Posted by: Kash Farooq | April 27, 2012

SpaceX gets ready to send a Dragon to the International Space Station

Update: Falcon 9/Dragon were successfully launched on May 22nd! Dragon is now in orbit and will attempt to dock with the ISS in a few days.

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation will be the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. In 2006, NASA awarded the company a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract, with the aim of development of a system that can supply cargo to the International Space Station.

A few weeks ago I realised that the launch date was fast approaching. I optimistically contacted SpaceX to see if I could interview someone about this historic event for The Pod Delusion.

They fobbed me off with a “Ermmm. We’re a little busy at the moment…what with launching a spacecraft and stuff”. Or words to that effect.

But what they did instead was put me on the press mailing list. And they have just sent me a load of cool images for immediate release.

The press release is all building up to the upcoming launch. The Dragon spacecraft will be launched by the Falcon 9 rocket – it will then dock with the ISS to deliver supplies and bring a shipment back to Earth.

Incidentally, the Falcon rockets are named after…the Millennium Falcon.🙂

This launch was scheduled to be on May 7th, but the latest statement from SpaceX (given on May 2nd) is: “At this time, a May 7th launch appears unlikely.  SpaceX is continuing to work through the software assurance process with NASA.  We will issue a statement as soon as a new launch target is set.”

Anyway. On to the images.

First, getting the Dragon spacecraft into the correct position to attach it to the Falcon 9 rocket:

Dragon spacecraft being rotated before it is mated to the Falcon 9 rocket in SpaceX’s hangar in Cape Canaveral

Dragon spacecraft being rotated before it is mated to the Falcon 9 rocket in SpaceX’s hangar in Cape Canaveral. Image credit: NASA.

Next, mating it with the rocket:

Dragon spacecraft mated to the Falcon 9 rocket in SpaceX’s hangar in Cape Canaveral

Dragon spacecraft mated to the Falcon 9 rocket in SpaceX’s hangar in Cape Canaveral. Image credit: NASA.

The Falcon 9 and together with the Dragon spacecraft. Click for the 3139 × 3077 version:

Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon spacecraft

Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon spacecraft

The Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral (click to see the 1984 x 3000 version):

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft rests on top of the Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX’s launch site in Cape Canaveral

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft rests on top of the Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX’s launch site in Cape Canaveral.

An artist’s impression of the docking (click to see the 1800 x 1200 version):

Artist’s rendition of the Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station

Artist’s rendition of the Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station.

And where it will all be monitored and controlled from (click to see the 3264 x 1785 version):

SpaceX engineers prepare for the launch at SpaceX’s launch control center in Cape Canaveral

SpaceX engineers prepare for the launch at SpaceX’s launch control center in Cape Canaveral.

Update: I have just received a photograph from the April 30th 2012 static fire test (click for 2213 × 3263 version).

SpaceX Falcon 9 Static Fire Test

Successful static fire test at Cape Canaveral on Monday 30th April 2012

From the press release:

SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. During the mission, Dragon’s sensors and flight systems will be subject to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station. If NASA decides Dragon is ready, the vehicle will attach to the station and astronauts will open Dragon’s hatch and unload the cargo onboard.
This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, a feat previously performed by only a few governments. Success is not guaranteed. If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again.
It is also the second demonstration flight under NASA’s program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. The first SpaceX COTS flight, in December 2010, made SpaceX the first commercial company in history to send a spacecraft to orbit and return it safely to Earth. Once SpaceX demonstrates the ability to carry cargo to the space station, it will begin to fulfill its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA for at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the space station. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience toward this goal.


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