SpaceX Completes Successful COTS 2,3 Mission

Dragon Floating
The Dragon Spacecraft Floating in the Pacific Ocean
Image Credit: Michael Altenhofen / SpaceX

The Dragon spacecraft successfully completed all mission objectives and floats quietly in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico following reentry and splashdown.

SpaceX announced:

This morning, at approximately 8:42 AM Pacific/11:42 AM Eastern, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) completed its historic mission when the Dragon spacecraft splashed down safely in the Pacific. The vehicle will now be recovered by boats and start the trip back to land.

Last week, SpaceX made history when its Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station. Previously only four governments – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency – had achieved this challenging technical feat. Dragon departed the space station this morning.

Broadcast quality videos, including footage from the recovery ship will be posted to and high-resolution photos will be posted to as soon as they are available.

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

Intelsat Signs First Commercial Falcon Heavy Launch Agreement

Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of satellite services, has announced the first commercial contract for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

“SpaceX is very proud to have the confidence of Intelsat, a leader in the satellite communication services industry,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer.” The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world. With this new vehicle, SpaceX launch systems now cover the entire spectrum of the launch needs for commercial, civil and national security customers.”

“Timely access to space is an essential element of our commercial supply chain,” said Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat CTO. “As a global leader in the satellite sector, our support of successful new entrants to the commercial launch industry reduces risk in our business model. Intelsat has exacting technical standards and requirements for proven flight heritage for our satellite launches. We will work closely with SpaceX as the Falcon Heavy completes rigorous flight tests prior to our future launch requirements.”

This is the first commercial contract for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Under the agreement, an Intelsat satellite will be launched into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world and historically is second only to the Apollo-era Saturn V Moon rocket. Capable of lifting 53 metric tons (117,000 pounds) to low Earth orbit and over 12 metric tons (26,000 pounds) to GTO, Falcon Heavy will provide more than twice the performance to low Earth orbit of any other launch vehicle. This will allow SpaceX to launch the largest satellites ever flown and will enable new missions. Building on the flight-proven architecture of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy is designed for reliability. The vehicle is designed to meet both NASA human rating standards as well as the stringent U.S. Air Force requirements for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, making it available for commercial, civil and military customers.

See also:

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy Booster: Why Is It Important?

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Overview

NASA Administrator Places Call to ISS Following SpaceX Historic Feat

25 May 2012

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden offered his congratulations to the International Space Station Expedition 31 crew and mission flight control teams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., following Friday’s successful first-time berthing of a commercial company spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, to the space station.

Bolden talked with NASA astronauts Don Pettit and Joe Acaba, and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers during a call to the space station Friday afternoon live on NASA Television. Bolden told the crew, “You made history today and have firmly locked into place the future direction of America’s space program.”

Dragon "Smells Like a New Car" and is "The Equivalent of the Golden Spike"

At 0953 UTC on Saturday morning, 26 May 2012, the hatch on Dragon was opened by Don Petitt aboard the International Space Station. The ISS was 253 miles above the Earth, near Auckland New Zealand.

The crew installed the air ducts and started the airflow to mix the air from Dragon with the ISS and remove any dust or debris that might get in the eyes or lungs.

At this point the following exchange took place with cap com:

Don: “No sign of fog or dust floating, so ok to remove our masks. Cargo size looks like it can fit in my pickup, and it smells like a new car.”

Megan: “We ask you to wear your dust masks per flight rules.”

So, the crew was anxious to get started unloading, but Megan Benken at Cap Com says follow the rules.

Petitt later stated from inside the Dragon: “We all remember the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which opened up the western frontier of the United States and it was celebrated by pounding in a Golden Spike. This is sort of the equivalent of the Golden Spike. One other interesting detail: nobody remembers who pounded that Golden Spike in. The important thing to remember was that the railroad was completed and was now open for use to help settle the western frontier.”

NSS Congratulates SpaceX on a Magnificent First Docking of Dragon Capsule and Successful Launch of NSS "Special Payload"

The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) on a successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and first docking of their Dragon space capsule with the International Space Station (ISS). “SpaceX has achieved a milestone in commercial space development by being the first private company to make it to the International Space Station,” said Paul E. Damphousse, Executive Director of the National Space Society. “NASA and the commercial space team is joining together both symbolically and physically for this historic event. This marks the very first use of a privately operated rocket system to deliver cargo to the ISS, ushering in a new era of commercial space enterprise. Their successful flight is a testament to SpaceX’s commitment to making space travel missions much less expensive and much more routine.”

At 3:44 am Tuesday, May 22, 2002, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The National Space Society cheered the launch as Falcon carried Dragon on its way to the ISS, further opening the doors to making commercial space flight into low Earth orbit commonplace.

“On Friday, May 25, the National Space Society, along with a number of commercial space companies were cheering on the progress of the Dragon spacecraft real-time while at the Society’s 2012 International Space Development Conference (ISDC) being held in Washington D.C. May 24-28,” said Damphousse. “After a series of systems tests and a space station flyby, conference attendees watched as the Dragon spacecraft achieved rendezvous and berth with the ISS on Friday, May 25.”

The National Space Society is proud to have a very special payload of our own aboard this historic mission. Nine years ago Chris Pancratz, former Chairman of the Executive Committee, passed away. The NSS Board of Directors wished to honor him by purchasing a memorial spaceflight from the Celestis Corporation. A tiny portion of Chris, along with Star Trek actor James Doohan (Scotty) and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, reached space at long last on this flight of Falcon 9. The NSS leadership wishes him well and is delighted that Chris had the chance to participate in opening the space frontier…both as a leader of NSS, and as a flight participant today.

Pancratz wrote: “It has always been my dream to travel into space. Some years ago, I decided I could not just sit and hope. If I were to have my chance I needed to do whatever I could to help make my dream happen.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was the Keynote speaker for the ISDC Opening Plenary Session. He spoke about the successful capture of Dragon, which took place during his speech.

In addition, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is the Keynote speaker for NSS’s Annual Awards Dinner on Sunday evening, May 27th. The award winners are carrying forward the legacy of Chris Pancratz.

The months and years to come will see the burgeoning use of multiple families of new launch vehicles — the Falcon 9 among them — for cargo transportation and, in time, crew transportation. The ambitions of SpaceX extend beyond low-Earth orbit to Mars, and going beyond low Earth orbit is integral to expanding our economic sphere — indeed our civilization — into the solar system.

"We've Got a Dragon by the Tail"

At 9:56 AM EDT (1356 UTC), the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) successfully grappled the Dragon spacecraft. This is the first commercial spacecraft to reach the International Space Station. Additional manipulations are required to berth the Dragon to a docking port.

“Looks like we’ve got a Dragon by the tail,” station flight engineer Don Pettit said moments after grappling the craft over northwest Australia.

Opening of the ports and beginning to unpack the spacecraft will begin tomorrow, Saturday.

The spacecraft is to be loaded with about 1300 pounds of science experiments and other material and returned to Earth on 31 May. Dragon will land in the Pacific, several hundred miles off of Southern California.

SpaceX Commentary on Dragon's Flight Day 3 and the Challenges Ahead

Hawthorne, CA – Today, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft completed key on-orbit tests as part of a historic attempt to be the first commercial company in history to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.

In the days since SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the vehicle has steadily completed one task after another as it prepares to berth with the International Space Station. Only minutes after the spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, its solar arrays successfully deployed, providing power to the spacecraft. The door that had been covering sensors needed for proximity operations opened successfully.

On Tuesday and Wednesday Dragon traveled in orbit, firing its thrusters to catch up to the space station. During that time, the vehicle hit a series of milestones. Dragon showed its Absolute Global Positioning System (GPS) is in good working order. The vehicle demonstrated both a pulsed and a full abort. It also demonstrated free drift, floating freely in orbit as it will when grappled by the space station’s robotic arm. And its proximity operations sensors and SpaceX’s COTS UHF Communication Unit (CUCU) are up and running.

Early this morning, Dragon’s thrusters fired, bringing the vehicle 2.4 kilometers below the International Space Station. The vehicle completed two key tests at that distance. Dragon demonstrated its Relative GPS and established a communications link with the International Space Station using CUCU. Astronauts commanded on Dragon’s strobe light to confirm the link worked.

With these tests complete, Dragon has started the trip flying around the space station, returning the spacecraft to its original approach location.

Dragon has been performing well, but the most difficult aspects of the mission are still ahead.

FRIDAY MORNING – Final Approach, Dragon Grapple

Around 2:00 AM Pacific/5:00 AM Eastern NASA will decide if Dragon is GO to move into the approach ellipsoid 1.4 kilometers around the space station. If Dragon is GO, after approximately one hour Dragon will move to a location 250 meters directly below the station. Dragon will then perform a series of maneuvers to show systems are operating as expected. If NASA is satisfied with the results of these many tests, Dragon will be allowed to perform the final approach to the space station.

Sometime around 6:00 AM Pacific/9:00 AM Eastern, astronauts on the space station will grapple Dragon with the space station’s robotic arm and the spacecraft will attach to the station.


If all goes well, at approximately 2:00 AM Pacific/5:00 AM Eastern, the crew will start procedures to open Dragon’s hatch. It will take around 2 hours to complete all operations leading to the hatch opening. Once the hatch is opened, astronauts will enter Dragon for the first time
in space.

All dates and times are approximate and could easily change.

This is SpaceX’s second demonstration flight under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station. Demonstration launches are conducted to determine potential issues so that they might be addressed; by their very nature, they carry a significant risk. If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again.

Dragon Flies Under the International Space Station

Solar Panels
Dragon Solar Panels Visible
Image Credit: NASA TV

This image was captured moments before ISS contact was lost. Several minutes later, Dragon crossed directly under the International Space Station and disappeared into the shadow of the Earth.

All tests so far have been concluded successfully. Today, Dragon will continue its flight around the space station.

Tomorrow, it will approach and eventually be berthed with the space station.

SpaceX Comments on Successful SpaceX Launch

At a press conference held after the May 22 Falcon 9 launch of the Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk began, “I would like to start off by saying what a tremendous honor it has been to work with NASA. And to acknowledge the fact that we could not have started SpaceX, nor could we have reached this point without the help of NASA… It’s really been an honor to work with such great people.”

“We obviously have to go through a number of steps to berth with the Space Station, but everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission,” Musk said.

He continued by expressing his gratitude to the more than 1,800 SpaceX employees. “People have really given it their all.” Describing the scene inside of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, he said, “We had most of the company gathered around SpaceX Mission Control. They are seeing the fruits of their labor and wondering if it is going to work. There is so much hope riding on that rocket. When it worked, and Dragon worked, and the solar arrays deployed, people saw their handiwork in space operating as it should. There was tremendous elation. For us it is like winning the Super Bowl.”

Explaining the significance of the day, Musk stated, “This mission heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one in which there is a significant commercial space element. It is like the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s when commercial companies entered what was originally a government endeavor. That move dramatically accelerated the pace of advancement and made the Internet accessible to the mass market. I think we’re at a similar inflection point for space. I hope and I believe that this mission will be historic in marking that turning point towards a rapid advancement in space transportation technology.”

White House Comments on Successful SpaceX Launch

The White House has issued a statement from John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology.

Congratulations to the teams at SpaceX and NASA for this morning’s successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting because it represents the potential of a new era in American spaceflight.

Partnering with U.S. companies such as SpaceX to provide cargo and eventually crew service to the International Space Station is a cornerstone of the President’s plan for maintaining America’s leadership in space. This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA’s resources to do what NASA does best — tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit. I could not be more proud of our NASA and SpaceX scientists and engineers, and I look forward to following this and many more missions like it.