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


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

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:

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

CCDev2 – SpaceX

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.

ATV-2 Johannes Kepler

Keeping the International Space Station (ISS) supplied will become an increasing challenge with the retirement of the US Space Shuttle in 2011. This is the first in a series to look at how the ISS will be serviced for the next five or six years.

The Japanese were schedule to launch their second H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-2) resupply mission today, 20 January, but weather has caused the mission to be rescheduled for a possible launch on Saturday.

The Russians fly their Progress spacecraft on resupply missions, and the next one is scheduled for 28 January.

Johannes Kepler ATV-2
ATV-2 Johannes Kepler
Image Credit:
European Space Agency (ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has flown their Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-1 or Jules Verne) to the ISS once before on 9 March 2008, and their next launch is coming up on 15 February 2011.

On the commercial side, Space X has successfully orbited their Dragon spacecraft and returned to Earth. Their next test flight is penciled in for July and the first resupply mission is penciled in for December.

And Orbital Sciences Corporation has their first cargo delivery test of its Cygnus spacecraft scheduled for December 2011.

That summarizes the partners working to support the International Space Station.

Here is a more detailed look at the European Space Agency’s ATV system.

The 20 ton Johannes Kepler ATV has a cargo capacity of up to 7 metric tons. The composition of this load can vary depending on the mission:

  • 1.5 to 5.5 metric tons of freight and supplies (food, research instruments, tools, etc.)
  • up to 840 kilograms of drinking water
  • up to 100 kilograms of gases (air, oxygen and nitrogen)
  • up to four metric tons of fuel for orbit correction and up to 860 kilograms of propellant to refuel the space station.

The spacecraft is compose of two main sections. The first is the ATV Service Module (below, left), which is not pressurized, includes propulsion systems, electrical power, computers, communications and most of the avionics. The ATV uses four main engines and 28 small thrusters to control the navigation of the spacecraft. Four solar panels are deployed after launch and supply 4800 Watts of power to the batteries and the electrical systems.

The second component is the Integrated Cargo Carrier (below, right). The large section in the front is pressurized and comprises about 90% of the cargo volume. It handles all the dry cargo, including the racks on each side. The inhabitants of the International Space Station access this area through the hatch in the Russian docking system.

Service Module
ATV Service Module & Four Main Engines
Image Credit: ESA

Service Module
Cutaway of ATV Cargo Carrier
Image Credit: ESA

The Equipped External Bay of the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) holds 22 spherical tanks of different sizes and colors (below, left). These tanks are used to re-supply the Station with propellant for the International Space Station propulsion system, various gases (air, oxygen, and nitrogen) and water for the crew.

The contents of these tanks are delivered to the Station through dedicated connections, or through manually operated hoses.

Service Module
ATV Liquid Resupply Tanks
Image Credit: ESA

Docking Module
Russian Docking Module
Image Credit: ESA

The ATV uses the Russian-made docking equipment sensors to perform the approach and docking sequence (above, right). The procedure is the same as with the Soyuz manned capsules and the Progress resupply spacecraft.

The Russian docking system enables physical, electrical and propellant connections with the Station. Access to the ICC is through the Russian hatch.

Once the ATV is securely docked, the crew can enter the cargo section and remove the payload, which usually includes maintenance supplies, science hardware, parcels of fresh food, mail and family tapes or DVDs.