NASA has confirmed a December 16 placeholder for the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch of the CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This latest mission will also include another advancement of SpaceX’s re-usability aspirations, with the Falcon 9 first stage set to attempt a propulsive landing on to an ocean platform.
The latest Dragon mission to the orbital outpost follows hot on the heels of the previous Dragon (CRS-4/SpX-4) which successfully returned to Earth last month.
That mission was another success for the spacecraft that holds ambitions of carrying crew – under the modified Dragon V2 (Dragon 2) configuration – with the non-destructive return to Earth a key capability when compared to all other current cargo resupply vehicles.
Her parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific ocean – and subsequent recovery – allowed for vital “downmass” to be egressed from within her belly, including vital science experiments that are now in the hands of technicians and investigators.
“There were no reports of water intrusion, and all return cargo appears to be in good shape,” flashed a NASA memo note on L2’s CRS-4 coverage, ultimately confirming the return leg of the mission fulfilled its obligations.
The follow on mission for Dragon was always set to occur before the end of the year.
The processing flow, involving the Falcon 9 v1.1. hardware being born at SpaceX’s rocket nursery Hawthorne, followed by a truck journey for her engine firing graduation at the McGregor test site in Texas all went to plan.
However, the launch date target of December 9 was impacted by a failure of another rocket that was attempting to launch out of Virginia.
Orbital’s CRS-3 Antares rocket failed seconds after launch, when one of the vehicle’s AJ-26 engines suffered a major turbopump issue, resulting in the loss of the vehicle.
Her payload, the Cygnus spacecraft destined for the ISS, was also lost in the resulting fireball at the Wallops launch site.
Cygnus is Dragon’s partner under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract that provides US upmass to the Station. NASA cargo requirements are split between the two vehicles, meaning the loss of Cygnus has resulted in NASA teams re-evaluating the priority items that may need to be re-manifested on this next Dragon mission.
ISS Program manager Mike Suffredini intimated at such a process almost immediately after the failure of Antares, while adding there was no immediate supply issue for the Station, based on inbuilt and pre-arranged contingencies that ensures the Station has several months of flexibility for its demands.
Due to the manifest changes to Dragon’s payload, December 9 was always seen as a date in flux. However, this week has seen internal NASA manifests – specifically the FPIP master schedule – move the CRS-5 mission to a placeholder of December 16, with back up opportunities on December 19 and 20.
Dragon would berth with the ISS on December 18, based on the first listed opportunity – that would launch in an instantaneous T-0 of 2:31pm Eastern.
Understandably, SpaceX did not wish to comment on a specific date when asked. The company traditionally waits until closer to the launch date.
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“We haven’t yet released additional schedule information for this period, but will let you know when we have an update,” noted SpaceX spokesman John Taylor, speaking to NASASpaceFlight.com.
However, NASA has since confirmed the December 16 target.
L2 schedules show the Static Fire of the Falcon 9 v1.1 at SLC-40 on the schedule for December 2, although this too is subject to change.
Per the manifest negotiations, SpaceX’s Dragon is a very capable little spacecraft, with an ability to loft up to 3,310 kilograms (7,300 lb) of pressurised and unpressurised cargo into orbit, before returning up to 2,500 kilograms (5,500 lb) of pressurised cargo to Earth at the end of her mission.
While the full cargo manifest hasn’t been released – no doubt because that manifest is still being evaluated – it is at least known that this latest Dragon will be lofting the Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) to the Station.
This hardware is a light detection and ranging remote sensing instrument designed to measure the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere.
Once CATS arrives at the Station with Dragon, it will be installed on the Kibo external facility.
Meanwhile, Cygnus is expected to return in 2015, albeit initially on another launch vehicle while Orbital “upgrade” the Antares with a new propulsion system.
Industry sources claim SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 is the favorite to win the right to launch one or two Cygnus missions during this interim period. Orbital earlier noted it was talking to three potential providers.
Rocket Come Home:
While the primary mission of CRS-5 is to delivery its array of supplies to the ISS, SpaceX doesn’t do things by halves.
This mission will once again see another leap forward with its plans to return a first stage back to Earth, along the path of eventually returning cores to land for reuse on later missions.
Sporting landing legs, grid fins and the experience gained from previous attempts to ease down on the ocean surface, CRS-5’s Falcon 9 v1.1 will make an ambitious attempt to touch down on a platform that is to be located off the Eastern seaboard.
“For the upcoming launch, I think we’ve got a chance of landing on a floating landing platform,” Elon Musk said at a recent MIT event (video – transcript). “We actually have a huge platform that’s being constructed at a shipyard in Louisiana right now. Which is – well, it’s huge, huge-ish, it’s about 300 feet long by 170 feet wide.
“That looks very tiny from space, and the leg span of the rocket is 60 feet, and this is going to be positioning itself out in the ocean with engines that will try to keep it in a particular position – but it’s tricky, you’ve got to deal with these big rollers and GPS errors.”
Mr. Musk classes the odds of successfully landing on the platform at 50 percent or less for the first attempt.
However, once that milestone is achieved, the next goals will involve turning a booster around for re-flight and then returning boosters to landing sites on land – not necessarily in that order.
It is understood the two primary sites for returning boosters on land are currently being evaluated.
L2 information notes SpaceX is evaluating first stage landing sites at both its East and West coast launch locations, with SLC-13 at Cape Canaveral and SLC-4W at Vandenberg understood to be the favored options at this point in time.
The information also provides intriguing, albeit unconfirmed, notes that SpaceX may be looking at an island downrange of the West Coast launch site for returning Falcon Heavy cores, in the event a high payload penalty negates a return to SLC-4W.
It is likely the first attempt to return a Falcon 9 v1.1 booster to land will be conducted in 2015, according to Mr. Musk.
“There’s at least a dozen launches that will occur over the next 12 months and I think it’s quite likely, probably 80 percent to 90 percent likely, that one of those flights will be able to land and refly.
“So, I think we’re quite close.”
NASA Coverage Set for Fifth SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station
The fifth SpaceX cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract is scheduled to launch Tuesday, Dec. 16, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 1:15 p.m. EST.
The company's Falcon 9 rocket will lift off at 2:31 p.m., carrying its Dragon cargo spacecraft. It is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations and supplies, including critical materials to support 256 science and research investigations that will take place on the space station during ISS Expeditions 42 and 43.
In addition to launch coverage, NASA also will host a series of prelaunch news conferences Monday, Dec. 15 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. All briefings, which are subject to a change in time, will air live on NASA TV and the agency's website.
The mission, designated SpaceX CRS-5, is the fifth of 12 SpaceX flights NASA contracted with the company to resupply the space station. It will be the sixth trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory.
The science research aboard the Dragon includes the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), which will characterize and measure the worldwide distribution of clouds and aerosols -- the tiny particles that make up haze, dust, air pollutants and smoke; model organism research using fruit flies to study the biological effects of spaceflight; and, a new study using flatworms to better understand wound healing in space.
During panel discussions Monday at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., scientists and researchers will discuss the onboard science and research studies, including CATS and supplies for research on the risks of in-flight infections in astronauts, as well as research on degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's.
The series of briefings Monday will conclude with a prelaunch news conference at 2 p.m. A post-launch briefing will be held approximately 90 minutes after liftoff Tuesday.
NASA TV also will provide live coverage of the arrival of the Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station Thursday, Dec. 18. Grapple and berthing coverage will begin at about 4:30 a.m. with grapple at approximately 6 a.m. Berthing coverage begins at 7:30 a.m.
The Dragon spacecraft will remain attached to the space station's Harmony module for more than four weeks and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California, bringing with it almost two tons of experiment samples and equipment from the station.
NASA, SpaceX Update Launch of Resupply Mission to the Space Station
The fifth SpaceX cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract now is scheduled to launch no earlier than 1:20 p.m. EST Friday, Dec. 19, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 12:15 p.m.
The change of launch date allows SpaceX to take extra time to ensure they do everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch. Both the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft are in good health.
The prelaunch news conferences also have moved to Thursday, Dec. 18 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. All briefings, which are subject to a change in time, will air live on NASA TV and the agency's website.
The first briefing of the day will air at noon and will provide up-to-date information about the launch. Participants for the prelaunch briefing will be:
Mike Suffredini, NASA’s ISS Program manager
Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for Mission Assurance at SpaceX
Kathy Winters with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida
The second briefing, now at 1:30 p.m., will cover some of the numerous science investigations headed to the space station. Participants for the science briefing will be:
Julie Robinson, NASA’s ISS Program chief scientist
Michael Roberts, senior research pathway manager at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, headquartered in Melbourne, Florida
Cheryl Nickerson, Micro-5 principal investigator at Arizona State University
Samuel Durrance, NR-SABOL principal investigator at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne
The final briefing, now at 3 p.m., will cover the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) Earth science instrument headed to the space station. Participants for this briefing will be:
Julie Robinson, ISS Program chief scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston
Colleen Hartman, deputy director for science at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
Robert J. Swap, program scientist with the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington
Matthew McGill, CATS principal investigator at Goddard
An on-time launch on Dec. 19 will result in the Dragon spacecraft arriving at the space station on Sunday, Dec. 21. Expedition 42 Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore of NASA will use the station's 57.7-foot robotic arm to reach out and capture it at approximately 6 a.m. Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency will support Wilmore as they operate from the station's cupola. NASA TV coverage of grapple will begin at 4:30 a.m. Coverage of Dragon's installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin 9 a.m.
SpaceX launch forecast looks good for Friday
There's an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions during the instantaneous launch window at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The forecast looks promising for SpaceX's planned 1:22 p.m. Friday launch of a Dragon capsule packed with cargo for the International Space Station.
There's an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions during the instantaneous launch window at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with thick clouds a potential concern, according to the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron.
SpaceX today raised a Falcon 9 rocket booster vertical at Launch Complex 40 in preparation for a brief test-firing of nine Merlin engines, the last big technical milestone before the launch countdown.
The mission is SpaceX's fifth of 12 planned for NASA under a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract.
If the launch slips to Saturday, the weather odds drop to 70 percent "go" during the instantaneous window at 12:59 p.m., with thick clouds again a possibility.
NASA last week announced that the launch, once scheduled for today, had been pushed back to no earlier than Friday to allow SpaceX to do "everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch."
The Dec. 11 statement said SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule were healthy, and the launch appears to be on track for Friday.
Kennedy Space Center will host a series of prelaunch briefings Thursday, starting at noon.
Quelle: Florida Today
Update: 13.00 MEZ
SpaceX readies rocket for station launch, barge landing
A 300-foot-long barge will be used as an off-shore landing platform during launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Friday. The primary goal of the flight is to deliver critical supplies and equipment to the space station, but SpaceX hopes to land the rocket's first stage on the barge for possible refurbishment and reuse -- a key milestone in the company's push to reduce launch costs.
SpaceX engineers are gearing up to launch a Dragon cargo ship atop a Falcon 9 rocket Friday for the company's fifth operational space station resupply mission. And if all goes well, the Falcon 9's first stage will attempt to land on a barge stationed off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., a key milestone in SpaceX founder Elon Musk's drive to lower costs by reusing boosters that otherwise would be discarded in the sea.
The Marmac 300, a platform barge listed on McDonough Marine Service's website and modified for use by SpaceX, features a spacious deck measuring 300 feet long and 170 feet wide. The barge, which SpaceX calls an autonomous spaceport drone ship, was seen by reporters over the weekend docked adjacent to the Jacksonville cruise ship terminal.
"Reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level," Musk said during the MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium in October. "We've been able to soft land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far. Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds then tipped over and exploded (laughter). It's quite difficult to reuse. It's as tall as a 14-story building. When a 14-story building falls over, it's quite a belly flop!
"So what we need to do is be able to either land on a floating platform or ideally boost back to the launch site and land back at the launch site. But before we boost back to the launch site and try to land there, we need to show that we can land with precision over and over again, otherwise something bad could happen."
The SpaceX barge would appear to be an ideal offshore landing platform. The deck's dimensions are listed as 300 feet by 100 feet on McDonough Marine's website, but the barge was widened by two wing-like additions seen extending from its sides. Company officials did not return a phone call seeking additional information, but the barge is believed to be equipped with powerful thrusters capable of maintaining its position to within a few tens of feet and internal water tanks to help damp out wave action.
An industry source said the platform will be operated remotely or autonomously on launch day with a crew stationed on another ship a safe distance away.
The width of the Marmac 300 barge was extended to provide additional landing space for the Falcon 9 first stage, which has a leg span of some 70 feet. The dimensions of the landing platform are 300 feet by about 170 feet.
"For the upcoming launch, I think we've got a chance of landing on a floating landing platform," Musk said at MIT. "We actually have a huge platform that's being constructed at a shipyard in Louisiana right now, which is, well, it's huge, or huge-ish, I mean it's about 300 feet long by 170 feet wide. That looks very tiny from space. The leg-span of the rocket is (70) feet. And this is going to be positioning itself out in the ocean with engines that'll try to keep it in a particular position."
The barge will not be anchored and Musk said the sea state and navigation satellite errors will make landing a "tricky" operation. Even so, "we're going to try to land on that on the next flight."
"And if we land on that, I think we'll be able to refly that booster," he said. "But it's probably, maybe not more than a 50 percent chance, or less, of landing it on the platform for the first time. But there are ... at least a dozen launches that will occur over the next year, and I think it's quite likely, probably 80-to-90 percent likely, that one of those flights will be able to land and refly. So I think we're quite close."
Recovering rocket hardware for refurbishment and reuse is central to Musk's goal of "rapid reusability," a breakthrough he says will dramatically lower launch costs.
"In order for humanity to be a space-faring civilization and ultimately be a multi-planet species, it is critically important that we achieve a full and rapid reusability," Musk told "60 Minutes" during a 2012 interview. "If you have rapid and complete reusability for a rocket, then you're really just dealing with the cost of the the fuel and oxygen and that kind of thing.
"Look at something like Falcon 9, which cost about $60 million," he said. "The cost of the fuel and oxygen and so forth is only about $200,000. So that's a massive difference. If we could have full and rapid reusability, you could have that rocket flight that cost $60 million maybe cost only half a million, or even less."
Joan Johnson-Freese, a noted author and professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, said "being able to do a soft landing recovery of rocket boosters saves launch companies time -- and time is money."
"A soft landing recovery in theory means you could reuse it quickly," she said by email Tuesday. "If commercial spaceflight is ever going to be anything like a 'normal' industry, fast turnaround and (relatively) low costs are imperative. Airplanes land ready to use again -- not requiring months of hanger time between flights. The analogy with recoverable rocket boosters isn't perfect, but it's close."
If all goes well, SpaceX will launch the latest Falcon 9 and Dragon cargo ship from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:22:12 p.m. EST (GMT-5) Friday, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the launch site into the plane of the station's orbit. Forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of good weather, decreasing to 70 percent "go" on Saturday if the flight is delayed for some reason.
It will be the first launch of a U.S. space station resupply mission since an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff Oct. 28, destroying a station-bound Cygnus cargo craft.
The SpaceX logo serves as a landing target painted on the deck of a barge known as the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship. If all goes well, the first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will attempt to land on the barge after launch Friday on a space station resupply mission. SPACEX
As usual with station launches from the East Coast, the Falcon 9 will take off along a northeasterly trajectory with the first stage's nine SpaceX Merlin 1D engines firing for about two minutes and 40 seconds to boost the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 second stage out of the dense lower atmosphere.
After engine shutdown, the first stage will fall away and the second stage will continue the push toward orbit, releasing the Dragon to fly on its own about 10 minutes after launch. The first stage, meanwhile, will attempt a powered descent to the barge some 200 miles east of Jacksonville, extending four landing legs a few moments before touchdown.
"Returning anything from space is a challenge, but returning a Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing presents a number of additional hurdles," SpaceX said in a blog post Tuesday evening. "At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1300 m/s (meters per second, or 2,900 mph), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for re-entry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.
"To help stabilize the stage and to reduce its speed, SpaceX relights the engines for a series of three burns. The first burn -- the boostback burn -- adjusts the impact point of the vehicle and is followed by the supersonic retro propulsion burn that, along with the drag of the atmosphere, slows the vehicle's speed from 1300 m/s to about 250 m/s (560 mph). The final burn is the landing burn, during which the legs deploy and the vehicle's speed is further reduced to around 2 m/s (4.5 mph)."
A key upgrade to the Falcon 9 first stage was the addition of four deployable fins mounted in an "X-wing configuration" around the upper part of the booster. The fins can be repositioned independently in flight to help control the rocket's lift and orientation. The use of the fins, in combination with steering by the first stage engines, "will allow for precision landing -- first on the autonomous spaceport drone ship, and eventually on land," the company said.
Assuming a successful touchdown, SpaceX engineers standing by on a nearby support ship will move in to secure the rocket's landing legs, locking the booster in place for the slow haul back to port. An industry source said residual liquid oxygen propellant likely will be allowed to boil off and vent overboard while left-over RP-1 kerosene fuel presumably will remain on board. SpaceX has not provided any details about recovery and "safing" operations.
While a successful landing would mark a major milestone for Musk and SpaceX, the first priority is putting the Dragon cargo ship on course for a rendezvous with the International Space Station early Sunday. This will be SpaceX's fifth operational resupply mission under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA that calls for 12 flights and delivery of some 40,000 pounds of hardware and supplies.
Assuming a launch Friday, the Dragon cargo ship will fly a complex rendezvous to catch up with the station Sunday around 6 a.m., pulling up to within about 30 feet and then standing by while Expedition 42 commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore, operating the lab's robot arm, locks onto a grapple fixture.
Ground controllers then will take over, remotely operating the arm to move the Dragon capsule into position for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the forward Harmony module. Wilmore, assisted by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, will operate the common berthing mechanism, driving home motorized bolts to lock the spacecraft in place.
The Dragon is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of cargo in the ship's pressurized hold, along with a 1,000-pound atmospheric research instrument mounted in an unpressurized trunk section accessible by the robot arm. The Cloud Aerosol Transport System, or CATS, instrument will be extracted later and mounted on a platform attached to the Japanese Kibo lab module.
Pressurized cargo includes food, clothing and personal items for the station's six-member crew, research equipment and spare parts along with high-priority items intended to replace cargo lost in the Antares launch failure in October.
SpaceX Does a Reality Check on Its Falcon 9 Rocket Landing Plan
The SpaceX launch company is scaling back expectations for an unprecedented rocket landing on a floating ocean platform, comparing the feat to "trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a windstorm."
The experiment is scheduled to take place on Friday, when SpaceX sends a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket and its uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station on a resupply run. After stage separation at an altitude of roughly 60 miles (100 kilometers), the Falcon's first stage is slated to relight its rocket engines and go through a complex series of maneuvers to put itself down on a 300-foot-long (90-meter-long) "autonomous spaceport drone ship" in the Atlantic Ocean.
"The odds of success are not great — perhaps 50 percent at best," SpaceX said in a statement explaining the effort. "However, this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage."
For decades, launch vehicles have traditionally dropped away their rocket stages, leaving them behind to burn up while the rest of the vehicle ascended to orbit. That's the way it worked for the Saturn 5 back in the days of Apollo, and the way it works for virtually all modern-day rockets. Even the space shuttle jettisoned its external fuel tank for destruction, although its solid rocket boosters fell into the sea and were recovered for refurbishment.
Although suborbital rocket ships have been known to blast off and land again in recent years, no rocket stage has ever flown itself back to a controlled landing after sending a payload to orbit. SpaceX plans to do it using a series of three rocket engine burns, helped along by the use of hypersonic control fins.
The retro rocket firings are meant to slow the 14-story-tall rocket stage's descent from a supersonic speed of 2,900 mph (1,300 meters per second) to less than 5 mph (2 meters per second). Just before landing, four landing legs would spring open — and the rocket would settle onto the thruster-stabilized drone ship for eventual return to shore.
An infographic by Jon Ross shows the key phases in the launch-and-landing plan for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket during Friday's space station resupply mission.
For a larger version of the graphic and a full explanation of the launch profile and its significance, check out 'The Future of Space Launch Is Near' by John Gardi and Jon Ross.
SpaceX has previously tested some of the technologies for a "soft splashdown" of the Falcon first stage, but the company has not yet been able to recover the stage intact — and Friday's launch attempt marks the first time that the landing ship will come into play.
"During previous attempts, we could only expect a landing accuracy of within 10 kilometers," or 6 miles, SpaceX said. "For this attempt, we're targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters [33 feet]."
A different kind of land-based rocket experiment ended in a spectacular failure in August, when an uncrewed SpaceX F9R test rocket went awry and had to be blown up during a flight test of the self-landing system. SpaceX said the failure was traced to a problem with a sensor that would not have arisen on an operational Falcon 9 rocket.
Why do it?
The point of this week's exercise is to bring the cost of spaceflight down dramatically. Today, the commonly quoted figure for the cost of sending payloads to low Earth orbit is $10,000 a pound ($22,000 a kilogram). SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, says making rockets fully recoverable and reusable could reduce that cost by 99 percent.
That cost reduction is a key part of Musk's long-range strategy to send colonists to Mars and turn humanity into a multiplanet species — as an "insurance policy" in case a killer asteroid, climate catastrophe or global pandemic threatens civilization on our home planet.
Although rockets that land themselves are a big part of Musk's vision for the future, mission success will not depend on whether or not the Falcon 9 first stage sets down safely on the drone ship. The key task is to deliver more than 3,700 pounds (1,680 kilograms) of scientific experiments, hardware and supplies to the space station. This is the fifth of 12 scheduled cargo runs covered by SpaceX's $1.6 billion resupply contract with NASA.
The Falcon 9 launch is currently scheduled for 1:20 p.m. ET Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, although technical issues or unfavorable weather could force a delay. Liftoff will be webcast via SpaceX and NASA. A series of NASA briefings about the mission is scheduled to be webcast on Thursday, starting at noon ET.
SpaceX likely to slip Dragon’s CRS-5 mission to January
The next Falcon 9 v1.1 set to launch out of Florida’s Cape Canaveral scrubbed a Static Fire attempt on Tuesday. The Static Fire is required ahead of the upcoming mission to loft the CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). Unspecified issues with the rocket is likely to slip the launch – as late as early January, although SpaceX isn’t commenting at this stage.
The CRS-5 mission was to conclude SpaceX’s launch operations for 2014, yet another breakout year for Elon Musk’s forward thinking company.
This latest mission – a key Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) flight for NASA – had entered the business end of the launch flow, with the Static Fire test an important requirement to allow SpaceX management to approve the launch.
Numerous requirements have to be successfully proven via such a test, such as the engine ignition and shut down commands, which have to operate as designed, and that the Merlin 1D engines perform properly during start-up.
The Static Fire also provides a dress rehearsal for the actual launch, with controllers first conducting a poll to allow for the loading of Falcon 9’s RP-1 propellant with liquid oxygen oxidizer two hours and thirty five minutes before T-0. From that point, the test is near-identical to a real launch day countdown.
Ensuring Falcon 9’s SLC-40 pad systems are in good shape during a Static Fire – also known as a hot fire – flow mitigates the potential for issues during the countdown on launch day.
Only a short burst of the Merlin 1D engines on the core stage of the F9 is required to allow for the validation data to be gained on the health of the vehicle and pad systems.
Attempts during the four hour test window on Tuesday did not result in a successfully conducted Static Fire. Several requests for further information, sent to SpaceX during and after the test window, resulted in the company saying they had no information to provide. SpaceX normally provides confirmation after a successful conclusion to the test.
Source information noted at least one full countdown towards the firing was attempted, which was classed as aborted at the very end of the count. At least one NASA-based outlet claimed the Static Fire had taken place, potentially pointing to ignition of the Merlin 1D engines, before an abort – due to an issue – was likely called.
No confirmed information on the issue has been forthcoming from SpaceX. However, the company has promised to provide more information to this site when “they have something to share.”
It was, however, understood that the next Static Fire attempt is likely to take place no sooner than Thursday. That too appears to have been cancelled following review.
The launch date target was to be Friday – had the Static Fire gone as planned – with an instantaneous launch time, as per usual for Dragon launches to the ISS – of 13:20 Eastern. An alternate date of December 20 is available, with the T-0 moving up to 12:58 Eastern.
Both of those dates are now understood to be out of the question, with source information citing a NET (No Earlier Than) launch target of January 6, 2015.
That date will need to be approved by NASA, per their ISS constraints, such as Visiting Vehicle (VV) traffic and ISS status.
The CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon will be lofting her usual compliment of cargo and supplies to the ISS, along with a number of specific payloads.
The specific payloads include CATS (Cloud-Aerosol Transport System), Microbial Observatory-1, the Flatworm Regeneration payload, the “Wearable Monitoring” ASI payload, the Free-Space PADLES (Passive Dosimeter for Life-Science Experiment in Space) payload for JAXA and the Fruit Fly Lab-01.
As had been predicted, some of the Dragon’s payload manifest has been refined to reflect the near term needs of the ISS, based on what was lost during the recent failure of the Antares rocket during the launch of the CRS-3/OrB-3 Cygnus.
This, along with a few internal Falcon 9 issues, was the reason the launch slipped slightly from its previous target date.
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It is also understood that two Planet Labs cubesats are also onboard this latest Dragon, equipped with replacements for the experimental hardware that was lost on the Cygnus.
While the primary focus will be to safely send the CRS-5 Dragon on her way to the orbital outpost, there will be great interest in the return of the core stage.
SpaceX has been testing its propulsive return capabilities for the first stage of the Falcon 9 during previous missions – with a large amount of success. Up until now, the upgraded first stages have returned for a landing on the ocean surface.
However, for CRS-5, an attempt will be made to return the stage on to a specialised platform located in the downrange area of the Atlantic Ocean.
Known as the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “X” literally marks the spot as the target for the Falcon 9 core – as much as SpaceX has been downplaying the chances of hitting the target first time around.
Per L2 CRS-5 flow information, SpaceX engineers have been busily working through the software requirements and challenges – right up to the last minute – in order to give the stage the best chance of making what would be another historic milestone in the company’s attempts to create a fully reusable launch system.
The ASDS is much more than just a floating platform.
It has been outfitted with thrusters, repurposed from deep sea oil rigs, allowing for the platform to hold position to within three meters, even in a storm.
It is also understood that the ASDS will have the ability to refuel returned stages, allowing them to make the hop back to land for future reuse.
This system will also play a major role with SpaceX’s new rocket – the Falcon Heavy and her three cores – when she comes online in the middle of 2015.
Update: 22.30 MEZ
SpaceX Exercises Caution and Keeps CRS-5 Rocket Grounded Until At Least Jan. 6, 2015
SpaceX is NO GO to launch a Falcon-9 booster with their unmanned Dragon cargo ship on the company’s fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA this Friday, Dec. 19, and will not do so until at least after the new year. The company’s second CRS-5 launch delay, according to SpaceX, is being blamed on an abundance of caution, this time after a recent customary static test fire / wet dress rehearsal (also known as a practice countdown) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex-40 ended prematurely. Although the exact details of the concern have not been made available, both NASA and SpaceX have decided to push the launch back to give engineers time to review data from the test fire before proceeding with a second test fire and committing to a launch attempt.
Continue reading SpaceX Exercises Caution and Keeps CRS-5 Rocket Grounded Until At Least Jan. 6, 2015
60 percent chance of favorable weather for SpaceX rocket launch Tuesday
CAPE CANAVERAL --
The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron is forecasting a 60 percent chance of favorable weather for Tuesday's SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.
The rocket with a Dragon cargo spacecraft loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations and supplies is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:20 a.m. on a resupply mission to the International Space Station.
This is the sixth trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.
As part of the launch, SpaceX also plans to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on a barge, part of future plans to try and save rocket parts and save money.
NASA says the Dragon spacecraft will remain attached to the space station's Harmony module for more than four weeks and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California, bringing with it almost two tons of experiment samples and equipment from the station.
Rain and clouds in the forecast for Tuesday’s SpaceX launch
Meteorologists predict mostly cloudy conditions with a chance of light rain for Tuesday morning’s scheduled takeoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a space station-bound supply ship, with a 40 percent chance weather could prevent liftoff during the instantaneous predawn launch opportunity.
The 20-story rocket is set for liftoff at 6:20 a.m. EST (1120 GMT) Tuesday from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. It will send a cargo load of more than 3,700 pounds of provisions and experiments to the six-person crew living on the International Space Station.
SpaceX will have one second to send the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon cargo craft skyward. The launch window is timed for approximately the moment the International Space Station’s orbital path passes above Cape Canaveral. If weather or a technical issue prevents launch Tuesday, the next chance for liftoff will be Friday morning.
Technicians will load time-sensitive experiment specimens and fresh food into the Dragon capsule Monday.
The official weather outlook released Saturday by the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron calls for a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions for Tuesday’s launch.
A front will likely be draped over Central Florida early Tuesday, and forecasters predict a chance of very light rain and scattered clouds at 2,000 feet and 12,000 feet — plus a broken cloud deck at 24,000 feet — for the instantaneous launch window.
“The next frontal boundary will move into the area by Monday, bringing another bout of upper level clouds and increased rain chances,” the Air Force weather team wrote in a forecast summary. “Like the last boundary, this front will likely not make it south of Central Florida before stalling and lingering over the area for a day or two. With the boundary overhead, the primary weather concern will be thick clouds.”
Winds will be from the north-northeast at 8 to 12 mph and the temperature will be around 66 degrees Fahrenheit at launch time Tuesday.
Officials expect good visibility and low solar activity.
If the launch is delayed to Friday, there is a 30 percent that weather will prohibit launch, mainly due to a concern about flight through precipitation.
The unmanned Dragon supply ship is due to rendezvous with the space station Thursday if the mission takes off on schedule Tuesday.