SpaceX Dragon Set for ‘Return to Flight’ Launch to ISS Apr. 8 – Watch Live

A Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon spacecraft stand at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station before the CRS-8 mission to deliver experiments and supplies to the International Space Station.  Credits: SpaceX
A Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon spacecraft stand at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station before the CRS-8 mission to deliver experiments and supplies to the International Space Station. Credits: SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon is set for its ‘Return to Flight’ mission on Friday, April 8, packed with nearly 7000 pounds (3100 kg) of critical cargo and research experiments bound for the six-man crew working aboard the International Space Station.

Blastoff of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Dragon CRS-8 resupply ship is slated for 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The weather outlook looks great with a forecast of 90 percent “GO” and extremely favorable conditions at launch time of the upgraded, full thrust version of the SpaceX Falcon 9. The only concern is for winds.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-8 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 3:30 p.m. EDT with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX also features a live webcast approximately 20 minutes before launch beginning at 4:23 p.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can watch the launch live at SpaceX Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that any delays due to weather or technical issues will results in a minimum 1 day postponement.

A backup launch opportunity exists on Saturday, April 9, at 4:20 p.m. with NASA TV coverage starting at 3:15 p.m.

SpaceX most recently launched the upgraded Falcon 9 from the Cape on March 4, 2016 as I reported from onsite here.
Friday’s launch marks the first for a Dragon since the catastrophic failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in flight last year on June 28, 2015 on the CRS-7 resupply mission.

CRS-8 counts as the company’s eighth flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the ISS for the crews of Expeditions 47 and 48 to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations in progress.

Also packed aboard in the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk section is experimental Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) – an experimental expandable capsule that the crew will attach to the space station. The 3115 pound (1413 kg) BEAM will test the use of an expandable space habitat in microgravity. BEAM will expand to roughly 13-feet-long and 10.5 feet in diameter after it is installed.

As a secondary objective, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage by propulsively landing it on an ocean-going droneship barge stationed offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that attaches to the space station.  Credits: Bigelow Aerospace, LLC
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that attaches to the space station. Credits: Bigelow Aerospace, LLC

Expedition 47 crew members Jeff Williams and Tim Kopra of NASA, Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos are currently living aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit about 10 minutes after launch. Then it will deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

After a 2 day orbital chase Dragon is set to arrive at the orbiting outpost on Sunday, April 10.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake will then reach out with the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple and capture the Dragon spacecraft.

Ground commands will be sent from Houston to the station’s arm to install Dragon on the Earth-facing bottom side of the Harmony module for its stay at the space station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA TV, with installation set to begin at 9:30 a.m.

In a historic first, the launch of a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft sets the stage for the first time that two American cargo ships will be simultaneously attached to the ISS. The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter launched just launched on March 22 and arrived on March 26 at a neighboring docking port on the Unity module.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), developed for NASA by Bigelow Aerospace, is lifted into SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft for transport to the International Space Station when the spacecraft launches at 4:43 p.m. Friday, April 8, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.  Credits: SpaceX
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), developed for NASA by Bigelow Aerospace, is lifted into SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft for transport to the International Space Station when the spacecraft launches at 4:43 p.m. Friday, April 8, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. Credits: SpaceX

Among the new experiments arriving to the station will be Veggie-3 to grow Chinese lettuce in microgravity as a followup to Zinnias recently grown, an investigation to study muscle atrophy and bone loss in space, using microgravity to seek insight into the interactions of particle flows at the nanoscale level and use protein crystal growth in microgravity to help in the design of new drugs to fight disease, as well as reflight of 25 student experiments from Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Odyssey II payload that were lost during the CRS-7 launch failure.

Dragon will remain at the station until it returns to Earth on May 11 for a parachute assisted splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. It will be packed with numerous science samples, including those collected by 1 year crew member Scott Kelly, for return to investigators, some broken hardware for repair and some items of trash for disposal.

SpaceX CRS-8 is the eighth of up to 20 missions to the ISS that SpaceX will fly for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, NASA Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, ISS, Orbital ATK, ULA, Boeing, Space Taxis, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 9/10: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs” and “Curiosity explores Mars” at NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club – http://rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html

Apr 12: Hosting Dr. Jim Green, NASA, Director Planetary Science, for a Planetary sciences talk about “Ceres, Pluto and Planet X” at Princeton University; 7:30 PM, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, Peyton Hall, Princeton, NJ – http://www.princetonastronomy.org/

Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ – http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html

Patch for the SpaceX CRS-8 mission to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
Patch for the SpaceX CRS-8 mission to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Dragon Captured at Station Loaded with Critical Supplies and Science

The commercial SpaceX cargo Dragon, loaded with over 2.6 tons of critically needed supplies and science experiments, was captured by the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Jan. 12) while soaring over the Mediterranean Sea.

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-5 cargo vessel arrived at the station following a flawless two day orbital pursuit and spectacular nighttime blastoff atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Jan. 10 at 4:47 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Note: This breaking news story is being updated. Check back frequently for updates.

Dragon was successfully berthed and bolted into place a few hours later at 8:54 a.m. EST.

Working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed domed cupola, Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA, with the assistance of Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, successfully captured the Dragon spacecraft with the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm at 5:54 a.m. EST.

Wilmore grappled Dragon with the station’s 57-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic arm at 5:54 a.m. EST, about 18 minutes ahead of schedule, in an operation shown live on NASA TV, back-dropped by breathtaking views of “our beautiful Earth” passing by some 260 miles (410 kilometers) below.

Among the goodies aboard are belated Christmas presents for the crew. The Falcon 9 and Dragon were originally scheduled to liftoff in December and arrive in time for the Christmas festivities.

The cargo freighter flew beneath the station to arrive at the capture point 32 feet (10 meters) away. Dragon’s thrusters were disabled at the time of grappling.

Robotics officers at Houston Mission Control then began remotely maneuvering the arm to berth Dragon at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module starting at 7:45 a.m. EST.

Dragon is being attached via the common berthing mechanism (CBM) using four gangs of four bolts apiece to accomplish a hard mate to Harmony. The overall grappling and berthing process requires a few hours.

Dragon was successfully berthed and bolted into place at 8:54 a.m. EST and its now part of the space station.

The crew will conduct leak pressure checks, remove the docking mechanism and open the hatch later today or tomorrow.

#Dragon is about 90 feet from #ISS, closing in on its capture point.  Credit: NASA TV
#Dragon is about 90 feet from #ISS, closing in on its capture point. Credit: NASA TV

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth operational 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 station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Overall this is the sixth Dragon to arrive at the ISS.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft is loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing, and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere that directly impact the global climate.

CATS is loaded aboard the unpressurized trunk of Dragon.

Also loaded onboard are 17 student experiments known collectively as the “Yankee Clipper” mission. The experiments are sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which oversees the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

The launch marked the first US commercial resupply launch since the catastrophic destruction of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS which exploded unexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.

The US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX until Cygnus flights are resumed, hopefully by late 2015, on an alternate rocket, the Atlas V.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station.   Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace

Dragon will remain attached to the ISS for about four weeks until Feb. 10.

SpaceX also had a secondary objective of recovering the Falcon 9 booster’s first stage via an unprecedented precision guided landing on an ocean-going “drone.”

The history making attempt at recovering the Falcon 9 first stage was a first of its kind experiment to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing of a rocket onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean using a rocket assisted descent.

In my opinion the experiment was “a very good first step towards the bold company goal of recovery and re-usability in the future” as I wrote in my post launch report here at Universe Today.

Listen to my live radio interview with BBC 5LIVE conducted Saturday night, discussing SpaceX’s first attempt to land and return their Falcon-9 booster.

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

Ken Kremer

The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX Launch and Historic Landing Attempt Reset to Jan. 10

The oft delayed launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the CRS-5 cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) has been reset to Saturday, Jan. 10.

Liftoff is currently targeted for 4:47 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 10, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida following a postponement from Friday, Jan. 9.

The launch was unexpectedly scrubbed with one minute, 21 seconds left on the countdown clock for technical reasons earlier this week just prior to the targeted blastoff time of 6:20 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

A thrust vector control actuator for the Falcon 9’s second stage failed to perform as expected, resulting in a launch abort, said NASA.

NASA and SpaceX decided to take another day to fully evaluate the issue and ensure a launch success.

The launch will be the first Falcon 9 liftoff for 2015.

The overnight launch should put on a spectacular sky show for spectators along the Florida space coast.

There is only an instantaneous launch window available, meaning that the blastoff must proceed at that exact instant. Any delays due to technical issues or weather would force a scrub until at least Tuesday, Jan. 13.

SpaceX drone ship sailing at sea to hold position awaiting Falcon 9 rocket landing.  Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX
SpaceX drone ship sailing at sea to hold position awaiting Falcon 9 rocket landing. Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

Overall, CRS-5 is the company’s fifth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station.

In additional to being a critical cargo mission required to keep the space station stocked with provisions for the crew and research experiments, the mission features a history making attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The rocket recovery and landing attempt is a key step towards carrying out SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s bold vision of rocket reusability.

Towards that end, SpaceX dispatched the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” sailing at sea towards a point where Musk hopes it will serve as an ocean going landing platform for the precision landing of his firm’s Falcon 9 rocket after it concludes its launch phase to the ISS.

Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5.   Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

The “autonomous spaceport drone ship” departed the port of Jacksonville, FL, on Saturday, Jan. 3, heading to a point somewhere around 200 to 250 miles or so off the US East coast in a northeasterly direction coinciding with the flight path of the rocket.

However, the absolute overriding goal of the mission is to safely deliver NASA’s contracted cargo to the ISS, emphasized Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Mission Assurance, SpaceX, at a media briefing on Jan. 5 at the Kennedy Space Center.

Landing on the off-shore barge is just a secondary objective of SpaceX, not NASA, he repeated several times.

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft is loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing, and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops - Will Refly on SpaceX CRS 5.   Science experiments from these students representing 18 school communities across  America were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS and which were lost when the rocket exploded uexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).  The students pose here with SSEP program director Dr. Jeff Goldstein prior to Antares launch. The experiments will be re-flown aboard SpaceX CRS-5.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops – Experiments Will Refly on SpaceX CRS 5. Science experiments from these students, representing 18 school communities across America, were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS and which were lost when the rocket exploded unexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). The students pose here with SSEP program director Dr. Jeff Goldstein prior to Antares’ launch. The experiments will be re-flown aboard SpaceX CRS-5. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere.

Also loaded onboard are 17 student experiments known collectively as the “Yankee Clipper” mission. The experiments are sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education which oversees the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

They had been selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS, but were all lost when the rocket exploded unexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.

The experiments have been reconstituted to fly on the CRS-5 mission.

The US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX until Cygnus flights are resumed hopefully by late 2015 on an alternate rocket, the Atlas V.

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth 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 station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

The weather forecast stands at 80% GO for favorable conditions at launch time.

NASA Television live launch coverage begins at 3:30 a.m. EST on Jan. 10 at: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

SpaceX also will webcast the launch at: http://www.spacex.com/webcast/

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

Ken Kremer

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Student Scientists Get Second Chance to Fly Experiments to ISS Aboard Falcon 9 After Antares Loss

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops – Will Refly on SpaceX CRS 5
Science experiments from these students representing 18 school communities across America were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS and which were lost when the rocket exploded uexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). The students pose here with SSEP program director Dr. Jeff Goldstein prior to Antares launch. The experiments will be re-flown aboard SpaceX CRS-5. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com[/caption]

When it comes to science and space exploration, you have to get accustomed to a mix of success and failure.

If you’re wise you learn from failure and turn adversity around into a future success.

Such is the case for the resilient student scientists who learned a hard lesson of life at a young age when the space science experiments they poured their hearts and souls into for the chance of a lifetime to launch research investigations aboard the Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on the Orb-3 mission, incomprehensibly exploded in flames before their eyes on Oct. 28, 2014.

Those student researchers from across America are being given a second chance and will have their reconstituted experiments re-flown on the impending SpaceX CRS-5 mission launch, thanks to the tireless efforts of NASA, NanoRacks, CASIS, SpaceX and the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) which runs the program.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch to the ISS on the Falcon 9 rocket planned for this morning, Jan. 6, was scrubbed with a minute to go for technical reasons and has been reset to no earlier than Jan. 9.

SSEP Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein shows a NanoRacks Mix-Stix tube used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/Student Spaceflight Experiments Program -Yankee Clipper mission during presentation at NASA Wallops prior to Oct. 28 Antares launch failure.  17 of 18 experiments will re-fly on SpaceX CRS-5 launch.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
SSEP Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein shows a NanoRacks Mix-Stix tube used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/Student Spaceflight Experiments Program -Yankee Clipper mission during presentation at NASA Wallops prior to Oct. 28 Antares launch failure. 17 of 18 experiments will re-fly on SpaceX CRS-5 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The experiments are known collectively as the ‘Yankee Clipper’ mission.

Antares Orb-3 was destroyed shortly after the exhilarating blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore.

Everything aboard the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and ‘the SS Deke Slayton’ Cygnus cargo freighter was lost, including all the NASA supplies and research as well as the student investigations.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The student program represents 18 experiments flying as the Yankee Clipper,” said Dr. Jeff Goldstein, in an interview with Universe Today at NASA Wallops prior to the Antares launch. Goldstein is director of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which oversees SSEP in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

“Altogether 8 communities sent delegations. 41 student researchers were at NASA Wallops for the launch and SSEP media briefing.”

“The 18 experiments flying as the SSEP Yankee Clipper payload reflect the 18 communities participating in Mission 6 to ISS.”

“The communities represent grade 5 to 16 schools from all across America including Washington, DC; Kalamazoo, MI; Berkeley Heights and Ocean City, NJ; Colleton County and North Charleston, SC, and Knox County and Somerville, TN.”

Goldstein explains that within days of the launch failure, efforts were in progress to re-fly the experiments.

“Failure happens in science and what we do in the face of that failure defines who we are,” said Goldstein, “NASA and NanoRacks moved mountains to get us on the next launch, SpaceX CRS-5. We faced an insanely tight turnaround, but all the student teams stepped up to the plate.”

Even the NASA Administrator Charles Bolden lauded the students efforts and perseverance!

“I try to teach students, when I speak to them, not to be afraid of failure. An elementary school student once told me, when I asked for a definition of success, that ‘success is taking failure and turning it inside out.’ It is important that we rebound, learn from these events and try again — and that’s a great lesson for students,” said NASA Administrator Bolden.

“I am delighted that most of the students will get to see their investigations re-flown on the SpaceX mission. Perseverance is a critical skill in science and the space business.”

Virtually all of the experiments have been reconstituted to fly on the CRS-5 mission, also known as SpaceX-5.

“17 of the 18 student experiments lost on Orb-3 on October 28 are re-flying on SpaceX-5. These experiments comprise the reconstituted Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Yankee Clipper II payload for SSEP Mission 6 to ISS,” noted Goldstein.

“This shows the resilience of the federal-private partnership in commercial space, and of the commitment by our next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The wide range of experiments include microgravity investigations on how fluids act and form into crystals in the absence of gravity crystal growth, mosquito larvae development, milk expiration, baby bloodsuckers, development of Chrysanthemum and soybean seeds and Chia plants, effect of yeast cell division and implications for human cancer cells, and an examination of hydroponics.

Student experiments are aboard. Bearing the CRS-5 Dragon cargo craft within its nose, the Falcon 9 v1.1 stands patiently to execute the United States’ first mission of 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace
Student experiments are aboard. Bearing the CRS-5 Dragon cargo craft within its nose, the Falcon 9 v1.1 stands patiently to execute the United States’ first mission of 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

That dark day in October witnessed by the students, Goldstein, myself as a fellow scientist, and others is something we will never forget. We all chose to learn from the failure and move forward to greater accomplishments.

Don’t surrender to failure. And don’t give in to the ‘Do Nothing – Can’t Do’ crowd so prevalent today.

Remember what President Kennedy said during his address at Rice University on September 12, 1962:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

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

Ken Kremer

NanoRacks Mix-Stix, which are used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/National Center for Earth and Space Science Education -Yankee Clipper.   Credit: Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NanoRacks Mix-Stix, which are used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/National Center for Earth and Space Science Education -Yankee Clipper. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Private Cygnus Freighter Berths at Space Station with Huge Science Cargo and Ant Colony

With the Moon as a spectacular backdrop, an Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo spacecraft speeding at 17500 MPH on a landmark flight and loaded with a huge treasure trove of science, belated Christmas presents and colonies of ants rendezvoued at the space station early this Sunday morning (Jan. 12), captured and then deftly parked by astronauts guiding it with the Canadian robotic arm.

Cygnus is a commercially developed resupply freighter stocked with 1.5 tons of vital research experiments, crew provisions and student science projects that serves as an indispensible “lifeline” to keep the massive orbiting outpost alive and humming with the science for which it was designed.

Following a two day orbital chase that started with the spectacular blastoff on Jan. 9 atop Orbital’s private Antares booster from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Va., Cygnus fired its on board thrusters multiple times to approach in close proximity to the million pound International Space Station (ISS) by 3 a.m. Sunday.

ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV
ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV

When Cygnus had moved further to within 30 feet (10 meters) NASA Astronaut and station crew member Mike Hopkins – working inside the Cupola – then successfully grappled the ship with the stations 57 foot long Canadarm2 at 6:08 a.m. EST to complete the first phase of today’s operations.

“Capture confirmed,” radioed Hopkins as the complex was flying 258 miles over the Indian Ocean and Madagascar.

“Congratulations to Orbital and the Orbital-1 team and the family of C. Gordon Fullerton,” he added. The ship is named in honor of NASA shuttle astronaut G. Gordon Fullerton who passed away in 2013.

“Capturing a free flyer is one of the most critical operations on the ISS,” explained NASA astronaut and ISS alum Cady Coleman during live NASA TV coverage.

ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV
ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV

Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency then took command of the robotic arm and maneuvered Cygnus to berth it at the Earth-facing (nadir) port on the station’s Harmony Node at 8:05 a.m while soaring over Australia.

16 bolts will be driven home and 4 latches tightly hooked to firmly join the two spacecraft together and insure no leaks.

The Orbital -1 spaceship is conducting the first of 8 operational cargo logistics flights scheduled under Orbital Sciences’ multi-year $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services contract (CRS) with NASA that runs through 2016.

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The purpose of the unmanned, private Cygnus spaceship – and the SpaceX Dragon – is to restore America’s cargo to orbit capability that was terminated following the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttles.

Cygnus and Dragon will each deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station according to the NASA CRS contracts.

“This cargo operation is the lifeline of the station,” said Coleman.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The six person crew of Expedition 38 serving aboard the ISS is due to open the hatch to Cygnus tomorrow, Monday, and begin unloading the 2,780 pounds (1,261 kilograms) of supplies packed inside.

“Our first mission under the CRS contract with NASA was flawlessly executed by our Antares and Cygnus operations team, from the picture-perfect launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to the rendezvous, capture and berthing at the space station this morning,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement from Orbital.

“From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts.”

Up-close view of Orbital Sciences Cygnus service module outfitted with propulsion, power generating solar arrays and guidance during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Service module gets attached to pressurized cargo module and flies Cygnus vehicle to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Up-close view of Orbital Sciences Cygnus service module outfitted with propulsion, power generating solar arrays and guidance during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Service module gets attached to pressurized cargo module and flies Cygnus vehicle to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Science experiments weighing 1000 pounds account for nearly 1/3 of the cargo load.

Among those are 23 student designed experiments representing over 8700 K-12 students involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

The students are part of the Student SpaceFlight Experiments Program (SSEP) sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE).

Student Space Flight team  at NASA Wallops from Washington, DC discusses their microencapsulation science experiment selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft with Ken Kremer/Universe Today.  23 student experiments launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and have arrived at the station.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight team at NASA Wallops from Washington, DC discusses their microencapsulation science experiment selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft with Ken Kremer/Universe Today. 23 student experiments launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and have arrived at the station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Ant colonies from three US states are also aboard, living inside 8 habitats. The “ants in space” experiment will be among the first to be unloaded from Cygnus to insure the critters are well fed for their expedition on how they fare and adapt in zero gravity.

33 cubesats are also aboard that will be deployed from the Japanese Experiment Module airlock.

“One newly arrived investigation will study the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight. Another will examine how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could inform future design for spacecraft materials,” said NASA in a statement.

Cygnus is currently scheduled to remain berthed at the ISS for 37 days until February 18.

The crew will reload it with all manner of no longer need trash and then send it off to a fiery and destructive atmospheric reentry so it will burn up high over the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 19.

Cygnus departure is required to make way for the next cargo freighter – the SpaceX Dragon, slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Feb. 22 atop the company’s upgraded Falcon 9.

Watch for my ongoing Antares/Cygnus reports.

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

Ken Kremer

Cygnus berthed at Harmony node on ISS. Credit: NASA TV
Cygnus berthed at Harmony node on ISS. Credit: NASA TV

Students: Want To Get An Experiment Into Space? You Know You Want To

Beer brewing in space? That’s what a preteen student will ask astronauts to do on the International Space Station soon. “By combining the four main ingredients (malt barley, hops, yeast, and water) of beer in space, will we be able to produce alcohol?” reads the research proposal from Michal Bodzianowski. If you follow the link, you can see how this also has medical applications on station, as alcohol can disinfect wounds.

Michal was a selectee in last year’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which we’ve written about before. The program now has a new call for proposals.

Michal Bodzianowski with his experiment, which is intended to produce beer in space (if possible.) The experiment has medical applications as alcohol can be used for sterilization. Credit: SSEP
Michal Bodzianowski with his experiment, which is intended to produce beer in space (if possible.) The experiment has medical applications as alcohol can be used for sterilization. Credit: SSEP

“Each participating community will be provided a real microgravity research mini-laboratory capable of supporting a single experiment, and all launch services to fly it to the space station in fall 2014,” a press release stated.

The design competition, the release added, “allows student teams to design and formally propose real experiments vying for their community’s reserved mini-lab on space station. Content resources for teachers and students support foundational instruction on science in microgravity and experimental design.”

Inquiries must be sent by Nov. 20, and participating communities must sign up by Feb. 17, 2014. Final selection will take place in May.

For more information, you can visit the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program website. The program has participation from the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, and NanoRacks.

Below is SSEP’s description of the five categories of participation:

  • Pre-College (the core focus for SSEP) in the U.S., (grades 5-12), with school districts—even individual schools—providing a stunning, real, on-orbit RESEARCH opportunity to their upper elementary, middle, and high school students (Explore the 60 communities that participated in the first six flight opportunities to date)
  • 2-Year Community Colleges in the U.S., (grades 13-14), where the student body is typically from the local community, providing wonderful pathways for community-wide engagement
  • 4-Year Colleges and Universities in the U.S., (grades 13-16), with an emphasis on Minority-Serving Institutions, where the program fosters interdisciplinary collaboration across schools and departments, and an opportunity for formal workforce development for science majors
  • Communities in the U.S. led by Informal Education or Out-of-School Organizations, (e.g., a museum or science center, a home school network, a scout troop), because high caliber STEM education programs must be accessible to organizations that promote effective learning beyond the traditional classroom
  • Communities Internationally: in European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan, with participation through NCESSE’s Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. Communities in other nations should explore the potential for their participation by contacting the Institute at http://clarkeinstitute.org