June 7, 2012

Dragon mission performance 100 percent

by Raphael Jaffe
Staff Writer

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is on its recovery barge after Pacific Ocean splashdown.

From liftoff at Cape Canaveral at 3:44 a.m., EDT, May 22, to splashdown in the Pacific at 11:42 a.m., May 31, the Dragon mission to carry and return cargo to the International Space Station has been a success.

At the post-mission news briefing, Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA Commercial Crew & Cargo program manager, and Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX, couldn’t find a problem that occurred. Lindenmoyer said that there was a list of 33 criteria for the mission, and they had all been met.

He said that there were three major objectives for the Commercial Orbital Transportation systems contract under which SpaceX was performing. These are: stimulating private investment in orbital transportation; facilitating missions such as we saw today; and determining if NASA and industry can build a market environment that can be sustained. All three have been met.

Musk said, “the mission couldn’t have gone better, and it is incredibly satisfying after 10 years of effort.” He thanked NASA for placing its faith in SpaceX, and he thanked NASA, the Air Force and all others who have helped. The lidar sensors had to be adjusted when Dragon first approached ISS. When Dragon de-mated, working well. There will be some minor adjustments in Dragon for the next flight.

After Dragon splash landed, a dive team in fast boats secured the vehicle before it was towed to the nearby barge that is carrying it to Los Angeles harbor.

Splashdown of Dragon was within a mile of its target point. Musk said were it not for wind variability, the guidance could “put the Dragon down in your back yard.”

SpaceX is designing what it calls a propulsive landing system. This involves upgrading the Draco rocket thrusters to provide an upward force to brake Dragon as it descends to earth. It would allow Dragon to land on solid terrain, not in the water.

Dragon lifted 1,146 pounds of cargo to International Space Station, and brought back 1,455 pounds. A few items were delivered to NASA on June 2 as a demonstration of the procedure for returning time-sensitive cargo from orbit. But the Dragon itself and most of its payload will be taking a slower ride to the port of Los Angeles. Arrival is expected around June 6, depending on weather. From California, the craft and cargo will be trucked to SpaceX’s rocket test facility in MacGregor, Texas, for postflight processing. Then the cargo will be turned over to NASA.

Among those who congratulated SpaceX after mission completion was Stuart Witt, CEO of Mojave Air and Space Port.

“While most of the world may see the past weeks accomplishments as routine, our club certainly recognizes the depth and attention to detail required to pull it off,” said Witt. “I’ve watched in stunned silence glued to NASA TV for a week. What you have managed to do may not sink in to the masses for many years, but from me to you, I’m absolutely electric with happiness. What a great day for a new industry. What a great day for public/private partnerships and what a great day for our nation’s youth.

“Today we have 1300 kids shooting off rockets at our annual Intermediate Space Challenge at the airport,” he continued. “I opened with a focus on your accomplishment and asked each parent, teacher and child in attendance to go home tonight and watch/read what really occurred today.”

The Dragon spacecraft floats in the Pacific awaiting recovery. Visible are the diagonal channels that held parachute lines during flight, under a layer of thermal protection material.

View from the International Space Station of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft as the station’s robotic arm moves Dragon into place for attachment to the station May 25, 2012.

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