Space

October 18, 2012

ISS commercial supply by SpaceX successful but secondary payload lost

Looking down on Dragon, docked to the International Space Station.

Falcon 9 launched the CRS-1 mission to the International Space Station right on time at 8:35 p.m., EDT, Oct. 7 – the first planned launch opportunity.

The Dragon spacecraft reached the space station a bit early and was grappled by Canadarm at 6:56 a.m., EDT, Oct. 10, and birthed at 9:03 a.m.

Expedition 33 crewmembers Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams grappled Dragon and attached it to the station, completing a critical stage of the SpaceX CRS-1 cargo resupply mission.

Hoshide used the station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon and guide it to the station’s Harmony module, and then Williams, Expedition 33 commander, installed Dragon to Harmony’s common berthing mechanism, enabling it to be bolted in place for the expected 18-day stay at the station.

“Looks like we’ve tamed the Dragon,” said Williams upon capture.

The next steps were performed by Williams, Hoshide and Yuri Malenohenko a day early. The station crew pressurized the vestibule between the station and Dragon and opened the hatch that leads to the forward bulkhead of the Dragon. The usual safety checks were performed and then the crew began unloading Dragon’s cargo, which includes crew supplies, vehicle hardware, experiments, and an ultra-cold freezer for storing scientific samples.

The upload cargo weight is 884 pounds or 1,001 pounds after packaging. It includes crew supplies; instruments and experiments for the U.S. National Laboratory as the station volume dedicated to research is now known; NASA supplies; and supplies for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency Module. As the ultra cold freezer had to operate during transport to bring up science samples at minus 300 degrees, it was easy to take along Blue Bell vanilla with swirled chocolate sauce ice cream cups, as a treat for the astronauts.

This shows Dragon docked to the International Space Station, with the Canadarm manipulator in neutral position in the foreground.

The launch was not flawless. Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into flight, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Engine 1 lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued. Panels designed to relieve pressure within the engine bay were ejected to protect the stage and other engines. SpaceX continues its review of flight data, which indicates that neither the rocket stage nor any of the other eight engines were negatively affected by this event.

As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the station. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission. Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V (which experienced engine loss on two flights) and modern airliners, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission. No other rocket currently flying has this ability. It is worth noting that Falcon 9 shuts down two of its engines to limit acceleration to 5 g’s even on a fully nominal flight. The rocket could therefore have lost another engine and still completed its mission.

An experimental communications satellite flying piggyback on this mission did not reach its intended orbit. Orbitcomm’s OG2 satellite was a prototype for a new 17-member communications satellite network set to be launched aboard two more Falcon 9 rockets in 2013 and 2014.

The satellite reentered the atmosphere and burned up after a few days. It was declared a total loss and Orbitcomm filed a claim under an insurance policy worth up to $10 million, “which would largely offset the expected cost of the OG2 prototype and associated launch services and launch insurance,” the company said in a statement.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract from NASA which includes an additional 11 cargo flights to the space station.

“This is a big moment in the course of this mission and for commercial spaceflight,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Technical Officer Elon Musk. “We are pleased that Dragon is now ready to deliver its cargo to the International Space Station.”

 




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