NASA Gains Breathing Room On Commercial Crew Program

NASA has negotiated a continuation of its successful Space Acts Agreements (SAA) procedures for contracting and funding of the next phase of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The SAA has also been the process for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), which saw the flight of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo, and its return with science experiments and no longer needed space station equipment.

The deal, worked out between NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va), will allow NASA to select 2.5 partners under the CCP using SAA rather than the more restrictive and cumbersome Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Wolf’s statement on his website was followed by a letter from Bolden.

The agreement allows the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of CCP to proceed under SAA rules, but then commits NASA to using FAR procedures for certification and procurement of services.

There was also agreement to fund the program at the Senate level of $525 million, although Bolden in his letter urged the conference committee to fund the CCP at a higher level for 2013. The Administration had originally requested $836 million.

Contenders in the Commercial Crew arena include:

  • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – SpaceX – Dragon
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation – SNC – Dream Chaser
  • Boeing – CST-100
  • Blue Origin – New Shepherd

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 vimeo.com/spacexlaunch and high-resolution photos will be posted to spacexlaunch.zenfolio.com 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.

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.”

"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.

SATURDAY MORNING – Hatch Opening

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 Launches Dragon Toward ISS

Ignition
Falcon 9 Ignition
Image Credit: NASA TV

Liftoff
Falcon 9 Liftoff
Image Credit: NASA TV

Ascent
Falcon 9 Ascent
Image Credit: NASA TV

Downrange
Falcon 9 Downrange
Image Credit: NASA TV

Separation
Falcon 9 Separation of the Second Stage
Image Credit: NASA TV

Second Ignition
Falcon 9 Second Stage Ignition
Image Credit: NASA TV

2nd ShutdownSeparation
Falcon 9 Second Stage Shutdown
Image Credit: NASA TV

SECO
Falcon 9 Second Stage Shutdown Complete
Image Credit: NASA TV

Edoardo Amaldi Resuppy Mission to the ISS

ATV 3
ATV-3 Inside Fairing
Image Credit: ESA

Previously delayed, the European Space Agency is ready to launch the Edoardo Amaldi this evening. The mission is to provide supplies to the International Space Station, including a spare Fluids Control Pump Assembly (FCPA). This is a critical component on the ISS used to recycle urine into drinkable water and the spare is going up with ATV-3.

Following ESA’s formal Launch Readiness Review on Monday, which revealed no problems with the vessel, the launch was officially set for Friday 23 March at 0434 UTC. This is Thursday evening at 9:34 PM Phoenix time, tonight.

On Wednesday, Ariane and ATV Edoardo Amaldi were rolled out to the launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. The total vehicle mass is 777 tonnes –the heaviest ever for an Ariane. This ATV is also the rocket’s heaviest payload so far.

As the launch countdown progresses, we will add updates and images from Kourou. Live video from Arianespace can be seen here.

At the moment, it is 3:34 PM in Phoenix, and we are six hours from launch.

The Ariane 5 carrying ATV-3 rolled out to the launch pad yesterday, Wednesday.

Rollout
Rollout Wednesday
Image Credit: ESA TV

Rollout
Rollout Wednesday
Image Credit: ESA TV

With four hours until launch, there are light rain showers. The temperature is 77° Fahrenheit. Thunderstorms are predicted for later tonight with 50% chance of rain.

One hour to launch.

At 9:16 PM Phoenix time, we are less than 20 minutes from the launch of the Edoardo Amaldi. All systems are currently green. This is the 65th Ariane 5

NASA TV is also covering the launch live.

At T-minus 7 minutes we are moving into automatic computer operations. Any operational problem would require recycling to T-minus 7.

T-minus 2 minutes, and weather is good, synchronized sequence is running.

Launch and everything looks good at the moment.

At three (3:00) minutes into the launch, the boosters have separated, and now we have fairing separation.

T-minus 14
T-minus 14
Image Credit: NASA TV

T-minus 9
T-minus 9
Image Credit: NASA TV

Launch
Launch of ATV-3
Image Credit: NASA TV

Downrange
Ariane 5 Downrange
Image Credit: NASA TV

We now have Main Engine Cutoff. Stage Separation and second stage burn.

At twelve minutes into the flight, all systems are performing nominally.

At 18 minutes into the mission, ATV-3 is at altitude of 147.4 kilometers, and a velocity of 7.56 km/sec/

T+18
18 minutes into the mission
Image Credit: NASA TV

For die hard fans of the launch sequence and flight times, here is the ESA time-line for the Edoardo Amaldi Mission:

  • –11 hr 30 mn Start of final countdown
  • –4 hr 50 mn Start of filling of main cryogenic stage with liquid oxygen and hydrogen
  • –1 hr 10 mn Check of connections between launcher and telemetry, tracking and command systems
  • –7 min 00 sec ‘All systems go’ report at Launch Control Centre, allowing start of synchronised sequence
  • –1 min 00 sec Switch to onboard power
  • –04 sec Onboard systems take over
  • –03 sec Unlocking of guidance systems to flight mode
  • H0 Ignition of the Ariane 5 main stage engine
  • +7.0 sec Ignition of solid boosters
  • +7.3 sec Liftoff
  • +17.1 sec Beginning of roll manoeuvre
  • +2 min 22 sec Booster separation
  • +3 min 26 sec Fairing jettison
  • +8 min 54 sec End of main engine firing
  • +9 min 00 sec Upper stage separation
  • +9 min 07 sec Beginning of upper stage first burn
  • +17 min 18 sec End of upper stage first burn
  • +59 min 23 sec Beginning of upper stage second burn
  • +59 min 51 sec End of upper stage second burn
  • +1 hr 3 min 50 sec ATV separation
  • +1 hr 35 min 30 sec ATV solar array deployment complete

At the moment, all systems are green and ATV-3 is set to automatically dock with the Station’s Russian Zvezda module during the night of 28–29 March.

European Space Agency 30 Days from ATV Resupply Mission

ATV 3
Loading Cargo Aboard ATV 3 – Edoardo Amaldi
Image Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Optique Video du CSG–S. Martin 2011

The European Space Agency’s Edoardo Amaldi mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for 1000 UTC on 9 March 2012. It is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 0138 UTC on 19 March, and stay attached until the end of August, when it will detach and de-orbit with tons of garbage and burn up in the atmosphere.

This is the third mission by ESA to the ISS and will carry almost six tons of cargo:

  • two tons of dry cargo
  • 285 kg of water
  • more than three tons of propellants

ATV 3
Assembled ATV 3 Spacecraft
Image Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Optique Video du CSG – J.M. Guillon

SpaceX Slips Dragon Mission to ISS

SpaceX announced that it will slip the launch of the Dragon spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 from the original 7 February 2012 date. The specific reason for the delay was not specified, but was related to a “sense of responsibility in returning US crewed access to LEO”.

NASASpaceFlight notes that SpaceX was slipping in order to allow for due diligence “safety checks” ahead of launch.

The Dragon mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. SpaceX plans to accomplish the milestones originally assigned to both flight two and three. The first flight occurred in December 2010.

It is expected that the slip will only be two to three weeks.