Cool Pics: SpaceX’s Dragon in Prep for First ISS Flight

Some cool images courtesy of SpaceX. Above, technicians prepare the Dragon spacecraft for thermal vacuum chamber testing in a SpaceX clean room shown above in Hawthorne (Los Angeles) California. The open bays will hold the parachutes. NASA has given SpaceX a launch date of Nov 30, 2011 for Falcon 9 Flight 3, which will send a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

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SpaceX, OSC on Track for COTS Flights By End of Year

Illustration of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
December is going to be a busy month for NASA’s COTS program.  If all goes well, a SpaceX Dragon will be berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 9.  Also in December, Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new Taurus II rocket will soar into space from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia.

If the flights are successful, they will pave the way for commercial cargo delivery delivery to ISS during the first quarter of next year by Dragon and OSC’s Cygnus freighter.

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A Non-Toxic Fuel From the Mojave Desert


Late next year, a cargo freighter will deliver a potentially revolutionary new propulsion system to the International Space Station.

Franklin Chang-Diaz’s VASIMR engine? No, that test is still a couple of years off.

The propulsion system is called NOFBX. It’s a green fuel system developed by a little-known Mojave-based R&D company called Firestar Technologies. And it could well be one of those “game changing” technologies that NASA officials believe will make space travel a lot more affordable.

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NASA’s CCDev Program: Where Things Stand

Boeing's proposed commercial capsule.
Artist's conception of Boeing's commercial crew module. (Credit: Boeing)

With Boeing’s selection of Atlas V to launch its CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, the picture relating to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has become a bit clearer. Without any delay, let’s dive into it.

A Big Win for Big Rocket

For an “OldSpace” rocket company under threat from new competition, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is doing pretty well here. Companies building three of the four human spacecraft that NASA is funding under CCDev 2 have selected the Atlas V as their launch vehicle. These vehicles include Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, and Blue Origin’s orbital vehicle. The other company, SpaceX, has its own Falcon 9 rocket for the spacecraft it is building.

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SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft on Display in Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—On December 8, 2010, SpaceX became the first commercial company in history to launch, fly, land and recover a spacecraft from low Earth orbit. Now through July 10, 2011, that spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon, will make its first public appearance in Florida since its historic inaugural flight.

SpaceX, in coordination with the Air Force Space and Missile History Center, will host a public viewing of the Dragon capsule through July 10 on the grounds of the History Center, located just outside the South Gate of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).
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SpaceX to Show Off Dragon Capsule at Tesla Event in D.C.

Dragon being recovered in the Pacific. (Credit: SpaceX)

SPACEX PRESS RELEASE

WASHINGTON – Tomorrow, Thursday, February 10th 2011, SpaceX is teaming up with electric car maker Tesla Motors to showcase their contributions to American innovation.

Media are invited to an exclusive SpaceX-Tesla Open House at the new Tesla Showroom in Washington, DC.

On display will be the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully return from orbit on December 8th, 2010.  Ken Bowersox, SpaceX Vice President of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance and former NASA Shuttle and ISS Expedition Commander, will be available for interviews by request.

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SpaceX Plans At Least 32 Launches Through 2015

Dragon floats down under three parachutes after its maiden flight to space. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has a busy schedule ahead for its Falcon 1e and Falcon 9 rockets, with at least 32 launches scheduled through 2015. The highlights:

  • At least 23 Falcon 9 launches
  • 14 Falcon 9/Dragon COTS flights for NASA (including 2 demo missions)
  • At least 8 Falcon 9 satellite launches
  • Multiple Falcon 9 launches for Iridium (2015-17)
  • 1 Bigelow space station module launch (2014)
  • Inaugural Falcon9/DragonLab mission (2012)
  • First Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg (2012)
  • Debut of the uprated Falcon 1e rocket (2011)
  • Approximately 9 Falcon 1e launches
  • Approximately 6 Falcon 1e flights for ORBCOMM (2011-14).

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SpaceX Plans to Put Humans into Space on 19th Falcon 9 Flight

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)

SpaceX Plans 17 More Flights Before Launching Humans
Aviation Week

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) says it will launch its Falcon 9 rocket at least 17 more times before it is ready to fly humans, with nine of those flights carrying the Dragon capsule it is developing for cargo missions to the International Space Station.
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SpaceX Outlines CCDev Proposal

SpaceX has released a new video touting its bid to launch NASA astronauts into orbit using its Falcon 9/Dragon system. The clip above is an excerpt; view the full video here.)  In a blog post, the company also provided some additional details on the proposal it submitted for funding under NASA’s CCDev program.

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ULA to Reduce Staff, Costs; Musk Wants to Launch Air Force Payloads

ULA's Atlas V

ULA Says Workforce Reductions Will Help Cut Costs
Space News

United Launch Alliance (ULA) will reduce its work force by 19 percent over the next few years as it weeds out unneeded overlaps in Atlas and Delta rockets and finds other efficiencies, ULA Chief Operating Officer Dan Collins said.

The head-count reduction, which follows a 16 percent staff cut over the past four years, should enable Denver-based ULA to reduce operating costs and offer reduced launch-service prices to its U.S. government customer, he said.

Collins said ULA, established in December 2006, has already surpassed its goal of cutting launch costs by 25 percent over the previous generation of rockets, and that more cost reductions are on the way….

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SpaceX’s Success Gets the Attention of Foreign Space Officials

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)

SpaceX’s success in launching two Falcon 9 rockets and recovering a Dragon capsule from orbit last year has captured the attention of foreign space officials, who are eager for the services the company can provide and believe that valuable lessons can be learned from how the California-based start-up operates. Simonetta di Pippo, ESA’s director of human spaceflight, said:

“SpaceX certainly got our attention. This is a kind of revolution. We now know they can make it, and so we have to concentrate, on the government side, on new developments. We cannot just stick with our ATV now that the commercial sector is able to do this. Having visited the SpaceX facilities, I am not surprised by their success. But we need to react to it.”

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Space Review Looks at Dragon Flight, Human Asteroid Missions

Dragon being recovered in the Pacific. (Credit: SpaceX)

This week in The Space Review

2010: the year commercial human spaceflight made contact
A year ago commercial crew transportation was treated skeptically, at best, in the space community; now it’s a part of national policy with the support of companies large and small. Jeff Foust reports on how last week’s successful flight of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft may help secure the long-term future for commercial human spaceflight.

Commercial space and the media
Last week’s successful Falcon 9/Dragon launch was certainly a major milestone for the space industry, but it got little attention in some sectors of the mainstream media. Anthony Young examines this state of affairs.

The case for a human asteroid mission
Some still question the utility of mounting human missions to near Earth asteroids. Lou Friedman discusses not only why such missions are important, but also why the timetable for them should be accelerated.

Review: Dream Walker
Some people read astronaut memoirs to learn more about life as an astronaut, while others may read them to provide insights to motivate them to achieve their own goals. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that is a better fit for those in the latter category.

The Pioneer lunar orbiters: a forgotten failure
Fifty years ago this week NASA wrapped up a largely unsuccessful series of missions to send a spacecraft in orbit around the Moon. Andrew LePage recalls the origins and unlucky fates of the Pioneer lunar orbiters.

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.

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Forward into the Slipstream…

Dragon floats down under three parachutes after its maiden flight to space. (Credit: SpaceX)

The three overused cliches in technology circles are: “paradigm shift,” “game changer,”  and “moving the needle.” The first is vague, meaningless and pretentious with a capital “TIOUS.” These latter two are often used by executives to rally their troops on behalf of one company saving initiative or another. More often than not, they are half right: the needle (market share, profits) moves, but in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the game remains the same — and they are losing it. Badly.

That being said, it’s not hard to apply these phrases to what SpaceX accomplished on Wednesday. Elon Musk’s start-up rocket company nailed all three objectives.

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

SPACEX MISSION UPDATE

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.