Monday, March 29, 2010

Space station prepares for arrival of Discovery, and eventually Dragon

While NASA prepares for one of four remaining trips to the International Space Station, SpaceX today announced successful activation of communications systems aboard the outpost designed to help astronauts control a Dragon spacecraft as it approaches or departs.

Click here for the company press release.

SpaceX is targeting a late April inaugural flight of the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA has a $1.6 billion deal with SpaceX to make 12 cargo deliveries to the space station after the shuttle retires.

Three demonstration flights for NASA are planned between July this year and February 2011. The second flight will do a flyby of the station and the third will dock Dragon to the outpost for the first time.

The first cargo delivery is now targeted for May 2011. The company also hopes to launch astronauts in Dragon, if NASA's proposal to turn over crew transportation to low Earth orbit to commercial providers is approved.

At Kennedy Space Center, NASA is readying Discovery for a 6:21 a.m. launch next Monday.

Workers are preparing to bring two dozen orbiter tanks (left) that store helium and nitrogen up to full pressure. The gasses help push propellants through the orbiter's main propulsion system and orbital steering jets.

Discovery's crew, led by Alan Poindexter, is scheduled to arrive at KSC early Thursday. For more background on the planned 13-day mission, check out this NASA summary and press kit.


Conor said...

If the third demo flight is to dock with the ISS, why not include some cargo in it?

James Dean said...

Good question, Conor. I asked about that and was told there may be some "demonstration cargo," but I guess the primary focus will be on rendezvous and docking operations.

stevepem said...

I would take a guess that other than food and water, a lot of the cargo that goes to ISS is expensive and in many cases difficult to replace such as science experiments. And I’m willing to bet that even cargo containers and carriers are expensive. So I suspect that they don’t want to risk flying cargo on a docking demonstration flight which has a higher risk of having to abort the docking. If they had to abort the docking and decided that it is unsafe to make any more attempts with that particular spacecraft, the cargo would be lost as there is no way to return it to Earth.