SpaceX has picked March 1 for the next launch of its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. The company requested the date from the Cape Canaveral, Fla., spaceport it uses for launching its Falcon rocket.
This will be the third flight for a Falcon 9 rocket to ferry a Dragon cargo capsule. It will be designated as Crew Resupply Service 2 flight, under the contract between SpaceX and NASA. Cargo manifest has not been released but it is expected to include food, supplies and scientific equipment experiments.
One of the Falcon rocket’s nine engines shut down prematurely during the last launch on Oct. 7, but SpaceX said it did not endanger that mission and that they’ve identified the problem. “We’ve gotten to root cause and we’ve briefed that to our customer (NASA),” Garrett Reisman, SpaceX’s Commercial Crew project manager, said. “Right now we’re just making sure that all of our i’s are dotted and our t’s are crossed,” he said. “We do intend to make that information more widely disseminated very, very soon.
The March launch will be from SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. CRS-1 was on Oct. 7, 2012. The mission delivered supplies and then returned scientific samples and other materials. Ten more CRS missions are planned.
SpaceX says it’s planning six launches from Cape Canaveral in 2013, three for NASA and another three for commercial clients, and also intends to conduct launches from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., sometime this year.
SpaceX’s Grasshopper took a 12-story leap towards full and rapid rocket reusability in a test flight conducted Dec. 17, 2012, at the company’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
Grasshopper, SpaceX’s vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, rose 131 feet (40 meters), hovered and landed safely on the pad using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control. The total test duration was 29 seconds. Grasshopper stands 10 stories tall and consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.
The 12-story flight marks a significant increase over the height and length of hover of Grasshopper’s previous test flights, which took place earlier this fall. In September, Grasshopper flew to 1.8 meters (6 feet), and in November, it flew to 5.4 meters (17.7 feet/2 stories) including a brief hover.
Testing of Grasshopper will continue with successively more sophisticated flights expected over the next several months.
First Falcon 9 Air Force launch contract
Two launches were awarded to SpaceX under an Air Force contract valued at as much as $900 million. The missions, scheduled for 2014 and 2015, are designed to help the company become certified to carry military and spy satellites. Previously, United Launch Alliance has carried aloft all of the Air Forces satellites. ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and has served the Air Force for six years
SpaceX founder, CEO and CTO Elon Musk in a Dec. 5 statement called the Air Force’s decision a “vote of confidence.” Retiring Lockheed chairman and CEO Robert Stevens poked fun at SpaceX’s inexperience. He said ULA has launched satellites on 66 consecutive missions. SpaceX has two in a row. Stevens said at a Dec. 14 Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.
Responding to Stevens, Musk said in an e-mailed statement that “all of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 missions have reached orbit and completed all primary mission objectives.”
On the cost issue, Musk said: “The fundamental reason SpaceX’s rockets are lower cost and more powerful is that our technology is significantly more advanced than that of the Lockheed-Boeing rockets, which were designed last century.”