Private American Rockets Blast Open 2014 & Commercial Space Race with Big Bangs on Jan. 6 & 7

Seaside panoramic view of an Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia Eastern Shore. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Jan. 7, 2014 at 1:55 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
UPDATE – Frigid Weather Delays Antares Launch to Jan. 8[/caption]

The status quo in space flight operations is no more.

Private American rockets are leading the charge of overdue change into the innovative ‘Commercial Space Race’ by blasting 2014 open with a pair of ‘Big Bang fireworks’ just a day apart on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7.

A dynamic duo of US aerospace firms – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences – are each poised to launch their own recently developed private boosters in the first week of the new year and aiming to dramatically cut costs.

And to top that off, the rockets are thundering aloft from two different spaceports located some 800 miles apart along the US East coast – weather permitting of course given the monster snow storm and frigid arctic air – akin to Mars – bearing down at this very moment on the big populations centers of the Atlantic coast region.

UPDATE ALERT – Antares Launch just postponed to Wed, Jan 8 at 1:32 p.m.due to extremely cold weather forecast. Back up day is Jan. 9

Both companies are revolutionizing access to space for both government entities as well as commercial companies doing lucrative business in space.

The implications of vastly reducing expenses for space travel and space commerce are far reaching and imperative – especially in the face of static and declining budgets mandated by politicians worldwide.

Except for China, which just landed its first rover on the Moon, is investing mightily in space and science and reaping strong economic growth.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX is first on deck with their next generation Falcon 9 rocket poised to soar on Monday, Jan. 6, with a highly valuable international payload – the Thiacom-6 commercial broadcasting satellite.

Note: This launch has just been postponed from Jan. 3 according to a brief statement I received from the USAF 45th Space Wing. Apparently due to concerns with the rocket – better safe than sorry.

Orbital Sciences follows up quickly on Tuesday, Jan. 7, with their two stage Antares rocket carrying the firm’s own Cygnus cargo vessel on its first operational commercial resupply mission for NASA – that’s bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 two stage rocket is slated to launch from complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, likely at dusk.

The original Jan. 3 Falcon 9 evening time launch had been scheduled for 5:50 p.m. Thaicom-6 will be placed into an elliptical supersynchronous transfer orbit.

The commercial space race sometimes makes for strange bedfellows. The Thaicom-6 satellite was built by Orbital Sciences.

This marks only the 2nd launch of the newly upgraded Falcon 9 from Florida. Read my eyewitness reports about the thunderous maiden liftoff barely a month ago on Dec. 3, 2013 with the SES-8 commercial telecom satellite – starting here.

The new Falcon 9 is the key to achieving SpaceX’s future launch manifest of some 50 payloads worth billions of dollars.

The next gen Falcon 9 will also launch the human rated SpaceX Dragon to the ISS. But first the Dragon and Falcon 9 must successfully achieve a pair of abort tests planned for 2014. Read my new article and discussion with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk – here.

The Jan. 7 Antares liftoff is currently scheduled for 1:55 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island, Virginia.

Antares rocket slated for Jan. 7, 2014 launch undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops, Virginia, during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket slated for Jan. 7, 2014 launch undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops, Virginia, during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Antares launch comes on the heels of the completely successful demonstration flight to the space station by Orbital Sciences in September 2013.

This flight was originally scheduled for mid-December 2013 in prime time but was postponed due to the urgent repairs required to get the ISS cooling system back in full operation.

And although it’s now moved to daylight by reason of orbital mechanics, the liftoff could still easily be visible to millions of residents along a wide swath of the US East Coast spanning from North Carolina to New York City – weather permitting.

Antares Launch from Virginia– Maximum Elevation Map  The Antares daytime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Antares rocket will reach during the Jan 7, 2014 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Antares Launch from Virginia– Maximum Elevation Map
The Antares daytime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Antares rocket will reach during the Jan 7, 2014 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences

I’ll be covering the Antares launch, dubbed Orb-1, from on site at NASA Wallops – watch for my continuing reports.

The Cygnus logistics vessel will carry a total of 2,780 pounds of supplies to the station, including vital science experiments to expand the research capability of the Expedition 38 crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory, crew provisions, spare parts and experiment hardware, says NASA.

Also packed aboard the Antares/Cygnus flight are a batch of student experiments involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

“The 23 experiments flying next week [on Antares/Cygnus] are the culmination of 8,700 students engaged in real experiment design, and 1,800 proposals received by student teams,” Dr. Jeff Goldstein told Universe Today. Goldstein is the Center Director for the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE),which is sponsoring and organizing the student experiments.

This rocket volley is but the opening salvo of shots heard reverberating round the world that will surely “rock” the space industry to its core by cutting the steep cost of access to space.

“This is really rocking the industry. Everybody has to look out,” said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technical officer during a recent media briefing with Elon Musk, including Universe Today.

Both the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon and Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus vehicles were developed from the start with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

The goal was to restore America’s cargo and crew capabilities to low Earth orbit and the ISS that was totally lost following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles.

After a slow start, both Orbital Sciences and SpaceX have succeeded in bringing their new rockets and delivery vehicles safely on line.

SpaceX next Dragon cargo launch to the ISS is currently scheduled for Feb. 22, said SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin to Universe Today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 8 launch, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 7-9: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 8” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Mike Whalen of Orbital Sciences and Ken Kremer of Universe Today pose at the base of the Antares rocket 1st stage now slated for liftoff on Jan. 7, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Mike Whalen of Orbital Sciences and Ken Kremer of Universe Today pose at the base of the Antares rocket 1st stage now slated for liftoff on Jan. 8, 2014 (after weather delay) at NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Upper Stage Engine Restart Essential to High Stakes SpaceX Mission Success for Dec. 3 Launch Attempt

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Today (Dec. 3) marks the 3rd attempt by SpaceX to launch the maiden flight of their significantly upgraded Falcon 9 rocket with the SES-8 telecommunications satellite – following the Nov. 28 ‘Thanksgiving = Spacegiving Day’ scrub due to an aborted 1st stage engine firing in progress.

And the stakes could not be higher for the future of SpaceX – with the firms future launch manifest worth billions of dollars riding on the success of today’s liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

In an unprecedented launch event for SpaceX, the upper stage engine on the next generation Falcon 9 booster absolutely must restart in flight for a second time in order for the commercial SES-8 payload to be delivered to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Blastoff from Cape Canaveral’s seaside Space Launch Complex 40 is set for 5:41 p.m. EST (2241 GMT).

The Thanksgiving Day launch was aborted by the computers when the Marlin engines thrust failed to build up as fast as planned.

The weather forecast currently shows a 90% chance of favorable conditions at liftoff time according to Air Force meteorologists. The only concern is for winds.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite awaits launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite awaits launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The launch of SES-8 is a milestone marking the first ever attempt by SpaceX to place a satellite into the geostationary orbit replete with numerous high value commercial satellites. This is the doorway to the future profitability of SpaceX.

“I don’t want to tempt fate, but I think it’s going to have a pretty significant impact on the world launch market and on the launch industry because our prices are the most competitive of any in the world,” said SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk at a prelaunch briefing for media including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL.

For the mission to be declared a success, the upper stage engine must reignite precisely as planned about 27 minutes after liftoff and burn for approximately 1 minute to successfully propel SES-8 into the propel orbit about 33 minutes after launch.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Whether or not this launch is successful, I’m confident we will certainly make it on some subsequent launch,” said Musk.

“This is really rocking the industry. Everybody has to look out,” said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technical officer, who joined Musk at the prelaunch meeting.

The upgraded Falcon 9 will also be the launcher utilized for the manned SpaceX Dragon capsules launching to the ISS sometime later this decade!

And the very next satellite set for launch by SpaceX later in December – Thaicom 6- is essentially already waiting at the door to the onramp to space.

SpaceX plans a live broadcast of the Falcon 9 liftoff from pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL beginning at 5 p.m. EST.

It can be viewed here: www.spacex.com/webcast

The show will feature commentary about the Falcon 9 rocket and launch sequences and the SES-8 commercial satellite from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The Falcon 9/SES-8 launch window extends for 86 minutes until 7:07 p.m. EST.

The 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) SES-8 satellite is a hybrid Ku- and Ka-band spacecraft that will provide TV and communications coverage for the South Asia and Asia Pacific regions.

This mighty new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is 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 that 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 next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It measures 224 feet tall and is 12 feet in diameter. That compares to 13 stories for the original Falcon 9.

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX & MAVEN news and Ken’s SpaceX launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

Maiden Next Gen SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral set for Nov. 25

Falcon 9 during processing at Cape Canaveral Pad 40 ahead of launch scheduled for Nov. 25, 2013. Credit: SpaceX
See live SpaceX webcast link below[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – The maiden flight of the Next Generation commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the firms Cape Canaveral launch facility is set to soar to space on Monday afternoon, Nov. 25 on a ground breaking mission that will be most difficult ever.

The upgraded Falcon 9 booster is slated to haul the commercial SES-8 telecommunications satellite for the satellite provider SES for SpaceX’s first ever payload delivery to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Liftoff is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. EST from SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 40 pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Pad 40 is the same location as all prior SpaceX launches from the Florida Space Coast.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that this launch of the Falcon 9 will be the “toughest mission to date.”

SES- 8 Falcon 9
This mighty new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is 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. Therefore it can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It’s much taller than a standard Falcon 9 – some 22 stories tall vs. 13 stories.

In anticipation of Monday’s planned liftoff, SpaceX engineers successful completed a wet dress rehearsal and engine hotfire test this past Thursday.

Spectators can view the launch from local public areas, beaches and roads – just as with any other liftoff.

The launch window extends just over an hour until 6:43 p.m. EST.

Weather outlook is 80% favorable at this time but deteriorates in case of a 1 day delay to Tuesday.

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

SpaceX is planning a live webcast of the launch with commentary from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The broadcast will begin at approximately 5:00 p.m. EDT and include detailed discussions about the Falcon 9 rocket, launch and flight sequences as well as about the SES- 8 satellite.

The webcast can be viewed at; www.spacex.com/webcast

The first launch of this next generation Falcon 9 v 1.1 rocket occurred on Sept 29, 2013 on a demonstration test flight from a SpaceX pad at Vandenberg AFB carrying a Canadian weather satellite to an elliptical earth orbit.

Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s pad at Vandenberg on Sept 29, 2013, carrying Canada’s CASSIOPE satellite to orbit. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s pad at Vandenberg AFB on Sept 29, 2013, carrying Canada’s CASSIOPE satellite to orbit. Credit: SpaceX

SES-8 is a hybrid Ku- and Ka-band spacecraft that will provide communications coverage for the South Asia and Asia Pacific regions.

It was built by Orbital Sciences spacecraft, weighs 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) and will be lofted to a 295 x 80,000 km geosynchronous transfer orbit inclined 20.75 degrees.

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX & MAVEN news and Ken’s SpaceX launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about SpaceX, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Nov 22-25: “SpaceX launch, MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

Doubly Historic Day for Private Space: Cygnus docks at Station & Next Gen Falcon 9 Soars

The Cygnus cargo spacecraft is just a few feet away from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 during rendezvous and berthing on Sept 29, 2013. Credit: NASA
Updated – See Falcon 9 launch video below[/caption]

Today (Sept. 29) was a doubly historic day for private spaceflight! And a boon to NASA as well!

Early this morning the Orbital Sciences Cygnus commercial cargo ship docked at the International Space Station (ISS) speeding along some 250 miles (400 km) overhead in low Earth orbit.

Barely a few hours later the Next Generation commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared to space on a demonstration test flight from the California coast carrying a Canadian satellite to an elliptical earth orbit.

These missions involved the dramatic maiden flights for both Cygnus and the upgraded Falcon 9.

And both were high stakes endeavors, with literally billions of dollars and the future of commercial spaceflight, as well as the ISS, on the line. Their significance cannot be overstated!

Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s pad at Vandenberg on Sept 29, 2013, carrying Canada's CASSIOPE satellite to orbit. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s pad at Vandenberg on Sept 29, 2013, carrying Canada’s CASSIOPE satellite to orbit. Credit: SpaceX

Both Cygnus and Falcon 9 were developed with seed money from NASA in a pair of public-private partnerships between NASA and Orbital Sciences and SpaceX under NASA’s COTS commercial transportation initiative aimed at fostering the development of America’s private space industry to deliver critical and essential supplies to the ISS.

The powerful new Falcon 9 will also be used to send cargo to the ISS.

America completely lost its capability to send humans and cargo to the ISS when NASA’s space shuttles were retired in 2011. Orbital Sciences and SpaceX were awarded NASA contracts worth over $3 Billion to restore the unmanned cargo resupply capability over 20 flights totally.

The Cygnus spacecraft put on a spectacular space ballet – and was no worse for the wear after its docking was delayed a week due to an easily fixed communications glitch.

The Cygnus commercial resupply craft is installed by the Canadarm2 to the Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus commercial resupply craft is installed by the Canadarm2 to the Harmony node.
Credit: NASA TV

Cygnus is a privately developed resupply vessel built by Orbital Sciences Corp and Thales Alenia Space that is a crucial railroad to orbit for keeping the massive orbital lab complex well stocked with everyday essentials and science experiments that are the purpose of the ISS.

Cygnus was grappled in free drift by Expedition 37 space station astronauts Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg at about 7 a.m. EDT Sunday morning.

The pair were working at two robotics work stations from inside the Cupola and Destiny modules. They used the stations 57 foot long Canadarm2 to snare Cygnus at a distance of about 30 feet (10 meters). They gradually motioned the arm closer.

Running a bit ahead of schedule they successfully berthed Cygnus at the earth facing port of the Harmony module by about 8:44 a.m. EDT.

Cygnus was launched to orbit on its inaugural flight on Sept. 18 atop Orbital’s commercial Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern shore of Virginia.

Sept. 22 had been the initially targeted station docking date for this demonstration mission.

Hatches to Cygnus will be opened on Monday, Sept. 30 after completing leak checks.

“Today, with the successful berthing of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo module to the ISS, we have expanded America’s capability for reliably transporting cargo to low-Earth orbit, “ said NASA Admisistrator Charles Bolden in a statement.

“It is an historic milestone as this second commercial partner’s demonstration mission reaches the ISS, and I congratulate Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them to make it happen.”

“Orbital joins SpaceX in fulfilling the promise of American innovation to maintain America’s leadership in space. As commercial partners demonstrate their new systems for reaching the Station, we at NASA continue to focus on the technologies to reach an asteroid and Mars,” said Bolden.

Cygnus delivers about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the Expedition 37 crew.

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9 a.m. PDT (12 p.m. EDT).

Here’s a video of the launch:

It successfully deployed Canada’s 1,060 pound (481 kg) Cascade, Smallsat, and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) weather satellite and several additional small satellites.

This powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of the new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines and can therefore boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It’s much taller than a standard Falcon 9 – some 22 stories vs. 13.

It could launch from Cape Canaveral as early as this Fall.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion, LADEE and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares and Cygnus streak to space and the ISS from NASA Wallops on Sept. 18, 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares and Cygnus streak to space and the ISS from NASA Wallops on Sept. 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Berth of a Dragon after Thruster Failure Recovery Establishes American Lifeline to ISS

Kennedy Space Center – After overcoming a frightening thruster failure that could have spelled rapid doom on the heels of a breathtakingly beautiful launch, the privately developed Dragon spacecraft successfully berthed at the International Space Station (ISS) a short while ago, at 8:56 a.m. EST Sunday morning, March 3, 2013 – thereby establishing an indispensable American Lifeline to the massive orbiting lab complex.

Hearts sank and hopes rose in the span of a few troubling hours following Friday’s (Mar. 1) flawless launch of the Dragon cargo resupply capsule atop the 15 story tall Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and the initial failure of the life giving solar arrays to deploy and failure of the maneuvering thrusters to fire.

“Congrats to the @NASA/@SpaceX team. Great work getting #Dragon to the #ISS…our foothold for future exploration!” tweeted NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

Space station Expedition 34 crew members Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn of NASA used the station’s 58 foot long Canadian supplied robotic arm to successfully grapple and capture Dragon at 5:31 a.m. Sunday as the station was flying 253 miles above northern Ukraine. See the grappling video – here.

SpaceX Dragon holding at 10m capture point. ISS crew standing by for "go" to perform grapple. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon holding at 10m capture point. ISS crew standing by for “go” to perform grapple. Credit: NASA

“The vehicle’s beautiful, space is beautiful, and the Canadarm2 is beautiful too”, said station commander Kevin Ford during the operation.

The capsule pluck from free space came one day, 19 hours and 22 minutes after the mission’s launch.

Ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston then commanded the arm to install Dragon onto the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module – see schematic.

Schematic shows location of Dragon docking port for CRS-2 mission and ISS modules. Credit: NASA
Schematic shows location of Dragon docking port for CRS-2 mission and ISS modules. Credit: NASA

Originally, Dragon capture was slated only about 20 hours after launch. But that all went out the window following the serious post-launch anomalies that sent SpaceX engineers desperately scrambling to save the flight from a catastrophic finale.

The $133 million mission dubbed CRS-2 is only the 2nd contracted commercial resupply mission ever to berth at the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. The contract is worth $1.6 Billion for at least a dozen resupply flights.

Following the forced retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in July 2011, American was left with zero capability to launch either cargo or astronauts to the primarily American ISS. NASA astronauts are 100% reliant on Russian Soyuz capsules for launch to the ISS.

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed and built by SpaceX Corporation based in Hawthorne, Calif., and are entirely American built.

The Falcon 9/Dragon commercial system restores America’s unmanned cargo resupply capability. But the time gap will be at least 3 to 5 years before American’s can again launch to the ISS aboard American rockets from American soil.

And continuing, relentless cuts to NASA’s budget are significantly increasing that human spaceflight gap and consequently forces more payments to Russia.

“Today we marked another milestone in our aggressive efforts to make sure American companies are launching resupply missions from U.S. shores,” said NASA Admisistrator Charles Bolden in a NASA statement.

“Our NASA-SpaceX team completed another successful berthing of the SpaceX Dragon cargo module to the International Space Station (ISS) following its near flawless launch on the Falcon-9 booster out of Cape Canaveral, Florida Friday morning. Launching rockets is difficult, and while the team faced some technical challenges after Dragon separation from the launch vehicle, they called upon their thorough knowledge of their systems to successfully troubleshoot and fully recover all vehicle capabilities. Dragon is now once again safely berthed to the station.”

“I was pleased to watch the launch from SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne, CA, and I want to congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams, who are working side by side to ensure America continues to lead the world in space.”

“Unfortunately, all of this progress could be jeopardized with the sequestration ordered by law to be signed by the President Friday evening. The sequester could further delay the restarting of human space launches from U.S. soil, push back our next generation space vehicles, hold up development of new space technologies, and jeopardize our space-based, Earth observing capabilities,” said Bolden.

ISS crew given GO for second stage capture of SpaceX Dragon with ISS on March 3, 2013.  Credit: NASA
ISS crew given GO for second stage capture of SpaceX Dragon with ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA

Dragon is loaded with about 1,268 pounds (575 kilograms) of vital supplies and provisions to support the ongoing science research by the resident six man crew, including more than a ton of vital supplies, science gear, research experiments, spare parts, food, water and clothing.

NASA says that despite the one-day docking delay, the Dragon unberthing will still be the same day as originally planned on March 25 – followed by a parachute assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.

Dragon will spend 22 days docked to the ISS. The station crew will soon open the hatch and unload all the up mass cargo and research supplies. Then they will pack the Dragon with about 2,668 pounds (1,210 kilograms) of science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations, and education activities for return to Earth.

Canadian built robotic arm grapples SpaceX Dragon on March 3, 2013.  Credit:
Canadian built robotic arm grapples SpaceX Dragon on March 3, 2013. Credit:

Dragon is the only spacecraft in the world today capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth.

Orbital Sciences Corp also won a $1.9 Billion cargo resupply contract from NASA to deliver cargo to the ISS using the firm’s new Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule.

NASA hopes the first Antares/Cygnus demonstration test flight from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility in Virginia will follow in April. Cygnus cargo transport is one way – to orbit only.

“SpaceX is proud to execute this important work for NASA, and we’re thrilled to bring this capability back to the United States,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX.

“Today’s launch continues SpaceX’s long-term partnership with NASA to provide reliable, safe transport of cargo to and from the station, enabling beneficial research and advancements in technology and research.”

The SpaceX CRS-3 flight is slated to blast off in September 2013.

Ken Kremer

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 ISS - shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building.  .  Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS – shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Historic SpaceX Dragon Docking to ISS – Highlights Video

SpaceX has released a cool video (above) recapping the mission highlights of the historic May 22 blastoff of the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon spacecraft that went on to become the first privately developed vehicle in history to successfully dock to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 25, 2012.

Dragon was captured with a robotic arm operated by astronauts Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers working in tandem aboard the ISS as it approached the massive orbiting lab complex and was then berthed at an Earth facing port.

Dragon was the first US spacecraft to attach to the ISS since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program last July 2011 following the STS-135 mission of shuttle Atlantis. The 14.4 ft (4.4 meter) long resupply vehicle delivered over 1000 pounds of non-critical gear, food, clothing and science equipment to the ISS.

After spending six days at the ISS, the Dragon undocked and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean some 560 miles off the coast of California on May 31, 2012.

Image Caption: 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. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo carrier were designed, developed and built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

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. The first operational Dragon CRS mission is slated to blast off around October 2012.

Read my Universe Today articles starting here for further details about the historic SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon mission to the ISS.

Ken Kremer

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

[/caption]

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

Videos: Dragon Capsule Now Successfully Attached to ISS

This day will go down in history as the first time a commercial company has their own spacecraft attached to the International Space Station.

After Don Pettit grappled SpaceX’s Dragon capsule with the CanadArm2, Andre Kuipers later installed the capsule on the nadir port of the station’s Harmony node at 15:02 UTC/11:52 a.m. EDT. NASA astronaut Joe Acaba completed berthing operations by bolting the Dragon to Harmony at 16:02 UTC/12:02 p.m. EDT to the space station Friday.

Congratulations on a wonderful capture,” astronaut Megan Behnken radioed to the station crew from Mission Control. “You’ve made a lot of folks happy down here, over in Hawthorne and right here in Houston. Great job, guys.”

More videos, including the post-docking press conference with a jubilant Elon Musk and his SpaceX team.

“Today marks another critical step in the future of American spaceflight,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Now that a U.S. company has proven its ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier for commercial opportunities in space — and new job creation opportunities right here in the U.S. By handing off space station transportation to the private sector, NASA is freed up to carry out the really hard work of sending astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before.”

The plan is to wait until Saturday to open hatches. The spacecraft is carrying nearly 460 kg (1,150) pounds of equipment and supplies: 674 pounds of food and crew provisions; 46 pounds of science hardware and equipment; 271 pounds of cargo bags needed for future flights; and 22 pounds of computer equipment.

“The crew is pretty excited so don’t be surprised if they want to open the hatches a little early,” said ISS Flight Director Holly Ridings at a press conference.

The schedule has Dragon remaining berthed to the ISS until May 31. The CanadArm2 will unberth the capsule and then release it. Dragon is the only cargo ship designed to return to Earth with experiments and equipment; others ships such as the Russian Progress, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV all burn up in the atmosphere. The Russian Soyuz crew craft can bring home limited equipment.

[/caption]