shown in this artist's rendering, was launched to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX CRS-4 mission on Sept. 21, 2014 and attached at ESA’s Columbus module.  It will measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center.
ISS-RapidScat instrument, shown in this artist’s rendering, was launched to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX CRS-4 mission on Sept. 21, 2014, and attached at ESA’s Columbus module. It will measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center.

The successful installation and activation of the ISS-RapidScat science instrument on the exterior of Europe’s Columbus module in late September and early October inaugurated a new era in space station science.

RapidScat is designed to monitor ocean winds for climate research, weather predictions, and hurricane monitoring.

The 1280 pound (580 kilogram) experimental instrument is already collecting its first science data following its recent power-on and activation at the station.

SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40  awaiting launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 with Dragon spaceship erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 awaiting launch on Sept. 21, 2014, on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“This mission enabled research critical to achieving NASA’s goal of long-duration human spaceflight in deep space,” said Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station division at NASA Headquarters.

“The delivery of the ISS RapidScatterometer advances our understanding of Earth science, and the 3-D printer will enable a critical technology demonstration. Investigations in the returned cargo could aid in the development of more efficient solar cells and semiconductor-based electronics, the development of plants better suited for space, and improvements in sustainable agriculture.”

The next SpacX cargo Dragon on the CRS-5 mission is slated for launch no earlier then Dec. 9.

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

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Commercial Space, Orion and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Oct 26/27: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

NASA Inaugurates New Space Station Era as Earth Science Observation Platform with RapidScat Instrument

NASA inaugurated a new era of research for the International Space Station (ISS) as an Earth observation platform following the successful installation and activation of the ISS-RapidScat science instrument on the outposts exterior at Europe’s Columbus module.

The ISS Rapid Scatterometer, or ISS-RapidScat, is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting near global Earth science from the station’s exterior and will be augmented with others in coming years.

RapidScat is designed to monitor ocean winds for climate research, weather predictions, and hurricane monitoring.

The 1280 pound (580 kilogram) experimental instrument is already collecting its first science data following its recent power-on and activation at the station.

“Its antenna began spinning and it started transmitting and receiving its first winds data on Oct.1,” according to a NASA statement.

The first image from RapidScat was released by NASA on Oct. 6, shown below, and depicts preliminary measurements of global ocean near-surface wind speeds and directions.

Launched Sept. 21, 2014, to the International Space Station, NASA's newest Earth-observing mission, the International Space Station-RapidScat scatterometer to measure global ocean near-surface wind speeds and directions, has returned its first preliminary images.  Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech
Launched Sept. 21, 2014, to the International Space Station, NASA’s newest Earth-observing mission, the International Space Station-RapidScat scatterometer to measure global ocean near-surface wind speeds and directions, has returned its first preliminary images. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

The $26 million remote sensing instrument uses radar pulses to observe the speed and direction of winds over the ocean for the improvement of weather forecasting.

“Most satellite missions require weeks or even months to produce data of the quality that we seem to be getting from the first few days of RapidScat,” said RapidScat Project Scientist Ernesto Rodriguez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which built and manages the mission.

“We have been very lucky that within the first days of operations we have already been able to observe a developing tropical cyclone.

“The quality of these data reflect the level of testing and preparation that the team has put in prior to launch,” Rodriguez said in a NASA statement. “It also reflects the quality of the spare QuikScat hardware from which RapidScat was partially assembled.”

RapidScat, payload was hauled up to the station as part of the science cargo launched aboard the commercial SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 cargo resupply mission that thundered to space on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 21.

Dragon was successfully berthed at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module on Sept 23, as detailed here.

It was robotically assembled and attached to the exterior of the station’s Columbus module using the station’s robotic arm and DEXTRE manipulator over a two day period on Sept 29 and 30.

Ground controllers at Johnson Space Center intricately maneuvered DEXTRE to pluck RapidScat and its nadir adapter from the unpressurized trunk section of the Dragon cargo ship and attached it to a vacant external mounting platform on the Columbus module holding mechanical and electrical connections.

Fascinating: #Canadarm & Dextre installed the #RapidScat Experiment on Columbus! @ISS_Research @NASAJPL @csa_asc. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst
Fascinating: #Canadarm & Dextre installed the #RapidScat Experiment on Columbus! @ISS_Research @NASAJPL @csa_asc. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst

The nadir adapter orients the instrument to point at Earth.

The couch sized instrument and adapter together measure about 49 x 46 x 83 inches (124 x 117 x 211 centimeters).

Engineers are in the midst of a two week check out process that is proceeding normally so far. Another two weeks of calibration work will follow.

Thereafter RapidScat will begin a mission expected to last at least two years, said Steve Volz, associate director for flight programs in the Earth Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, at a prelaunch media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.

RapidScat is the forerunner of at least five more Earth science observing instruments that will be added to the station by the end of the decade, Volz explained.

The second Earth science instrument, dubbed CATS, could be added by year’s end.

The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) is a laser instrument that will measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates in the atmosphere.

CATS is slated to launch on the next SpaceX resupply mission, CRS-5, currently targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Dec. 9.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This has been a banner year for NASA’s Earth science missions. At least five missions will be launched to space within a 12 month period, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade.

ISS-RapidScat is the third of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch over a year.

NASA has already launched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint mission with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in February, and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) carbon observatory in July 2014.

NASA managers show installed location of ISS-RapidScat instrument on the Columbus module on an ISS scale model at the Kennedy Space Center press site during launch period for the SpaceX CRS-4 Dragon cargo mission.  Posing are Steve Volz, associate director for flight programs in the Earth Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington and Howard Eisen, RapidScat Project Manager.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA managers show installed location of ISS-RapidScat instrument on the ESA Columbus module on an ISS scale model at the Kennedy Space Center press site during launch period for the SpaceX CRS-4 Dragon cargo mission. Posing are Steve Volz, associate director for flight programs in the Earth Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, and Howard Eisen, RapidScat Project Manager. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Commercial Space Taxis, Orion and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Oct 14: “What’s the Future of America’s Human Spaceflight Program with Orion and Commercial Astronaut Taxis” & “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 7:30 PM

Oct 23/24: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

Commercial SpaceX Dragon Cargo Capsule Arrives at Space Station

After a two day chase through space, a commercial SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule completed its orbital ballet and arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) today, Sept. 23, packed with some 2.5 tons of ground breaking science experiments and supplies for the human crew.

The Dragon CRS-4 resupply freighter rendezvoused with the station early this morning following a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings that brought the vessel to within a capture distance of some 10 meters (32 feet) beneath the massive orbiting outpost.

Expedition 41 crewmember and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst then maneuvered the station’s 58-foot Canadian built robotic arm. He deftly captured the Dragon at 6:52 a.m. EDT while working at the controls of the robotics workstation in the Cupola module and as the station soared some 260 miles above the Pacific Ocean.

NASA TV live coverage of the rendezvous and grappling process began at 5:00 a.m. EDT with berthing coverage concluding about 9:30 a.m. – http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman assisted Gerst in operating the Canadarm2 from inside the domed, seven windowed Cupola.

Approximately two hours later at 9 a.m. EST, the private SpaceX Dragon was berthed at the Earth-facing port on the stations Harmony module.

See the Dragon’s location on ISS graphic below.

Current ISS configuration on Sept. 23, 2014 following berthing of SpaceX Dragon CRS-4.  Credit: NASA TV
Current ISS configuration on Sept. 23, 2014 following berthing of SpaceX Dragon CRS-4. Credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 cargo mission thundered to space on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:52 a.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, just hours after a deluge of widespread rain showers inundated central Florida. Story here.

CRS-4 marks the company’s fourth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

Eight more Dragon cargo missions to the ISS are slated through 2016.

The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of science experiments, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Alexander Gerst and Reid Wiseman watch the approach of the SpaceX Dragon from the Cupola. Credit: NASA TV
Alexander Gerst and Reid Wiseman watch the approach of the SpaceX Dragon from the Cupola.
Credit: NASA TV

This mission opens a new era in Earth science for the ISS. Tucked inside the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk section at the rear is the ISS-Rapid Scatterometer.

RapidScat is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting Earth science from the station’s exterior. The station’s robot arm will pluck RapidScat out of the trunk and attach it to an Earth-facing point on the exterior trusswork of ESA’s Columbus science module.

The remote sensing instrument will use radar pulses to observe the speed and direction of winds over the ocean for the improvement of weather forecasting.

Dragon also carries the first 3-D printer to space for the first such space based studies ever attempted by the astronaut crews. The printer will remain at the station for at least the next two years.

Also aboard are 20 mice housed in a special rodent habitat, as well as fruit flies.

Dragon will remain docked to the ISS for about a month. Then it will return to Earth via a parachute assisted Pacific Ocean landing off the coast of Baja California. On the return trip, the capsule will be packed with nearly 3,300 pounds (1,486 kg) of cargo, science samples, and computer and vehicle hardware for engineering checks.

The next SpaceX unmanned resupply mission is set to launch in early December on the CRS-5 flight.

The SpaceX Dragon private space freighter approaches the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon private space freighter approaches the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA TV

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Spectacular Nighttime Blastoff Boosts SpaceX Cargo Ship Loaded with Science and Critical Supplies for Space Station

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blazed aloft on a spectacular middle of the night blastoff that turned night into day along the Florida Space coast today, Sept. 21, 2014, boosting a commercial cargo ship for NASA and loaded with 2.5 tons of ground breaking science experiments, 20 ‘mousetronauts’ and critical supplies for the human crew residing aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel on the CRS-4 mission thundered to space on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:52 a.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, just hours after a deluge of widespread rain showers inundated central Florida.

Notably, the Space CRS-4 mission is carrying NASA’s first research payload – RapidScat – aimed at conducting Earth science from the stations exterior.

“There’s nothing like a good launch, it’s just fantastic,” said Hans Koenigsman, vice president of Mission Assurance for SpaceX at the post launch briefing. “From what I can tell, everything went perfectly.”

“We worked very hard yesterday and weather wasn’t quite playing along and today everything was beautiful.”

CRS-4 marks the company’s fourth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of science experiments, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing, and supplies for the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

“This launch kicks off a very busy time for the space station,” said NASA’s Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station, noting upcoming launches of a Soyuz carrying the next three person international crew of the station and launches of other cargo spacecraft including the Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus around mid- October.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today’s Falcon 9 launch had already been postponed 24 hours by continuing terrible weather all week long at Cape Canaveral which had also forced a more than two hour delay to the target liftoff of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape just four days earlier. Read my Atlas V launch story involving the completely clandestine CLIO satellite – here.

Rather amazingly given the awful recent weather, Falcon 9 streaked to orbit under a beautifully star filled nighttime sky.

Sunday’s launch brilliantly affirmed the ability of SpaceX to fire off their Falcon 9 rockets at a rapid pace since it was the second launch in less than two weeks, and the fourth over the past ten weeks. The prior Falcon 9 successfully launched the AsiaSat 6 commercial telecom satellite from the Cape on Sept. 7 – detailed here.

The CRS-4 missions marks the birth of a new era in Earth science aboard the massive million pound orbiting space station. The trunk of the Dragon is loaded with the $30 Million ISS-Rapid Scatterometer to monitor ocean surface wind speed and direction.

RapidScat is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting Earth science from the station’s exterior. The station’s robot arm will pluck RapidScat out of the trunk and attach it to an Earth-facing point on the exterior trusswork of ESA’s Columbus science module.

Dragon also carries the first 3-D printer to space for studies by the astronaut crews over at least the next two years.

SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40  awaiting launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 awaiting launch on Sept. 21, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The science experiments and technology demonstrations alone amount to over 1644 pounds (746 kg) of the Dragon’s cargo and will support 255 science and research investigations that will occur during the station’s Expeditions 41 and 42 for US investigations as well as for JAXA and ESA.

After a two day orbital chase, Dragon will rendezvous with the station on Tuesday morning, Sept. 23. It will be grappled at 7:04 a.m. by Expedition 41 Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, using the space station’s robotic arm and then berthed at an Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module. NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman will support Gerst.

NASA TV is expected to provide live coverage of Dragon’s arrival, grappling, and station berthing.

Dragon was launched aboard the newest, more powerful version of the Falcon 9, dubbed v1.1, powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines’ 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit.

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

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

The maiden launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 took place in December 2013.

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

At the 330 am NASA post launch news conference it’s all smiles and congratulations on the successful SpaceX launch to the ISS from the Kennedy Space Center Florida. From L/R NASA Kennedy Space Center News Chief Mike Curie, NASA Director International Space Station Sam Scimemi and SpaceX VP of Mission Assurance Dr. Hans Koenigsmann. Credit: Julian Leek
At the 3:30 am NASA post launch news conference it’s all smiles and congratulations on the successful SpaceX launch to the ISS from the Kennedy Space Center Florida. From L/R NASA Kennedy Space Center News Chief Mike Curie, NASA Director International Space Station Sam Scimemi and SpaceX VP of Mission Assurance Dr. Hans Koenigsmann. Credit: Julian Leek

Overall it’s been a great week for SpaceX. The firm was also awarded one of two NASA contracts to build a manned version of the Dragon, dubbed V2, that will ferry astronaut crews to the ISS starting as soon as 2017. Read my story – here.

The second ‘space taxi’ contract was awarded Boeing to develop the CST-100 crew transporter to end the nation’s sole source reliance on Russia for astronaut launches in 2017.

Dragon V2 will launch on the same version of the Falcon 9 launching today’s CRS-4 cargo Dragon.

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

Ken Kremer

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:52 a.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Commercial Resupply Dragon Set for Sept. 21 Blastoff to Station – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 awaiting launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission.
Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Story/launch date/headline updated[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is on the cusp of launching the company’s fourth commercial resupply Dragon spacecraft mission to the International Space Station (ISS) shortly after midnight, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, continuing a rapid fire launch pace and carrying NASA’s first research payload – RapidScat – aimed at conducting Earth science from the stations exterior.

Final preparations for the launch are underway right now at the Cape Canaveral launch pad with the stowage of sensitive late load items including a specially designed rodent habitat housing 20 mice.

Update 20 Sept: Poor weather scrubs launch to Sept. 21 at 1:52 a.m.

Fueling of the two stage rocket with liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants commences in the evening prior to launch.

If all goes well, Saturday’s launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket would be the second in less than two weeks, and the fourth over the past ten weeks. The last Falcon 9 successfully launched the AsiaSat 6 commercial telecom satellite on Sept. 7 – detailed here.

“We are ready to go,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of mission assurance, at a media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center today, Sept. 19.

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the CRS-4 mission bound for the ISS is targeted for an instantaneous window at 2:14 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at the moment Earth’s rotation puts Cape Canaveral in the flight path of the ISS.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.   File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo capsule bound for the ISS launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story/launch date/headline updated

You can watch NASA’s live countdown coverage which begins at 1 a.m. on NASA Television and NASA’s Launch Blog: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The weather forecast is marginal at 50/50 with rain showers and thick clouds as the primary concerns currently impacting the launch site.

The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of science experiments, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

The CRS-4 missions marks the start of a new era in Earth science. The truck of the Dragon is loaded Dragon with the $30 Million ISS-Rapid Scatterometer to monitor ocean surface wind speed and direction.

RapidScat is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting Earth science from the stations exterior. The stations robot arm will pluck RapidScat out of the truck and attach it to an Earth-facing point on the exterior trusswork of ESA’s Columbus science module.

Dragon will also carry the first 3-D printer to space for studies by the astronaut crews over at least two years.

SpaceX Falcon 9  rests horizontally at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 awaiting blastoff reset to Sept 21, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rests horizontally at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 awaiting blastoff reset to Sept 21, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The science experiments and technology demonstrations alone amount too over 1644 pounds (746 kg) and will support 255 science and research investigations that will occur during the station’s Expeditions 41 and 42 for US investigations as well as for JAXA and ESA.

“This flight shows the breadth of ISS as a research platform, and we’re seeing the maturity of ISS for that,” NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan said during a prelaunch news conference held today, Friday, Sept. 19 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

After a two day chase, Dragon will be grappled and berth at an Earth-facing port on the stations Harmony module.

The Space CRS-4 mission marks the company’s fourth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft arrives for successful berthing and docking at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Credit: NASA TV
SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft arrives for successful berthing and docking at the International Space Station on Easter Sunday morning April 20, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

This week, SpaceX was also awarded a NASA contact to build a manned version of the Dragon dubbed V2 that will ferry astronauts crews to the ISS starting as soon as 2017.

NASA also awarded a second contact to Boeing to develop the CST-100 astronaut ‘space taxi’ to end the nation’s sole source reliance on Russia for astronaut launches in 2017.

Dragon V2 will launch on the same version of the Falcon 9 launching this cargo Dragon

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Falcon 9 awaits launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: NASA