First Cygnus Flight to ISS Set for December

Artist's conception of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus freighter approaching the International Space Station. (Credit: OSC)

Launch Date Set For First Orbital COTS Demo
Aviation Week

NASA has set Dec. 14 as the target launch date for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) cargo demonstration mission. Meanwhile, the company says it continues to make progress with NASA toward attaining safety clearance for the mission, in which its Cygnus spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station (ISS).

The flight is scheduled to include delivery of a token cargo load using Orbital’s first Cygnus visiting vehicle, a service module combined with a pressurized cargo module (PCM). It is expected to be preceded by a Taurus II “risk-reduction” mission, which is still awaiting funding approval from Congress…

[Orbital Vice President Carl] Walz says the procedure will entail flying up to match the station’s orbit before using GPS satellites to “align the system and fly automatically up the R-bar,” a standard approach method based on using the radius vector to the Earth’s center. “Once we’re within 10 meters, we will go to ‘free drift’ mode and allow the ISS crew to grapple us,” he adds.

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Another Successful Test Fire for Taurus II’s AJ26 Engine


NASA conducted a test fire Friday of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus II space launch vehicle. The test at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi supports NASA’s Commercial Transportation Services partnerships to enable commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station.

Orbital’s Taurus II uses a pair AJ26 rocket engines built by Aerojet to provide first stage propulsion. Friday’s test on the Stennis’ E-1 test stand involved a team of Orbital, Aerojet, and Stennis engineers, with Stennis employees serving as test conductors.


Rocketplane: A Space Tourism Post Mortem

The late Rocketplane which was to have flown from Oklahoma.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an account of George French’s odyssey from billboard king to bankrupt NewSpace entrepreneur. His Rocketplane Global and Rocketplane Kistler ventures were once in prime positions to capture large shares of both the suborbital space tourism market and commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station. And yet both efforts collapsed amid funding woes, multiple bankruptcy filings, and a flood of lawsuits from unpaid employees and vendors.

For NewSpace advocates, this is a sad story. But, it’s really not unusual. A vast majority of start ups fail, for a whole host of reasons ranging from mismanagement to simply bad timing. Rocketplane is certainly not the first — nor will it be the last — NewSpace company to fail.

Congressional Praise for SpaceX’s Successful Dragon Flight

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL

The leading congressional authority on the U.S. space program said Wednesday that America is on track to remain a global leader in space, science and technology, after a privately owned rocket carrying a capsule powered off a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and into outer space before returning safely to Earth.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made his comments today following the successful launch into low-earth orbit and return to Earth of the 157-foot tall Falcon 9 rocket and the Apollo-like unmanned Dragon capsule built by Space X. With the splash down of its capsule in the Pacific, Space X became the first private company to successfully recover a spacecraft sent into outer space.

“We’ve arrived at the dawn of new era of U.S. space exploration that should ensure America remains a leader in space exploration,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was a crew member aboard a 1986 space shuttle mission, and now heads a Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA.

In September, Congress approved a Nelson-engineered NASA budget blueprint that would help boost the commercial rocket industry – such as the development of the Falcon 9 – and have NASA become the chief player for building a new deep-space rocket and carry out missions to Mars.


Musk Looks to Send Dragon to ISS Next Year; Florida Officials Optimistic of Job Growth

Falcon 9's second stage fires away. (Credit: SpaceX)

A couple of updates in the wake of SpaceX’s Dragon flight:

Company President Elon Musk is looking to fly the Dragon freighter directly to the International Space Station on the next test flight. The current schedule has Dragon rendezvousing with the orbital facility on its second flight, with a docking and cargo delivery occurring on the third mission.The two flights would be combined into one under SpaceX’s plan. Spaceflight Now reports:

I’m optimistic that the next flight will be to the space station,” Musk said, adding there are several things engineers must add to the Dragon to make that possible.


Dragon Flight Paid Tribute to Monty Python, Bad Val Kilmer Film


Before the successful launch, voyage, and recovery of SpaceX’s Dragon Spacecraft, the first time in history a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft from orbit, reporters were buzzing with news of a “secret” payload, stowed on board. It was a payload so secret, SpaceXers made it Top Secret (think Val Kilmer 1984, not official US Government).

“Top Secret” payload, bolted to the floor of the Dragon spacecraft. (Credit: Chris Thompson)

So what was inside the mystery package?  Their tribute to Monty Python.

A wheel of cheese.

Photo Credit: Chris Thompson, SpaceX

The original Monty Python sketch below.

Dragon Splashes Down in the Pacific After Two Orbits

Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit

@SpaceXer reports that Dragon has successfully re-entered the atmosphere.

Drogue chutes have deployed to slow the capsule down.


@SpaceXer: “SPLASHDOWN!!!”

@SpaceXer: “Splashdown on target. Mission is a success!”

@SpaceXer:  “Recovery crew has put the floats on the Dragon already.”

Looks like a highly successful mission.

Wow! A MASSIVE step forward. Congratulations to SpaceX!!

The first commercial company to re-enter a vehicle from space. And a major milestone in NASA’s COTS program to provide commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station.

Falcon 9 Roars Off Pad, Places Dragon Capsule in Orbit

The static test of a Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 4, 2010. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket roared off its launch pad at Cape Canaveral on Wednesday morning, placing a Dragon freighter into low-Earth orbit for the first time. This is the second launch for the rocket and the first flight of the Dragon, which is designed to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The freighter is set to land  in the Pacific after a nearly 3.5 hour flight. The program is being funded under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

Taurus II First Stage Core Arrives on Wallops Island

The Taurus II first stage core at Wallops Island. (Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)


The core structure of the Taurus II first stage arrived at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Eastern Virginia on Dec 3, 2010. The core structure was manufactured in Ukraine by Orbital’s subcontractor Yuzhmash. After arrival by a transoceanic cargo ship at the Port of Wilmington, DE, it was transported by overland to the NASA Wallops launch site and was off-loaded into Building H-100 where it will undergo checkout and integration testing.


Falcon 9 Could Launch on Wednesday Following Examination of Nozzle Cracks

Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit

This just in from SpaceX….

SpaceX engineers are analyzing two small cracks in the aft end of the 2nd stage engine nozzle extension.  These cracks are in a region near the end of the nozzle extension where there is very little stress and so they would not cause a flight failure by themselves.  However, further investigation is warranted to ensure that these cracks are not symptomatic of a more serious problem.

A decision on whether or not to attempt launch on Wednesday will be provided tomorrow evening.


Falcon 9 Launch Delayed

The Falcon 9 rocket is transported to the launch pad on Dec. 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

The first Falcon 9/Dragon flight has been delayed from Tuesday until later this week because of a potential problem in a nozzle weld on the second stage, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said during a press conference today. The earliest launch date is Thursday, but the flight could slip to Saturday if engineers must replace the nozzle.

Full Coverage Schedule for SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Dragon Launch

Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit


Liftoff of the first SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration launch for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program could occur as early as December 7th, with December 8th and 9th as backup days, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window for all three days extends from 9:00 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. EST. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean roughly 3 1/2 hours later.

The COTS Demo 1 launch will be webcast at The webcast will begin approximately 45 minutes prior to the opening of the daily launch window, at 8:15 a.m. EST / 5:15 a.m. PST / 13:15 UTC. During the webcast, SpaceX hosts will provide information specific to the flight, an overview of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft and commentary on the launch and flight sequences.


Falcon 9 Static Firing Aborted

The Falcon 9 rocket is transported to the launch pad on Dec. 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

A static firing of the Falcon 9 engine was aborted at the last second on Friday afternoon. It has been postponed until Saturday at the earliest. The SpaceX rocket is to carry the first Dragon spacecraft into orbit. The launch is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Updates as they come available.

NASA’s Video Coverage Schedule for Falcon 9 Launch Next Tuesday

SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)
SpaceX's Falcon 9 on the pad at Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)


The first SpaceX Falcon 9 demonstration launch for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program is targeted for liftoff on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Liftoff will occur from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends from 9:03 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. EST. If necessary, launch opportunities also are available on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 with the same window.


The prelaunch news conference for the COTS 1 Falcon 9 launch is planned for L-1, currently Monday, Dec. 6 at 1:30 p.m., at the press site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA Television will provide live coverage, and the briefing will be streamed at