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Forum:Commercial Space - Military Space
Topic:COTS: SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft
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Robert PearlmanSpaceX release
SpaceX Manufactured Heat Shield Material Passes High Temperature Tests Simulating Reentry Heating Conditions of Dragon Spacecraft

Company becomes only the second commercial source for the record holding NASA-developed material

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) announces the passing of a significant technical milestone in the development of its Dragon spacecraft with the successful arc jet testing of PICA-X high performance heat shield material.

Subjected to temperatures as high as 1850 degrees Celsius (3360 degrees Fahrenheit), the tests simulated the reentry heating conditions that will be experienced by the Dragon capsule. Panels of the high performance carbon-based material will protect cargo and crew during the spacecraft's return from Earth orbit.

SpaceX developed the ability to manufacture PICA-X with the assistance of NASA, the originator of PICA (Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator). The "X" stands for the SpaceX-developed variants of the rigid, lightweight material, which has several improved properties and greater ease of manufacture.

"We tested three different variants developed by SpaceX," said Tom Mueller, VP of Propulsion, SpaceX. "Compared to the PICA heat shield flown successfully on NASA's Stardust sample return capsule, our SpaceX versions equaled or improved the performance of the heritage material in all cases."

The tests were conducted at the Arc Jet Complex at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, which has a rich history in the development of Thermal Protective Systems for NASA spacecraft, including Apollo, Space Shuttle, and robotic missions to Venus, Mars, and Saturn. The NASA Ames Arc Jet Complex is uniquely capable of simulating conditions experienced during reentry.

"The arc jet tests represent the culmination of an aggressive six-month development effort, and our goals have been met or exceeded," said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. "Dragon will be the first craft to return from Low Earth Orbit using a PICA-based thermal protection system."

SpaceX is only the second commercial producer of a PICA-based material. All of SpaceX's initial production will be used for domestic in-house applications including the heat shields of the Dragon spacecraft, and the Falcon 9 second stage, which is designed to return from orbit for recovery and reuse.

The inaugural Dragon spacecraft flight is scheduled for 2009 aboard SpaceX's new Falcon 9 launcher.

The Dragon capsule will enter the Earth's atmosphere at around 7 kilometers per second (15,660 miles per hour), heating the exterior of the shield to up to 1850 degrees Celsius. However, just a few inches of the PICA-X material will keep the interior of the capsule at room temperature.

In January 2006, NASA's Stardust sample return capsule, equipped with a PICA heat shield, set the record for the fastest reentry speed of a spacecraft into Earth's atmosphere - experiencing 12.9 kilometers per second (28,900 miles per hour). SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will return at just over half of that speed, and will experience only one tenth as much heating.
Robert PearlmanSpaceX release
SpaceX Draco Thruster Successfully Completes Qualification Testing

Precision rocket engine to control Dragon spacecraft on approach to International Space Station

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) successfully completed a rigorous qualification of its new Draco spacecraft thruster and Draco propulsion tank at the SpaceX Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

The Draco thruster test series included 42 firings with over 4,600 pulses of varying lengths and was performed in a vacuum test chamber to simulate the space environment. The series resulted in a total firing time of over 50 minutes on a single thruster.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, recently selected by NASA as part of their Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and return cargo to Earth, utilizes 18 Draco thrusters to provide precision control in orbit and while approaching the ISS.

"The Draco thrusters allow Dragon to maneuver in close proximity to the ISS in preparation for berthing or docking," said Tom Mueller VP Propulsion, SpaceX. "Maximum control during these procedures is critical for the safety of the station and its inhabitants."

Draco thrusters generate approximately 90 pounds of thrust using storable propellants with long on-orbit lifetimes. The use of these propellants provides the option for a crew-carrying Dragon spacecraft to remain berthed at the ISS for up to a year.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to make its first flight in 2009 as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Under COTS, SpaceX will demonstrate the Falcon 9 / Dragon system's ability to approach, berth, and transport cargo to and from the ISS. Following the demonstration of these capabilities, SpaceX will fly twelve cargo flights to the ISS for NASA's CRS contract.

Falcon 9, SpaceX's medium lift rocket, is scheduled for its inaugural flight later this year from SpaceX's launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The new SpaceX Draco thruster engine undergoing qualification test firing at the SpaceX Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. The Dragon spacecraft uses a total of 18 Draco thrusters for maneuvering, attitude control, and to initiate the capsule’s return to Earth. First flight of the Dragon is scheduled for this year. Credit: SpaceX.
Graphic showing SpaceX Draco thruster engines firing to separate the Dragon spacecraft from the Falcon 9 second stage. Dragon uses a total of 18 Draco thrusters for maneuvering, attitude control, and to initiate the capsule’s return to Earth. First flight of the Dragon is scheduled for this year. Credit: SpaceX.
Robert PearlmanSpaceX update (September 23, 2009)
The initial test flight [of Dragon 9] will carry our Dragon spacecraft qualification unit, providing us with valuable aerodynamic and performance data for the Falcon 9 configuration that will fly on the following COTS and CRS missions for NASA. The second Falcon 9 flight will be the first flight of Dragon under the NASA COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program, where we will demonstrate Dragon's orbital maneuvering, communication and reentry capabilities.

Though it will initially be used to transport cargo, the Dragon spacecraft was designed from the beginning to transport crew. Almost all the necessary launch vehicle and spacecraft systems employed in the cargo version of Dragon will also be employed in the crew version of Dragon. As such, Dragon's first cargo missions will provide valuable flight data that will be used in preparation for future crewed flight. This allows for a very aggressive development timeline -- approximately 3 years from the time funding is provided to go from cargo to crew.

The three year timeframe is driven by development of the launch escape system. This includes 18 months to complete development and qualification of the escape engine, in parallel with structures design, guidance, navigation & control, and supporting subsystems.

Another 12 months will be required to perform various pad and flight abort tests, which are slated to take place at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia). Under this timeline, the first crew launch would take place 30 months from the receipt of funding, leaving six months of schedule margin to allow for the unexpected.


DragonEye aboard shuttle Endeavour as seen from the ISS.

With the help of NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, the DragonEye Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor has already undergone flight system trials in preparation for guiding the Dragon spacecraft as it approaches the International Space Station (ISS).

Images on right captured by the DragonEye LIDAR system.

DragonEye launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on July 15th, 2009 and tested successfully in proximity of the ISS. DragonEye provides three-dimensional images based on the amount of time it takes for a single laser pulse from the sensor to the reach a target and bounce back, providing range and bearing information from the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.

Dragon Parachute Load Testing

We have also recently completed the parachute load test which was the last part of the Dragon primary structure qualification. Dragon withstood both nominal and off-nominal vertical parachute loads up to 48,000 lbf applied to the main and drogue fittings. The spacecraft is being shipped back to California from our Texas test site where it will continue preparations for its first flight.

Dragon spacecraft undergoing load testing in McGregor, TX.

Dragon with temporary frame installed over it to measure deflections at the ISS docking interface.

Robert Pearlman

The Dragon qualification unit being outfitted with test Draco thruster housings.

Test fitting the thermal protection panels that surround the thrusters on the Dragon qualification capsule.

Radial bulkheads being installed on the completed pressure vessel for the first COTS Dragon spacecraft.

Robert PearlmanSpaceX release
SpaceX Hosts Preliminary Training For NASA ISS Astronauts In Preparation For Dragon Spacecraft Rendezvous And Station Berthing

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently conducted its first Dragon spacecraft operations training for a group of NASA astronauts and personnel at its corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA. The October training focused on how the crew will interface with the Dragon spacecraft while it is approaching and berthed to the International Space Station (ISS). Three of the participating astronauts -- Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock -- will be on board the ISS when Dragon makes its first visit under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

The astronauts were briefed on vehicle ingress and egress, habitability of the spacecraft, payload handling and commanding through SpaceX's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communication Unit. The training was a key step in SpaceX's progress towards providing NASA an alternative for cargo transport to and from the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires.

"This was the first time the NASA astronauts who will interact with Dragon during its early missions were actually inside a Dragon flight vehicle" said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, SpaceX. "SpaceX was honored to host the ISS crew for this preliminary training exercise, and we look forward to serving NASA further under the COTS program and CRS contracts."

Also in attendance were NASA astronauts Marsha Ivins and Megan McArthur, as well as other key NASA personnel from the NASA Astronaut Office and Mission Operations Directorates.

Under the COTS program, SpaceX will execute three flights of the Dragon spacecraft. Dragon will pass in close proximity to, and berth with, the ISS as part of the second and third COTS missions, respectively. Upon completion of these demonstration flights, SpaceX will begin to fulfill the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015 and represents a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg to be carried to the ISS.
ISS Expedition 23 Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson inside SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft with SpaceX's CEO and CTO, Elon Musk
NASA Astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Douglas Wheelock, Megan McArthur and Shannon Walker with SpaceX's Elon Musk
Robert PearlmanSpaceX release
SpaceX Completes Dragon Spacecraft Cargo Loading Milestone In Preparation For Delivery Services To International Space Station

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently conducted a three-day long demonstration of cargo loading and unloading procedures for its Dragon spacecraft, which NASA has contracted to provide delivery services to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2010.

SpaceX hosted a group of NASA personnel at its corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, including astronauts Marsha Ivins and Megan McArthur, and other key personnel from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

SpaceX engineer installs a Single Cargo Transfer Bag. Credit: SpaceX

The tests covered a range of procedures using actual NASA cargo modules, in a variety of standard sizes, including powered cargo modules that provide temperature control for sensitive items such as medical and biological samples during their journey to the ISS, and return to Earth. Dragon is currently one of the only spacecraft in the world capable of transmitting status on environment-sensitive cargo back to Earth during transit to the ISS.

SpaceX performed the tests in an actual flight Dragon spacecraft outfitted with cargo racks, stowage lockers, as well as interior lighting, telemetry and environmental systems, as will be employed while Dragon is berthed at the ISS.

"SpaceX was honored to host the NASA crew, and pleased by their positive feedback and remarks," said John Couluris, SpaceX Director of Mission Operations. "We look forward to the day when the first of many Dragons arrive at the ISS delivering actual cargo in support of continued ISS operations."

Under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, SpaceX will perform three flights of the Dragon spacecraft to demonstrate delivery of cargo to the ISS as well as returning cargo to Earth. Following those flights, SpaceX will begin the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, conducting a minimum of 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015 with a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg to be carried to the ISS.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 is a medium-to-heavy lift, two-stage launch vehicle capable of lifting approximately 11 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) and in excess of 4.5 tons to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). Designed to the highest levels of reliability and performance, SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft were selected by NASA to resupply the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires.

Loading a large M03 standard cargo module into Dragon. Credit: SpaceX
Robert PearlmanSpaceX release
SpaceX Activates New Communication System Aboard International Space Station For Control Of Upcoming Dragon Spacecraft Visits

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announces the successful activation of its new Dragon spacecraft communication hardware aboard the International Space Station (ISS) during a series of operations conducted in January and March.

Jeff Williams on the ISS and engineers at SpaceX Mission Control activate the new communications system. Credit: SpaceX/Roger Gilbertson

Dubbed the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communication Unit, the new system will allow ISS crewmembers to monitor and command approaching or departing Dragon spacecraft during cargo delivery missions to the orbiting laboratory.

Space Shuttle Atlantis delivered the system hardware to the ISS during mission STS-129 in November 2009. The on-orbit checkout began January 25, 2010, when astronaut Jeff Williams, ISS Expedition 22 Commander, worked with ground-based team members at SpaceX headquarters and ISS mission control in Houston to power-up and check out the new system.

On March 11, SpaceX and NASA Houston performed an additional series of tests, using the new system to send communications between the ISS and the NASA Dryden ground station. This provided a baseline of the radio frequency performance and confirmed the first set of antennas performed as expected and is ready for mission operations. Additional testing is expected for a second set of antennas as well as ongoing verification of the overall system.

The tests employed live video and telemetry links from the ISS to verify the hardware's functionality, broadcast and reception signal strengths, and the system's stability over long-duration operations.

Jeff Williams on the ISS with the SpaceX-developed Dragon controller. Credit: NASA

"The success of this series of tests speaks to our close collaboration with NASA as well as the SpaceX process that allowed the rapid development of this new hardware," said Marco Villa, SpaceX Mission Operations Manager. "Furthermore, the January tests marked the first official joint operations between SpaceX Mission Control in California, and NASA Mission Control in Houston. Everything went smoothly, and we eagerly anticipate the upcoming Dragon visits to the ISS."

Developed by SpaceX under a NASA Space Act Agreement, the new system allows for communication between the ISS and SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft while in the vicinity of the ISS. Its design leverages the abilities of the ISS communication systems, providing data exchange with ground-based mission control.

Designed from the beginning to transport crew, SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft were selected by NASA to transport cargo to and from the ISS starting in 2011. The $1.6B contract represents 12 flights for a minimum of 20 tons to and from the ISS. The first demonstration flights under the COTS program are scheduled for 2010, following the inaugural launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

Illustration of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
Robert PearlmanSpaceX release (August 20, 2010)
SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft Successfully Completes High Altitude Drop Test

Final Test Before Launch Validates Mission Critical Function - Successful Test of Parachute Systems and Recovery Operations for Spacecraft Set to Return Supplies from Space Station

Today, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) announced their Dragon spacecraft has successfully completed a high altitude drop test - meeting 100% of test objectives. This is the last in a series of tests to validate parachute deployment systems and recovery operations before the craft's first launch.

During the August 12th test, an Erikson S-64F Air-Crane helicopter dropped a test article of the Dragon spacecraft from a height of 14,000 feet, roughly nine miles off the coast of Morro Bay, California. In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual redundant drogue parachutes deployed first to stabilize and gently slow the craft before three main parachutes, 116 feet in diameter, further slowed the craft to a picture perfect landing. From there, recovery ships successfully returned the Dragon and parachutes to shore.

While Dragon will initially be used to transport cargo, the spacecraft was designed to transport crew and the parachute system validated during the test is the same system that would be used on a crew-carrying Dragon.

"By holding the Dragon to stringent standards for manned missions from the start, tests like this will ensure the highest quality and reliability for Dragon over the long term," said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and CTO. "We are proving, every day, that the future of American missions to space will rely on American made commercial companies."

The two drogue parachutes create a more gradual reduction in speed, important for future manned missions, while the three oversized parachutes are important to ensuring a safe and comfortable landing, slowing the spacecraft's decent to approximately 16-18 feet per second. Under nominal conditions, astronauts would experience no more than roughly 2-3 g's during this type of decent--less than you'd experience at an amusement park. And with three main parachutes, even if Dragon were to lose one, crew would still land safely.

"Data gathered during the drop test will be invaluable as we prepare for the upcoming demonstration flight of the first operational Dragon spacecraft," said Chris Thompson, SpaceX VP of Structures.

In June 2010, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft test article. Later this year, SpaceX will take the next step in testing, delivering an operational Dragon to low earth orbit atop a Falcon 9. This is the first demonstration flight under its inclusion in NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, established in 2006 to encourage private companies to develop commercial space transport capabilities.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 launch vehicle have been selected by NASA to deliver supplies to and from the International Space Station starting in 2011. The Dragon spacecraft can return as much as 2,500 kilograms (5,510 lbs) of cargo from the space station back to Earth, a service not offered by any other commercial cargo supply system.

Landing of an operational Dragon is a far more precise operation than seen in the drop test. Draco thrusters fired during reentry will ensure Dragon lands less than a mile from the targeted site. The dispersion is due only to wind pushing Dragon's parachutes--in low winds Dragon's landing accuracy will be within a few hundred feet. Once the ability to accurately control reentry is proven, SpaceX plans to add deployable landing gear and use thrusters to safely land Dragon on land.

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