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As Elon Musk's Dragon spacecraft successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean this morning, he was thinking "welcome home, baby" as the mission came to a picture perfect ending.
International Space Station (ISS) astronauts using the robotic Canadarm2 detached Dragon from the ISS Harmony module at 4:05 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). They released Dragon from Canadarm2 at 5:49 am EDT, a few minutes later than planned. The spacecraft then performed a series of engine firings that put it on course for landing in the Pacific Ocean about 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles. It landed at 27 degrees North latitude, 120 degrees West longitude two minutes ahead of schedule at 11:42 am ET.
Photo credit: SpaceX: https://twitter.com/SpaceX/status/208264591887712257/photo/1
During a post-landing news conference, Musk said the difference in landing times was due to the wind. Dragon uses two drogue chutes and then three main chutes to slow its landing speed. Musk emphasized his plans for future versions of Dragon to return to land instead of water, using propulsive landing systems. He also stressed that this version of Dragon is capable of taking crews to and from the ISS, although launch abort systems and additional successful launches are needed before offering such services. If someone had stowed away on Dragon, though, that person would have been OK, he said. He hopes the success of this mission lends credence to the commercial crew program that has been struggling to win support in Congress.
In response to a reporter's question about what he was thinking as Dragon floated in the ocean, he said his thoughts were "welcome home, baby. .... I feel really great, like seeing your kid come home."
Musk and NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Manager Alan Lindenmoyer were clearly delighted that the mission went so smoothly. Lindenmoyer said that two objectives still need to be met -- for NASA to see the cargo that was returned from the ISS and for that cargo to be delivered to the agency -- but he anticipates that SpaceX will be given the go ahead to begin routine Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) to the ISS very soon.
Although many media reports are crediting the Obama Administration for the commercial cargo program, it actually began under the George W. Bush Administration and then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. Griffin initiated the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program in 2006 as part of planning for the post-shuttle era. COTS included a section (COTS-D) about the possibility of using commercial companies to launch people as well, but the concept ran into obstacles.
In February 2010, however, President Obama embraced it wholeheartedly in NASA's FY2011 budget request that revealed his decision that NASA would no longer launch people to low Earth orbit (LEO) after the final shuttle flight. Instead, the country would rely on the commercial sector, with substantial financial support from the government, to develop commercial crew as well as commercial cargo systems. That decision, coupled with his cancellation of President Bush's Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars, sparked a furor in Congress and started years of debate that is still ongoing.
The Dragon flight that ended today, however, certainly gives a boost to commercial cargo. Questions may remain about the business aspects -- how much the government will have to pay for these services -- which raises the issue of when Orbital Sciences Corp. will be ready to compete with SpaceX. Competition is envisioned as a way to keep prices down. Orbital's Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft have not been launched yet, but NASA is hopeful they will be later this year.
Even though these are called "commercial" missions, a significant amount of taxpayer money is involved. NASA spent about $800 million helping SpaceX and Orbital develop their commercial cargo systems. In 2008, it contracted for 12 cargo Commercial Resupply Services missions from SpaceX and eight from Orbital. A memo prepared by staff of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May 2011 showed that NASA will spend $5.1 billion for ISS cargo services between FY2011 and FY2016. Still, the government is expected to save money overall because the companies invested their own capital in system development, although the amount is not known publicly.
Lindenmoyer said today that NASA will need cargo services to the ISS through at least 2020 and he believes these systems will be useful for achieving other human space exploration goals. "We must have strong partnerships" with the commercial industry, he said, "and I know there are opportunities that will fit well with this."
UPDATE 3: Dragon splashed down at 11:42 ET, two minutes earlier than scheduled. Press conference at 2:00 pm ET; watch on NASA TV.
UPDATE 2: Dragon successfully completed its deorbit burn and is now on course to land in the Pacific at 11:44 am ET, 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles.
UPDATE: Dragon has successfully departed from the ISS "keep out" zone. It is scheduled to fire its engines for the deorbit burn at 10:51 am EDT and splash down at 11:44 am EDT. NASA TV will resume its coverage of the mission at 10:15 EDT (not 10:45 as earlier announced).
ORIGINAL STORY: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) demated the Dragon spacecraft from the ISS on schedule at 4:05 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) using Canadarm2 this morning. Splashdown in the Pacific is expected at 11:44 am EDT.
A series of activities must take place between now and splashdown. The most recent list of times for key events announced via NASA TV include the following. NASA TV uses Central Daylight Time (CDT) since the broadcast for this mission originates at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, but they are converted here into EDT.
Follow the action on NASA TV or follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline.
UPDATE 2: Wednesday evening (May 30) NASA said via Twitter that NASA TV coverage would begin an hour earlier, at 2:30 am ET. SpaceX also is reporting that splashdown will be at 11:44 am ET, a time that was earlier announced by NASA, but is later than what SpaceX indicated earlier today. Stay tuned to NASA TV or follow @NASA or @SpaceX on Twitter for up to the minute information on Dragon's whereabouts.
UPDATE: NASA added another piece of the timeline this afternoon via its space station website -- astronauts will detach Dragon from the Harmony module using Canadarm2 at 4:05 am ET tomorrow (May 31). A list of the key events that we've discerned from NASA and SpaceX sources is available here, but all times are approximate and the best way to keep track is to follow the events as they unfold on NASA TV.
ORIGINAL STORY: NASA and SpaceX provided more details today about tomorrow's return to Earth of the Dragon spacecraft, the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station (ISS). Dragon will be released from ISS's Canadarm2 at approximately 09:35 GMT (5:35 am EDT, 4:35 am CDT) with splashdown in the Pacific five and a half hours later.
SpaceX Mission Manager John Couluris said at a NASA/Space-X press conference this morning that the weather looks excellent in the splashdown area 490 nautical miles (564 statute miles or 907 kilometers) southwest of Los Angeles. American Marine will perform the recovery operations under contract to SpaceX. Dragon will be brought by ship to the port of Los Angeles and then flown to McGregor Airport near Waco, TX and SpaceX's propulsion and structural test facilities.
The ISS crew loaded Dragon with items to be returned to Earth and SpaceX plans to demonstrate an "early access" ability to return high priority cargo to NASA within 48 hours. Standard cargo is to be returned within 14 days. NASA flight director Holly Ridings said that there is no "critical" cargo on this mission since it is a test flight. The hatch to Dragon was closed this morning. The hatch to the Harmony module (Node 2) will be closed and the area between the hatches depressurized tomorrow morning.
This Dragon spacecraft will not be reused, Couluris said. NASA has contracted for new Dragon spacecraft for each of its missions, he said, although Dragons are reusable. This particular spacecraft "definitely" will be put on display for historical purposes, but other Dragon spacecraft could be refurbished and reflown for other customers. One version, DragonLab, is capable of two years of autonomous operations in orbit, he added.
Couluris stressed that reentry, splashdown, and recovery operations are challenging and "we are not taking this lightly at all." However, even if this final phase was not successful, in his opinion the rendezvous and berthing operations with ISS already make the mission overall a success.
Ridings explained that after Dragon is released from Canadarm2, it will make three engine burns -- two short, one long -- and move away from station. That will take 10-11 minutes after which it will be out of the zone of integrated operations and back under SpaceX's control. SpaceX will fire the engines again for the deorbit burn. The recovery team is already enroute to the splashdown point and SpaceX anticipates it will take 2-3 days for the ships to return to port after they get Dragon aboard.
NASA is currently planning to launch the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) on June 13 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The agency will hold a news conference to discuss the launch at 1:00 pm ET today, May 30, 2012.
NuSTAR was designed by Dr. Fiona Harrison of CalTech to search for black holes. It was scheduled for launch on March 22 aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Pegasus XL rocket, but was postponed when a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) concluded that more time was needed to ensure that a new flight computer would work properly.
Participants in today's press conference from NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC are:
The press conference will be aired on NASA TV.
UPDATE: At a press conference today (May 30), NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings said Dragon will be released from Canadarm2 at approximately 09:35 GMT tomorrow morning (5:35 am EDT, 4:35 am CDT), May 31. It must first be detached from the Harmony module, but she did not specify the time for that event, saying only that the crew would be awakened at 04:00 GMT (midnight EDT, 11:00 pm May 30 CDT) and immediately get to work finalizing preparations for Dragon's departure. NASA TV coverage begins at 3:30 am EDT (07:30 GMT, 2:30 am CDT). After release, Dragon will fire its engines three times to move away from the ISS, taking a total of 10-11 minutes. SpaceX will resume control of Dragon thereafter and fire the engines again for a deorbit burn. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles is expected five and a half hours after Dragon is released. All times are approximate.
ORIGINAL STORY: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are unloading more than 1,000 pounds of cargo delivered by SpaceX's Dragon spaceraft and reloading it with items to be returned to Earth. Dragon is scheduled to unberth from the ISS early Thursday morning Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and land in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA released details on planned coverage of the end of Dragon's test flight as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The flight has gone well so far, but the spacecraft must still return to Earth and be recovered before complete success can be claimed.
In an interview on NASA TV today, NASA's Lead Integration Systems Engineer for the Dragon test flight, Paul Brower, talked about some of the challenges that arose on Friday as Dragon approached the ISS. Remarking that unexpected situations develop whenever a new vehicle visits the ISS for the first time. Brower said that Dragon's computers locked up, some of its sensors went bad, and there were problems with some of its laser rangers and thermal imagers, while the ISS had problems with its GPS sensors. Working together, however, NASA and SpaceX were able to resolve the problems. Brower said SpaceX did a "phenomenal job," handling the problems "calmly."
NASA laid out its media events for the final stages of this test flight today. Here is a recap:
Dragon is the first commercially-owned spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS. It was launched on May 22 and berthed to the ISS on May 25. Berthing means that the astronauts on the ISS grappled Dragon with the robotic Canadarm2 and "installed" it onto a docking port. Dragon cannot dock with the space station by itself. It will depart from the ISS the same way, with astronauts using Canadarm2 to release the spacecraft, which will then fire its engines to descend through the atmosphere and land in the ocean.
Bob Christy of Zarya.info anticipates that China's next launch to its Tiangong 1 space station may occur on June 17. China launched Tiangong 1 last year and the unoccupied Shenzhou-8 spacecraft conducted automated rendezvous and docking tests with it in November. China said at the time that two more Shenzhou spacecraft would visit the space station over the next two years. In March, China's Xinhua news agency said that the next spacecraft, Shenzhou 9, would carry a three-person crew, possibly including China's first female taikonaut.
Christy's analysis of orbital maneuvers by Tiangong 1 leads him to conclude that June 17 is the most likely, but not certain, date for the Shenzhou 9 launch. Writing in Space Daily today, he says that a launch window opens on June 17 and based on the fact that China recently lowered Tiangong 1's apogee, he concludes that "a late morning launch (UTC) will allow Shenzhou 9 and its crew of three to make rendezvous with Tiangong 1."
Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) was launched in September 2011. It is very small compared to the International Space Station (ISS) -- 8.5 metric tons (19,000 pounds) compared to about 400 metric tons (885,600 pounds) -- but nonetheless is a space station and placing a crew aboard would be a significant step in China's human spaceflight achievements.
Shenzhou 8, launched October 31 Eastern Daylight Time (November 1 in China) made two automated dockings in November and returned to Earth on November 17.
China's Xinhua news agency reported on May 11 that Shenzhou 9's launch vehicle had been moved to the pad, but did not specify a launch date, saying only that it would take place between June and August with the goal of completing "a manned rendezvous and docking mission." Xinhua said in March that an initial crew selection had been completed and women were included in the roster, but the final choice of the three-person crew would not take place until much closer to launch.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The Senate is in recess this week. The House took its Memorial Day recess last week and returns for legislative business on Wednesday.
During the Week
Interest will remain high in SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which is scheduled to depart from the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday and be recovered in the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. west coast. It's a quick visit for Dragon, having berthed with the ISS on Friday. The ISS crew is busy unloading the supplies brought by Dragon and reloading it with items for return to Earth. Dragon is the only ISS cargo spacecraft that can return material to Earth. Russia's Progress, Europe's ATV and Japan's HTV all burn up in the atmosphere during reentry (and usually are filled with trash on the way down, so serve a useful purpose in their own right during reentry).
Meanwhile, the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washington continues through Monday, and Women in Aerospace will hold its annual one-day conference on Friday.
Sunday-Monday, May 27-28
Thursday, May 31
Friday, June 1
Last week, NASA and the X Prize Foundation announced that the Google Lunar X Prize will recognize NASA guidelines to protect U.S. lunar artifacts of historic and scientific value. With the voluntary guidelines designating varying “keep-out” zones, this means that the vehicles of the 26 teams vying for the $30 million in prizes will not have free room to rove.
NASA spacecraft on the Moon and items transported there by the Apollo crews, just like the samples returned to Earth by the astronauts, remain the property of the U.S. Government. Similarly, the Luna spacecraft and Lunokhod robotic rovers sent to the Moon by the Soviet Union are the property of the Russian government. Under the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, however, no government can claim sovereignty over the Moon itself, so there are no legally binding rules about what can or cannot be done at the landing sites or along the routes that the U.S. astronauts or Soviet robotic rovers traversed.
The guidelines were developed by NASA in an attempt to preserve U.S. sites, at least, for historical purposes as other countries and companies plan new lunar missions and could be a step towards international guidelines. The announcement last week was made as part of the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX) organized by the International Astronautical Federation and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics,
NASA released the guidelines in July 2011 after assembling data from previous lunar studies, and analysis of samples of NASA’s Surveyor 3 spacecraft returned by the Apollo 12 crew. Surveyor 3 was one of seven U.S. robotic spacecraft sent to soft-land on the Moon in the late 1960s as precursors to the Apollo missions. Apollo 12 landed close enough to Surveyor 3’s landing site that the crew was able to visit it and retrieve some of its components for study back on Earth.
Apollo 12 astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad stands next to Surveyor 3 on lunar surface, with Apollo 12 lander Intrepid in background. Photo Credit: NASA Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean.
The guidelines were developed under the leadership of Rob Kelso, a former shuttle flight director who is now NASA Johnson Space Center’s manager for lunar commercial services, and involved experts in history, science and flight planning. According to the document, these will serve as interim recommendations for lunar vehicle design and mission planning teams until a more formal U.S. government guidance or a multilateral approach is developed.
The guidelines apply to a variety of artifacts and sites on the Moon, including Apollo lunar surface landing and roving hardware, specific indicators of U.S. robotic or human-robotic lunar presence (e.g. footprints), and impact sites. One section is devoted to the issue of mobility and details recommended exclusion zones and their rationale for specific sites. For example, the Apollo 11 and 17 sites, which “carry special historical and cultural significance” would be roped off completely “by prohibiting visits to any part of the site and that all visiting vehicles remain beyond the artifact boundaries ... of the entire site.” These boundaries have a radial extent of 75 meters for Apollo 11 and of 225 meters for the Apollo 17 site. Greater access is recommended in turn for the Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16 sites to allow for the close inspection of their individual components, considered ongoing experiments in space weathering as they are exposed to the harsh environment on the lunar surface.
In the joint announcement, the X Prize Foundation said it will take these guidelines into consideration as it judges the mobility plans of the teams participating in the competition. According to the release, "NASA and the next generation of lunar explorers share a common interest in preserving humanity's first steps on another celestial body and protecting ongoing science from the potentially damaging effects of nearby landers."
UPDATE 3: A link to the video of the press conference with the ISS crew has been added.
UPDATE 2: A link to the video of hatch opening also has been added.
UPDATE: A photo of three ISS crew members looking out from the Dragon hatch has been added. It is from the news conference earlier today.
The International Space Station (ISS) crew is working ahead of schedule today. The hatches between SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and the ISS were opened at 5:53 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Astronaut Don Pettit reported that Dragon has "the smell of a brand new car."
The crew needs to unload 460 kilograms (1,014 pounds) of cargo from Dragon and then reload it with up to 620 kilograms (1,367 pounds) of items for return to Earth before Dragon departs on Thursday, May 31. Unloading is expected to take 20-25 hours of work.
Dragon is the first privately owned spacecraft to visit the ISS. Its successful berthing with the ISS yesterday has won accolades from many quarters. This is a test flight, and the spacecraft must return to Earth and be recovered in the Pacific Ocean before complete success can be claimed, but so far the mission is proceeding very well.
Flight Engineers Don Pettit, Andre Kuipers and Joe Acaba discuss Dragon’s mission during a crew news conference inside the Dragon spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA TV Caption Credit: NASA
The successful berthing of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS) today is earning accolades from many quarters. The next big step is when the International Space Station (ISS) crew opens the hatches between Dragon and ISS Saturday morning.
The event is scheduled for 7:40 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). NASA TV coverage will begin at 5:30 am EDT and a press conference with the ISS crew is scheduled for 11:25 am EDT.
Lead flight director Holly Ridings said at a press conference today that Dragon will have a relatively short stay at the ISS, departing on May 31 at about 5:00 am Central Daylight Time (CDT), which would be 6:00 am EDT. The ISS crew needs to unpack Dragon's 460 kilograms (1,014 pounds) of cargo and then load it with up to 620 kilograms (1,367 pounds) of items for return to Earth during those few short days. She estimated it would take about 25 hours of work to unload it.
ISS program manager Mike Sufferdini said that if the mission continues to unfold successfully, the first Commercial Resupply Flight (CRS) could happen as early as September. He also updated the status of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s competitor to SpaceX, the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. He said Orbital anticipates the first test launch as early as August, with its demonstration flight in December, and first CRS mission next spring.
Ridings and Sufferdini were part of a press conference airing from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, but they were joined by a clearly elated Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of Space X, and NASA's Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the commercial crew and cargo program, from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA. Surrounded by cheering and chanting employees, Musk was asked about all the young faces among his workforce. He said that he believes it is important "to mix the wisdom of age with the vibrancy of youth to get the best outcome," adding that the average age at SpaceX is 30, with half of the employees over 30 and half of them under. A reporter from Bloomberg News asked if today's success would affect Musk's timing for holding an Initial Public Offering (IPO) for SpaceX. Musk replied no, that the timing is dependent on the company having a "steady cadence of launches." He also joked that he refers to Dragon "docking" with ISS instead of "berthing," even though the latter technically is correct, because people think he is talking about "birthing" and get confused.
Dragon did not dock with ISS. It moved close to ISS and then was grappled by astronauts using Canadarm2 who then "installed" Dragon at its docking port. That is berthing. Dragon needs to have someone aboard ISS to perform those last critical steps; it cannot join with the ISS itself.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was speaking at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washington, DC as Dragon was being captured by the ISS crew using the robotic Canadarm 2. Jeff Foust (@Jeff_Foust) tweeted that Bolden said "after today, many more believers in commercial spaceflight than just an hour ago" and "if we deliver things on time and on cost, people will believe what we say." Bolden later called the ISS crew to congratulate everyone on a "superb effort today."
John Holdren, President Obama's Science Adviser and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued his own congratulatory statement, and OSTP released a compilation of statements by members of the space community. Other statements were issued by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
Events of Interest
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