Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dragon goes to work!

Dragon's location on the ISS, along with the Soyuz crew spacecraft and a Progress resupply ship. NASA TV graphic.

SpaceX has successfully completed part one of its record-making first official contracted delivery to the ISS. Just after 7 a.m. MDT, the Dragon resupply spacecraft was docked to the Harmony module by Expedition 33 astronauts. Inside the capsule are supplies and scientific experiments to be used on the station, and a refrigeration unit. This "glacier freezer" was previously used on the space shuttles to store valuable samples from station experiments for return to Earth. Part 2 of this mission will be to return valuable equipment and science experiments and samples to the ground. With the advent of Dragon, America now leaps forward beyond the Europeans, Russians, and Japanese in cargo transfer to the ISS. None of the other agencies can return items to the Earth, as they burn up their vehicles upon re-entry. 

Falcon 9 on Pad 40.

SpaceX becomes the first commercially-run transportation system to resupply the ISS. Granted, they have received development funding from NASA, as well as cooperative launch monitoring, but the operation is basically that of SpaceX. NASA's efforts to date have paved the way in experimentation and discovery, and now private American enterprises begin the next transformation of space travel.

Blast off of the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket on October 7. There seems to have been a slight engine feed problem which resulted in the destruction of one of the engine nozzle fairings, but the rocket kept on course. However, the launch was marred slightly in that the engine shutoff was late. The main payload, the Dragon spacecraft, was successfully placed in orbit to intercept the ISS, but a secondary payload, which was a test spacecraft for global positioning, was stranded in a lower-than needed orbit. Engineers are now looking to see if they can use the satellite's systems to boost the orbit slightly and still accomplish mission objectives.

Dragon docked with Harmony module.

This morning the crew of Expedition 33 used the CanadArm robotic arm to grapple the Dragon on its close approach, then maneuver it to the docking port on the US-built Harmony module. Crewmembers will check out the docking, the spacecraft systems, and adapt the spacecraft's environment. Then they will spend about 18 days to unload the capsule and fill the empty space and "glacier freezer" with equipment and samples to be returned to Earth. Undocking and landing is expected to occur on October 28.

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