The Return of the Dragon

NASA press release about the successful completion of the first commercial resupply mission the the International Space Station:

RELEASE: 12-381

SPACEX DRAGON RETURNS FROM SPACE STATION WITH NASA CARGO

HOUSTON — A Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:22 p.m. CDT Sunday a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico. The splashdown successfully ended the first contracted cargo delivery flight
contracted by NASA to resupply the International Space Station.

In the Water
Dragon in the Water after Splashdown
Image Credit: NASA

“With a big splash in the Pacific Ocean today, we are reminded American ingenuity is alive and well and keeping our great nation at the cutting edge of innovation and technology development,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Just a little over one year after we retired the Space Shuttle, we have completed the first cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not with a government owned and operated system, but rather with one built by a private firm — an American company that is creating jobs and helping keep the U.S. the world leader in space as we transition to the next exciting chapter in exploration. Congratulations to SpaceX and the NASA team that supported them and made this historic mission possible.”

The Dragon capsule will be taken by boat to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Some cargo will be removed at the port in California and returned to NASA within 48 hours. This includes a GLACIER freezer packed with research samples collected in the orbiting laboratory’s unique microgravity environment. These samples will help advance multiple scientific disciplines on Earth and provide critical data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The remainder of the cargo will be returned to Texas with the capsule.

The ability to return frozen samples is a first for this flight and will be tremendously beneficial to the station’s research community. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for
analysis.

The Dragon launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on Oct. 7. It carried 882 pounds of cargo to the complex, including 260 pounds of crew supplies, 390 pounds of scientific research, 225 pounds of hardware and several pounds of other supplies. This included critical materials to support 166 scientific investigations, of which 63 were new. Returning with the Dragon capsule was 1,673 pounds of cargo, including 163 pounds of crew supplies, 866 pounds of scientific research, and 518 pounds of hardware.

The mission was the first of at least 12 cargo resupply missions to the space station planned by SpaceX through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

SpaceX is one of two companies that built and tested new cargo spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Orbital Sciences is the other company participating in COTS. A demonstration flight of Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft to the station is planned in early 2013.

NASA initiatives like COTS and the agency’s Commercial Crew Program are helping develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit. In addition to cargo flights, NASA’s commercial space partners are making progress toward a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next 5 years.

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop and advance these commercial spaceflight capabilities, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration in the solar system.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

For more information about NASA’s commercial space programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial

Dragon – "The Ice Cream Truck Has Arrived"

At 3:56 AM Pacific Daylight time, Wednesday 10 October, the SpaceX Dragon space craft was successfully grappled by the Canadarm on the International Space Station (ISS). Referring to the fact that Dragon is capable of carrying powered equipment to and from the space station, the space station crew reported that they had captured Dragon and were looking forward to the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream in the freezer aboard the space craft.

Sunlight
Dragon Attached to ISS – In The Sunlight Above Earth
Image Credit: NASA TV

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.

"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

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.

CCDev2 – SpaceX

Dragon
Cady Coleman and Scott Kelley in the Dragon
Image Credit: SpaceX

This is the final entry concerning the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

NASA awarded $75 million to spaceX to develop a revolutionary launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts.

“This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer. “With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.”

Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) along with cargo. It will launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX. The cargo version of Dragon is expected to make a second trip into space in 2011.

SpaceX and NASA are negotiating whether this second flight will be allowed to approach the ISS, or a third flight will be required to prove the system.