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  SpaceX Dragon: First flight to the space station

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Author Topic:   SpaceX Dragon: First flight to the space station
Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-18-2011 05:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
SpaceX: First mission to space station

This mission is a milestone, marking the first time in history that a U.S. commercial company will attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, something only a few governments have ever accomplished.

This is a demonstration mission, a test flight primarily designed to provide NASA and SpaceX with insight to ensure successful future missions.

During the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) 2 flight, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will conduct a series of check-out procedures that will test and prove its systems in advance of the rendezvous with the station. The primary objectives for the flight include a fly-by of the space station at a distance of approximately two miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach. The spacecraft also will demonstrate the capability to abort the rendezvous, if required.

Dragon will perform the final approach to the ISS while the station crew grapples the vehicle with the station's robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node. At the end of the mission, the crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. If the rendezvous and attachment to the station are not successful, SpaceX will complete a third demonstration flight in order to achieve these objectives as originally planned.

Begun in 2006, NASA's COTS program is investing financial and technical resources to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate safe, reliable and cost-effective space transportation capabilities.

See here for discussion of SpaceX's first Dragon flight to the space station.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-18-2011 05:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) update
Preparing for ISS

Over the last several months, SpaceX has been hard at work preparing for our next flight — a mission designed to demonstrate that a privately-developed space transportation system can deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has given us a Nov. 30, 2011 launch date, which should be followed nine days later by Dragon berthing at the ISS.

NASA has agreed in principle to allow SpaceX to combine all of the tests and demonstration activities that we originally proposed as two separate missions (COTS Demo 2 and COTS Demo 3) into a single mission. Furthermore, SpaceX plans to carry additional payloads aboard the Falcon 9’s second stage which will deploy after Dragon separates and is well on its way to the ISS.

NASA will grant formal approval for the combined COTS missions pending resolution of any potential risks associated with these secondary payloads. Our team continues to work closely with NASA to resolve all questions and concerns.

This next mission represents a huge milestone not only for SpaceX, but also for NASA and the US space program. When the astronauts stationed on the ISS open the hatch and enter the Dragon spacecraft for the first time, it will mark the beginning of a new era in space travel.

Through continued private-public partnerships like the one that helped develop the Falcon 9 and Dragon system, commercial companies will transform the way we access space. Together, government and the private sector can simultaneously increase the reliability, safety and frequency of space travel, while greatly reducing the costs.

The update below highlights our recent progress towards the combined C2/C3 mission.

This week, we successfully completed a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) for the Falcon 9 Flight 3 launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The WDR is a significant test during which we load propellant into the vehicle and perform all operations just as we would on launch day right down to T-1 seconds, at which point we abort and detank the propellant.

Since our last flight, we have made significant upgrades to the launch pad to streamline the countdown. For example, we installed new liquid oxygen (LOX) pumps that reduced our previous loading time from 90 minutes to under 30.

Improvements like this are getting us closer to our long term goal of Falcon 9 going from hangar to liftoff in under an hour. This is no easy task for a vehicle with about the same takeoff weight as a fully loaded Boeing 747, but if a 747 can do it reliably day after day, then Falcon 9 can too.

In a SpaceX clean room in Hawthorne (Los Angeles) California, technicians prepare the Dragon spacecraft for thermal vacuum chamber testing. The open bays will hold the parachutes.

Also in Hawthorne, we have conducted separation tests of the Dragon trunk from the Falcon 9 second stage. Release mechanisms hold the trunk (top, with solar panel covers on left and right sides) to the stage (bottom). When activated, springs on the Falcon 9 push against the Dragon trunk. The trunk separates and the test fixture’s counterbalance system raises the spacecraft up and away.

In the Hawthorne factory high bay, we tested the Dragon solar array rotary actuator by hanging the full array from the ceiling. The actuator (top center) turns the entire array. In flight, the solar panels will track the sun for maximum energy capture.

Stay tuned for more updates on the combined COTS-2 and COTS-3 mission to the ISS, slated for launch on Nov 30, 2011.

See here for discussion of SpaceX's first Dragon flight to the space station.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-30-2011 04:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Exploration Technologies update
SpaceX Launch Update

NASA is working with SpaceX on our technical and safety data for this mission while coordinating with its international partners to sort out a launch schedule once a definitive decision is reached on the next Soyuz flight to the International Space Station.

As a result, we've submitted December 19th to NASA and the Air Force as the first in a range of dates that we would be ready to launch.

We recognize that a target launch date cannot be set until NASA gives us the green light and the partnership of the International Space Station make a decision on when to continue Soyuz flights.

Our flight is one of many that have to be carefully coordinated, so the ultimate schedule of launches to the ISS is still under consideration.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA Announces Launch Date and Milestones for SpaceX Flight

NASA has announced that the launch target for Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight will be Feb. 7, 2012. Pending completion of final safety reviews, testing and verification, NASA also has agreed to allow SpaceX to send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in a single flight.

"SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory."

Gerstenmaier said, "There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success."

During the flight, Dragon will conduct a series of check-out procedures that will test and prove its systems in advance of the rendezvous with the station. The primary objectives for the flight include a fly-by of the space station at a distance of approximately two miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach. The spacecraft also will demonstrate the capability to abort the rendezvous, if required.

Dragon will perform the final approach to the ISS while the station crew grapples the vehicle with the station's robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node. At the end of the mission, the crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. If the rendezvous and attachment to the station are not successful, SpaceX will complete a third demonstration flight in order to achieve these objectives as originally planned.

"SpaceX is on the forefront of demonstrating how a partnership between the government and private industry can lead to new capabilities and provide a large return on investment," said Alan Lindenmoyer, program manager for COTS at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"SpaceX is excited to be the first commercial company in history to berth with the International Space Station. This mission will mark a historic milestone in the future of spaceflight," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. "We appreciate NASA's continued support and their partnership in this process."

Begun in 2006, NASA's COTS program is investing financial and technical resources to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate safe, reliable and cost-effective space transportation capabilities. In a multiphase strategy, the program is spurring the innovation and development of new spacecraft and launch vehicles from commercial industry, creating a new system of delivering cargo to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

Through Space Act Agreements, SpaceX will receive up to $396 million and Orbital Sciences Corporation, NASA's other COTS partner, will receive up to $288 million for the successful completion of all milestones in the agreements. To date, SpaceX has received $376 million for completing 36 out of 40 milestones and Orbital has received $261.5 million for completing 23 out of 29 milestones.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-16-2012 12:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
SpaceX Update
Update on next SpaceX launch

In preparation for the upcoming launch, SpaceX continues to conduct extensive testing and analysis.

We believe that there are a few areas that will benefit from additional work and will optimize the safety and success of this mission.

We are now working with NASA to establish a new target launch date, but note that we will continue to test and review data. We will launch when the vehicle is ready.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-01-2012 11:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Falcon 9 fueled for practice countdown

On Thursday, March 1, SpaceX performed a successful "wet" dress rehearsal for its first launch to the International Space Station, fueling its Dragon capsule-topped Falcon 9 launch vehicle with more than 75,000 gallons of liquid propellant.

The test, which SpaceX described an "important step on the road to the space station," took place as the Dragon-Falcon rocket stood vertical on Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The pre-launch countdown gave SpaceX the opportunity to test its launcher and ground systems before proceeding with the mission to the space station.


Credit: NASA/Gianni Woods

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX launch to space station set for April 30

Following a NASA-led flight readiness review, the second SpaceX demonstration launch for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program is scheduled for Monday, April 30.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule will liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There is a single instantaneous launch opportunity at 12:22 p.m. EDT.

During the flight, SpaceX's Dragon will conduct a series of check-out procedures to test and prove its systems, including rendezvous and berthing with the International Space Station (ISS).

The primary objectives for the flight include a flyby of the ISS at a distance of approximately 1.5 miles to validate the operation of the sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach. The spacecraft also will demonstrate the ability to abort the rendezvous.

After these capabilities are successfully proven, the Dragon will be cleared to berth with the ISS.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-23-2012 05:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
SpaceX delays first launch to space station

After conducting a review of their recent progress, SpaceX decided that it needed more time to finish "hardware-in-the-loop" testing and properly review and follow up on all data.

While it remains possible that the Falcon 9 topped with the company's first International Space Station-bound Dragon capsule could launch on May 3, 2012, SpaceX said "it would be wise" to add a few more days of margin in case things take longer than expected.

As a result, the launch is likely to delayed from April 30 by one week, pending coordination with NASA.

SpaceX will further advise when a new target date is set.

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX's first launch to station reset for May 7

NASA and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) have approved SpaceX's request to set May 7, 2012 as the target launch date for the company's first flight to the International Space Station.

A launch on Monday, May 7 would take place at 9:38 a.m. EDT (1338 GMT).

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX to webcast static fire for upcoming mission on Monday

On Monday, April 30, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will webcast a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket's nine powerful Merlin engines in preparation for the company's upcoming launch.

The webcast, available at spacex.com, is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 a.m. PDT), with the actual static fire targeted for 3 p.m. EDT (noon PDT).

The 9 engine test will take place at the company's Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as part of a full launch dress rehearsal leading up to the second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) launch. During the rehearsal, SpaceX engineers will run through all countdown processes as though it were launch day. The exercise will end with all nine engines firing at full power for two seconds.

After the test, SpaceX will conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch, currently targeted for May 7.

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.

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX Falcon 9 Static Fire

On Monday, April 30, 2012, SpaceX performed a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket's nine powerful Merlin engines in preparation for the company's upcoming launch. Engines ran for two seconds before a planned abort.

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX: May 7 launch "unlikely"

SpaceX issued a short statement on Wednesday (May 2) confirming reports that their first launch to the International Space Station is facing a possible further delay.
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.

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX: Launch retargeted for May 19

SpaceX said Friday (May 4) that it was retargeting its first launch to the International Space Station for later in the month, after a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the orbiting complex.
SpaceX and NASA are nearing completion of the software assurance process, and SpaceX is submitting a request to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a May 19 launch target with a backup on May 22.

Thus far, no issues have been uncovered during this process, but with a mission of this complexity we want to be extremely diligent.

In response to SpaceX's announcement, NASA issued the following statement from Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations:
After additional reviews and discussions between the SpaceX and NASA teams, we are in a position to proceed toward this important launch. The teamwork provided by these teams is phenomenal. There are a few remaining open items but we are ready to support SpaceX for its new launch date of May 19.

Philip
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NASA release
Former shuttle booster recovery ship to image SpaceX launch

The SCIFLI (Scientifically Calibrated In Flight Imagery) team, based at NASA's Langley Research Center In Hampton, Va., is preparing to capture high definition video and thermal imagery of the SpaceX launch as the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule climb through the atmosphere on their way to the International Space Station.

The team will have sophisticated optical systems stationed on the ground near Daytona Beach and for the first time ever on board a ship, the Freedom Star. The Freedom Star and its sister ship, Liberty Star, which were built to recover space shuttle solid rocket boosters, will also track the spacecraft during the mission using NASA diagnostic radar systems. Both ships will be off the coast of the northeastern United States. They are home ported at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station adjacent to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA has contracted with Celestial Computing Incorporated (CCI) of Boston, Mass., to outfit the Freedom Star with a gyro-stabilized kineto tracking mount and specialized hardware to protect against the harsh conditions the system will face in the north Atlantic.

"This ship-based imaging capability is unique," said NASA Langley Principal Investigator Tom Horvath. "NASA did not possess a shipboard gyro-stabilized tracker with the large aperture/long focal length optics coupled to state-of-the-art detectors."

NASA will train the two imaging systems at the spacecraft to help monitor its performance and capture key events during ascent, including release of the Dragon and solar panel deployments. This will be the first use of a ship-based high definition visual and infrared imaging system to support Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) project flights. The COTS project is part of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, led out of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The team tested the new optical system on the Freedom Star during a day sail from Cape Canaveral. They checked out the ship's communications system, the NASA diagnostic radar, and kineto tracking mount to confirm that these systems are ready to support the mission. "They work together sort of like synchronized swimmers," said project manager Melinda Cagle from NASA Langley.

The day sail also gave the SCIFLI team a chance to gain experience operating at sea by performing maintenance on the system, confirming communications links, and confirming the design of the mounting system and environmental enclosure.

The SCIFLI team builds upon the success of the Hypersonic Thermodynamic Infrared Measurements (HYTHIRM) team by expanding capability while reducing cost. HYTHIRM has a history of capturing challenging thermal images at speeds as high as Mach 18. The project successfully recorded the space shuttle heat signature during re-entry on seven different shuttle missions, using ground and airborne systems.

Robert Pearlman
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Falcon 9 and Dragon standing at launch pad

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with its first space station-bound Dragon spacecraft was erected overnight Thursday (May 17) on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Liftoff is scheduled for 3:55 a.m. CDT (0855 GMT) Saturday.


Credit: collectSPACE/Robert Pearlman

Robert Pearlman
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Fireless Dragon: Falcon 9 shuts down on pad

SpaceX's inaugural attempt at launching its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station ended with a flash on Saturday morning (May 19), as its Falcon 9 rocket's engines briefly ignited but then just as quickly shut down.

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, and lifttt...offff, we've had a cutoff," announced NASA launch commentator George Diller. "Liftoff did not occur. We have a launch abort."

"We did not get confirmation from the first-motion sensor that liftoff occurred," Diller continued.

Initial indications were that the abort at T-0.5 seconds was due to one of the Falcon's nine Merlin engines being over-pressurized.

"The Falcon 9's computers picked up an anomaly with the rocket and aborted the launch just before liftoff," NASA reported on its website. "Early data shows that the chamber pressure on Engine 5 was high."

"The teams will continue to look at the data and assess a launch attempt on May 22."

SpaceX's engineers will get their first look at the suspect engine on Saturday afternoon. If they determine that it needs replacing, they will require two days to complete the work.

A launch on Tuesday would target an instantaneous window at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT). Wednesday is also a possible option, with a liftoff at 3:22 a.m. EDT (0722 GMT).

Robert Pearlman
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SpaceX finds root cause of abort, repairs underway

The last second abort of SpaceX's first attempt to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) was caused by a failed valve, the company reported Saturday (May 19) afternoon.

"Today's launch was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber. We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway," the commercial spaceflight company said in a statement.

"During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve," the statement continued. "Those repairs should be complete tonight."

SpaceX said that if the repair and data reviews proceed as expected, then they will be ready to attempt launching their Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday (May 22) at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT).

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Failed valve replaced, SpaceX clears Falcon 9 for Tuesday launch

SpaceX said on Monday (May 21) that they are again ready to attempt launching a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft to orbit on a mission that will make them the first commercial company to try to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.

SpaceX's second launch attempt is set for 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) on Tuesday (May 22).

The company's first launch attempt was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber. During their inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine.

"The failed valve was replaced on Saturday (May 19) and after thorough analysis the vehicle has been cleared for launch," SpaceX said in a statement.

During the mission, Dragon must perform a series of complex tasks, each presenting technical challenges:

  • May 22/Launch Day: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

  • May 23: Dragon orbits Earth as it travels toward the space station.

  • May 24: Dragon's sensors and flight systems are subject to a series of complicated tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station; these tests include maneuvers and systems checks that see the vehicle come within 1.5 miles of the station.

  • May 25: NASA decides if Dragon is allowed to attempt to berth with the station. If so, Dragon approaches; it is captured by station's robotic arm and attached to the station. This requires extreme precision as both Dragon and station orbit the earth every 90 minutes.

  • May 26-31: Astronauts open Dragon’s hatch, unload supplies and fill Dragon with return cargo.

  • May 31: Dragon is detached from the station and returns to Earth, landing in the Pacific, hundreds of miles west of Southern California.
This is SpaceX's second demo mission under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the station.

The purpose of the flight is to provide NASA and SpaceX with flight data needed to ensure successful future missions to the station. "Demonstration launches are conducted to determine potential issues so that they might be addressed and – by their very nature – carry a significant risk," SpaceX said.

If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX says they will learn from the experience and try again.

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collectSPACE
SpaceX launches commercial spacecraft on historic first flight to space station

A fire-breathing Dragon set ablaze the early morning sky over Florida on Tuesday (May 22), creating a new and symbolic dawn for the future of U.S. spaceflight.

The Dragon, SpaceX's unmanned cargo capsule, launched on the company's first mission to fly to the International Space Station, a first for any private spacecraft and a trailblazer for NASA's burgeoning commercial orbital transportation system (COTS) program.

Lifting off atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Dragon soared toward space at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT). The launch marked SpaceX's third Falcon 9 launch and its second Dragon to enter orbit.

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Dragon passes first mission challenges in orbit

Twelve minutes after successfully reaching orbit, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft deployed its solar arrays.

"We've never actually had solar arrays deploy in space, so it's the first time," SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk said during a post-launch press conference. "A number of things could have gone wrong, but everything went right."

The two 54-foot (16.5-meter) tip-to-tip wings power the navigation and communication instruments the Dragon will use to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Above: View from SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft looking outward at one of two solar array panels in the process of deploying.

Many of those instruments were covered for launch under a pod bay door, which needed to open were the mission to continue as planned.

The door was commanded open at 5:34 a.m. CDT (1034 GMT) without problem. Opening the bay exposed the sensors the Dragon will use to approach the station, as well as the grapple fixture where the Canadarm2 will attach to berth the spacecraft on the Harmony node.

"[The] Dragon spaceship opens the navigation pod bay door without hesitation. So much nicer than HAL9000," Musk wrote on Twitter.

Initial tests of the spacecraft's star trackers and laser-ranging system (LIDAR) have returned positive results.

"There are still a thousand things that have to go right, but we are looking forward to this exciting mission," Alan Lindemoyer, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, said.

Robert Pearlman
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First look inside the Dragon

SpaceX on Tuesday (May 20) shared this video still of the interior of its Dragon spacecraft, as transmitted from orbit.

Robert Pearlman
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Dragon successfully sails under space station

SpaceX's unmanned Dragon capsule successfully rendezvoused with the International Space Station (ISS) early Thursday morning (May 24), becoming the first commercial spacecraft to come within the vicinity of the orbiting outpost and advancing an important step closer to its capture and berthing.

The Dragon, which was visible to the station's crew, passed directly below the complex at a distance of 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) at 6:24 a.m. CDT (1124 GMT).

Above: SpaceX's Dragon capsule as seen from the International Space Station during the spacecraft's fly-under demonstration.

The fly-under marked the completion of the tests that were laid out for Thursday, which also included demonstrating that the station's crew could send commands to the Dragon.

A strobe light on the exterior of the capsule was successfully turned on by the station's crew in a test of the Dragon's UHF radio system.

"Dragon showed its Absolute Global Positioning System (GPS) is in good working order. The vehicle demonstrated both a pulsed and a full abort. It also demonstrated free drift, floating freely in orbit as it will when grappled by the space station's robotic arm," SpaceX said in a statement released on Thursday. "And its proximity operations sensors and SpaceX's COTS UHF Communication Unit (CUCU) are up and running."

Earlier on Thursday, the Dragon completed two critical rendezvous thruster burns to place itself in position to perform the fly-under. The tests were designed to verify communication and navigation systems on the spacecraft before it re-approaches the station for its grapple and berthing on Friday.

Early morning on Friday, NASA will decide if Dragon is "go" to move into the approach ellipsoid 0.9 miles (1.4 kilometers) around the space station. If Dragon is "go," after approximately one hour it will move to a location 820 feet (250 meters) directly below the station.

Dragon will then perform a series of maneuvers to show systems are operating as expected. If NASA is satisfied with the results of these tests, then the Dragon will be allowed to perform the final approach to the station.

Sometime around 8 a.m. CDT (1300 GMT), astronauts on the station will grapple Dragon with the station's robotic arm and the spacecraft will be attached to the Earth-facing port on the Harmony node.

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Dragon begins approach to space station

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft has begun its historic approach to the International Space Station (ISS).

Should all proceed as planned, the commercial cargo craft will be captured by the orbiting complex's robotic arm at just before 7 a.m. CDT (1200 GMT) on Friday (May 25).

Above: The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on May 24, 2012 for a series of tests to clear it for its final rendezvous and grapple on May 25.

The unmanned cargo capsule completed its Approach and Initiation burn at 3:18 a.m. CDT (0818 GMT), heading for a point 1,150 feet (350 meters) below the station. At that point, the Dragon will perform a 180 yaw maneuver before continuing to the next "go/no go" hold point of 820 feet (250 meters) below the space station.

In the interim, two more mid-course correction burns will be made to fine-tune Dragon's approach.

The spacecraft began its approach to the station at a distance of 0.9 miles (1.4 kilometers), at which point Dragon's thermal image sensors spotted the orbital laboratory.

ISS Expedition 31 flight engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers are actively monitoring Dragon's approach from inside the space station's cupola and beginning to prepare the robotic arm to grab hold of the spacecraft at 6:59 a.m. CDT (1159 GMT).

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Dragon holding at 250 meters from station

Dragon has arrived at the 820 foot (250 meter) hold point from the International Space Station. The spacecraft will now conduct hold and retreat demonstration maneuvers before resuming its approach.

After evaluation of the vehicle's ability to keep its distance and back away from the ISS, Dragon will be given the "go" to move inside the "Keep Out Sphere," which starts at 656 feet (200 meters).

Dragon's capture by the station's robotic arm is targeted for 6:59 a.m. CDT (1159 GMT).

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As Dragon nears station, hold added to calibrate tracking data

Flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control in Houston have given the "go" for Dragon to proceed within the "Keep Out Sphere," the 660 foot (200 meter) safety zone surrounding the station, but have also added a hold at 490 feet (150 meters) to give time for the spacecraft's thermal tracking camera to get a better fix on the space station.

The hold will result in a later-than-expected capture of Dragon by the space station's robotic arm. Mission Control and the outpost's crew are watching the approach closely, to judge the best time and lighting conditions to proceed with the grapple.

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SpaceX commands Dragon to retreat from station

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which was on its way to a hold point of just 98 feet (30 meters) from the International Space Station (ISS), has been commanded to retreat from the orbiting complex and is now holding at a distance of about 230 feet (70 meters).

Flight controllers at SpaceX's Hawthorne, California, control center reviewed the data received from the capsule's laser ranging system and found that one of the two LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) systems had locked onto stray reflections from the station's Japanese Experiment Module.

Flight controllers are working to narrow the Dragon's field of view to allow the spacecraft to continue on its approach.

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Dragon now less than 100 feet from station

Having been given the command to proceed, the Dragon is now just 98 feet (30 meters) from the International Space Station (ISS). The unmanned cargo craft has reached its final planned hold point before moving to its capture location 32 feet (10 meters) below the orbiting complex.

Flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control in Houston and SpaceX's control center in Hawthorne, Calif., have estimated 9:40 a.m. CDT (1440 GMT) for the station's robotic arm to capture the Dragon for its berthing on the Harmony node.

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Dragon now approaching capture point

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is now making its final approach to the International Space Station (ISS), moving to its capture point just 32 feet (10 meters) below the orbiting complex.

The first opportunity for the station's crew to grapple the Dragon using the Canadarm2 robotic arm is at 9:02 a.m. CDT (1402 GMT).

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"Go" for capture

Flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control in Houston have given the International Space Station's crew the "go" to capture SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which is holding at just 32 feet (10 meters) below the orbiting complex.

Expedition 31 flight engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers have commanded the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to move in to grab hold of the Dragon.

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Capture is confirmed: Dragon achieves historic first

At 8:56 a.m. CDT (1356 GMT) on Friday, May 25, SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule became the first commercial spacecraft in history to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS).

Using the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm, NASA astronaut Don Pettit grabbed hold of an attach point on the side of the Dragon, which was flying just 32 feet (10 meters) below the orbiting complex.

"It looks we've got us a Dragon by the tail," radioed Pettit. "We are thinking this sim went really well and we're ready to turn it around and do it for real."

"Congratulations on a wonderful capture," capcom Megan Behnken said from Mission Control in Houston. "You have made a lot of folks happy down here and over in Hawthorne and right here in Houston. Great job guys."

The capture came three days, six hours, 11 minutes and 23 seconds into the Commercial Orbital Transportation (COTS)-2 demonstration mission as the two spacecraft were flying 251 miles (404 kilometers) over northwestern Australia.

Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers will now work over the next few hours to maneuver the Dragon, still attached to the robotic arm, to its berthing port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node.

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Dragon berthed on space station

For the first time in history, a commercially-developed and -launched spacecraft is now attached to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon cargo capsule, which was built in Hawthorne, Calif. by Space Exploration Technologies — or SpaceX — was berthed to the Earth-facing side of the orbiting complex Friday morning (May 25), three days after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about two hours after astronauts used the station's robotic arm to capture the unmanned spacecraft.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit, working with European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers at the robotic work station in the station's cupola, positioned the Dragon at the Harmony node's nadir port so NASA astronaut Joe Acaba could bolt the spacecraft onto Harmony through the commands he issued from a laptop computer while in the Destiny laboratory.

The two-stage capture, which secured the 16 bolts that will hold Dragon on the side of the station, was completed at 11:02 a.m. CDT (1602 GMT) on Friday (May 25), marking the Dragon's berthing three days, eight hours and 18 minutes into its mission.

Now that the Dragon is part of the station, the orbiting laboratory's crew will work to open the hatches separating the two spacecraft and begin unpacking the capsule of its supplies on Saturday. The Dragon has aboard about 1,000 pounds (460 kilograms) of cargo, including students' science experiments and food for the station's six-person crew.

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SpaceX's Dragon berthed on space station, historic first for commercial spacecraft

For the first time in history, a privately developed and launched spacecraft is now attached to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon cargo capsule, which was designed and built by California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, was berthed to the nadir, or Earth-facing, side of the orbiting complex's Harmony node at 11:02 a.m. CDT (1602 GMT) on Friday (May 25), three days following its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about two hours after astronauts used the station's robotic arm to capture the unmanned spacecraft.

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Enter the Dragon: Hatch opened on first commercial capsule at space station

The hatch between the newly arrived SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and the Harmony module of the International Space Station was opened by NASA astronaut Don Pettit at 4:53 a.m. CDT (0953 GMT) on Saturday (May 26) as the complex flew 253 miles (407 kilometers) above the Earth, just to the west of Auckland, New Zealand.

"Kind of reminds me of the cargo capability that I can put in the back of my pickup truck and the smell inside smells like a brand new car," Pettit said after entering the Dragon.

The hatch opening begins four days of operations to unload more than 1,000 pounds of cargo from the first commercial spacecraft to visit the space station and reload it with experiments and cargo for a return trip to Earth. The capsule is scheduled to splash down several hundred miles west of California on May 31.

Wearing protective masks and goggles, as is customary for the opening of a hatch to any newly arrived vehicle at the station, Pettit entered the Dragon with station commander Oleg Kononenko. The goggles and masks will be removed once the station atmosphere has had a chance to mix air with the air inside the Dragon itself.

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Private Dragon spacecraft is 'Golden Spike' of final frontier, astronaut says

The arrival of the first commercial cargo spacecraft at the International Space Station (ISS) this week is paramount to the golden spike that completed the first railroad to span the United States 143 years ago this month, an astronaut on the orbiting complex said Saturday (May 26).

"We all remember the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which opened the western frontier of the United States. It was celebrated by pounding in a golden spike," NASA astronaut Don Pettit said from inside the privately built Dragon spacecraft. "This is sort of the equivalent of the golden spike."

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Dragon departing the space station

In a reverse to the series of events played out on May 25 to capture and berth SpaceX's Dragon capsule, the International Space Station Expedition 31 crew detached the history-making spacecraft from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node at 3:07 a.m. CDT (0807 GMT) on Thursday (May 31).

The Dragon spacecraft was attached to the space station for 5 days, 16 hours and 5 minutes.

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, working with fellow flight engineers Don Pettit and André Kuipers, first released the bolts holding the Dragon in place on the station and then, using the robotic arm, moved the commercial spacecraft away from the outpost, setting up its release at 4:35 a.m. CDT (0935 GMT) for the return to Earth.

Once out of the vicinity of the station, the SpaceX team in Hawthorne, Calif., will run Dragon through about five hours of orbital operations before commanding it to a splashdown, targeted for 10:44 a.m. CDT (1544 GMT), for recovery off the California coast.

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Dragon now flying free from space station

NASA astronaut Don Pettit, working on board the International Space Station, commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft at 4:49 a.m. CDT (0949 GMT) on Thursday (May 31). The ungrapple marked beginning the private capsule's return to Earth following its historic accomplishments as the first mission by a commercial company to resupply the orbiting laboratory.

The Dragon is returning to planet with approximately 1,300 pounds of science experiments, hardware and cargo.

The spacecraft will fire its thrusters three times to move out of the vicinity of the station, at which point SpaceX's flight control team in Hawthorne, Calif., will run the free flying capsule through about five hours of orbital operations culminating in a deorbit burn at 9:51 a.m. CDT (1451 GMT).

The 9 minute, 50 second burn will set up Dragon to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 10:44 a.m. CDT (1544 GMT) for recovery off the coast of Baja, Calif.

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Dragon returning to Earth

At 9:51 a.m. CDT (1451 GMT) on Thursday (May 31), SpaceX flight controllers in Hawethorne, Calif. commanded the Dragon spacecraft to begin a nine minute, 50 second deorbit burn, slowing the capsule's velocity by 224 miles per hour to set the unmanned craft on a path to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

The Dragon is scheduled to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja, Calif., at 10:44 a.m. CDT (1544 GMT).

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Private cargo capsule returns from historic space station mission with a splash

The first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station returned to Earth on Thursday morning (May 31), creating a splash in the Pacific Ocean almost as large as the one its mission made in spaceflight history.

Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Dragon cargo capsule completed a successful 9 day test flight, landing under parachutes some 560 miles (900 kilometers) off the coast of Baja, California at 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT). A crane-equipped barge, tow boat and other support ships were reported to be making their way to the splashdown site to retrieve the unmanned spacecraft.

"Splashdown successful!!" SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter. "Sending fast boat to Dragon."

Above: Infrared image of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in the water as captured from tracking plane.

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SpaceX photo release
First picture of the Dragon spacecraft as it floats in the ocean on May 31, 2012, awaiting recovery ships.

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SpaceX photo release
The Dragon on the barge after being retrieved from the Pacific Ocean after splashdown.

See here for discussion of SpaceX's first Dragon flight to the space station.

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