WASHINGTON – The U.S. Dragon cargo spacecraft is again on its way to resupply the International Space Station.
Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) successfully launched Dragon on schedule at 8:35 p.m. EDT on Sunday (Oct. 7) from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., commencing the first commercial resupply services mission (designated CRS-1) under a new, $1.6 billion NASA contract with the commercial space company based in Hawthorne, Calif.
The first night launch of the Falcon 9 rocket went off without a hitch. The rocket hit its one-second launch window right on the money. Any delay would have canceled the launch for at least a day.
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Dragon is scheduled to dock with the space station on Wednesday (Oct. 10). If all goes as planned, Dragon will return scientific experiments to Earth later this month.
“The vehicle remains on a nominal trajectory,” SpaceX controllers reported midway through the Falcon 9’s approximately 10 minute ride to orbit. Once in orbit, Dragon will take several days to catch and rendezvous with the space station. On its approach to the orbiting laboratory, space station astronauts Akihiko Hoshide and station commander Sunita Williams will capture Dragon with the station’s robotic arm and pull it into a docking station prior to unloading more than 1,000 pounds of cargo and science experiments.
Space station astronauts reported they had a clear view of the entire Dragon launch.
“A picture perfect launch,” NASA mission control proclaimed shortly after Dragon separated from it second stage and began deploying is solar arrays.
The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship in orbit with solar array deployed.
NASA said it has pre-positioned large quantities of station cargo for the unmanned resupply missions since the space shuttle era ended last year. Among the experiments to be delivered by Dragon is an igniter experiment designed to study and prevent spacecraft fires.
Duane, $1.6 billion for 12 resupply missions (plus whatever seed money SpaceX received in the R&D phase) is far cheaper than the cost of operating the shuttle. If we are to again go beyond Earth orbit, NASA needs to turn over station resupply and other low-Earth orbit missions to reliable commercial companies. Dragon is far from being "man-rated," but SpaceX gains more operational experience with every launch. There record so far is excellent. Sooner or later, there will be an accident. Let's hope there are no humans aboard if/when it happens.
I've heard and read a number of statements that consider NASA ceding orbital missions as a negative and possibly as a sign of the decline of US space technology and vision. I would say quite the contrary. If SpaceX is just the first of a number of commercial launch providers, NASA and the Government have done their job.
The technology has gone from something that only wealthy governments could afford, to something with the potential to be a viable commercial business.
Under NASA commercial space launch program designed in part to replace the retired shuttle program, SpaceX demonstrated for the first time in May the capability to send a cargo ship to the space station and return cargo to Earth. As a result, and as we reported, this milestone activated a $1.6 billion contract for at least 12 resupply missions to the space station. Orbital Sciences Corp. is in the process of demonstrating the same capability that will give it a $1.9 billion resupply contract. SpaceX also has a full roster of satellite launch contracts with private companies. For now, it looks like a viable commercial space company.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.