NASA OKs Feb. launch of private space station trip

Dec 09, 2011 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, speaks in April 2011 in Washington, DC. SpaceX will fly its Dragon capsule on an unmanned mission to the International Space Station in February, marking the first-ever bid by a private company to dock at the orbiting lab, NASA said Friday.

A private California company will attempt the first-ever commercial cargo run to the International Space Station in February.

NASA announced the news Friday, one year and one day after Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, became the first private business to launch a capsule into orbit and return it safely to Earth.

On Feb. 7, SpaceX will attempt another from . This time, the unmanned Dragon capsule will fly to the space station and dock with a load of supplies.

NASA stressed it is a target date.

"Pending all the final safety reviews and testing, SpaceX will send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the in less than two months," said NASA's No. 2, deputy administrator Lori Garver. "So it is the opening of that new commercial cargo delivery era."

NASA has turned to industry to help stock the space station now that the space shuttles are retired, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in this startup effort. The station currently is supplied by Russian, European and Japanese vessels.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule will fly within two miles of the space station, for a checkout of all its systems. Then it will close in, with station astronauts grabbing the capsule with a . The Dragon ultimately will be released for a splashdown in the Pacific. None of the other cargo carriers come back intact; they burn up on re-entry.

If the rendezvous and docking fail, SpaceX will try again. That was the original plan: to wait until the third mission to actually hook up with the station and delivery supplies. SpaceX wanted to hurry it up.

None of the supplies on board the Dragon will be one-of-a-kind or crucial, in case of failure.

Graphic on California-based rocket maker SpaceX, which will make a test flight in late November to the International Space Station. The first manned mission by a private company is not expected until around 2015.

SpaceX - run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk - is one of several companies vying for space station visiting privileges. It hopes to step up to astronaut ferry trips in perhaps three more years. In the meantime, Americans will be forced to continue buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

"Every decision that we make at SpaceX is focused on ... taking crew to space," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Friday at a forum in Seattle about NASA's future. She said the company is "thrilled" at the prospect of delivering cargo to the space station early next year, and noted that the company is shooting for 2014 with astronauts.

Congress has appropriated $406 million for the commercial crew effort for 2012, considerably less than NASA's requested $850 million.

"It is nevertheless a significant step," Garver said at the forum, televised by NASA. She said NASA is evaluating whether it can speed up when U.S. companies "deliver our precious astronauts to and from the space station."

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Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/cots-

: http://www.spacex.com/

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rwinners
3.3 / 5 (12) Dec 09, 2011
Actually, the US isn't "forced" to do anything. The decision to rely on our partners abilities to ferry personnel to the space station was not forced, either. It is ludicrous to assume that we are falling behind in developing space based science. The shuttle program was, and still is, years, even decades, ahead of anything that has been developed by other countries.
Argiod
1.7 / 5 (9) Dec 10, 2011
I wonder: if we outfit the international space station with rockets and ion engines; could we send it to Mars, put it into orbit, and use it as a platform for exploration on the surface? Then the supply missions would have a unique purpose; and the now-disposed of supply capsules could be sent to the surface as modules for building habitat and workspace units... a beginning of a Mars Colony.
Blakut
4 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2011
Well, in theory we could. At least people can live on that thing for 2 years. Problem is the station is really big. Also i don't know about the solar pannels, at that distance they could be less than efficient.
gopher65
5 / 5 (5) Dec 10, 2011
Also i don't know about the solar pannels, at that distance they could be less than efficient.


You'd think that they'd be 4 times less efficient due to the fact that the sun is 4 times dimmer at Mars than at Earth (twice the distance, squared). But in reality they'd be be much less than 4 times less efficient, because as sunlight strength drops, so does the efficiency with which the panels convert light to electricity.

You'd probably need a small nuclear reactor to act as a supplementary power supply (the station's frame can't support nearly enough new photovoltaic panels to supply the needed power when at Mars distance).

It would also take a long, long time to get to Mars, because you can't accelerate/deccelerate something that big and delicate very fast. Longer, slower acceleration = longer travel times (at least over short distances like from here to Mars).
zz6549
4.7 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2011
I wonder: if we outfit the international space station with rockets and ion engines; could we send it to Mars, put it into orbit, and use it as a platform for exploration on the surface? Then the supply missions would have a unique purpose; and the now-disposed of supply capsules could be sent to the surface as modules for building habitat and workspace units... a beginning of a Mars Colony.


No. The primary purpose of the ISS is microgravity research. It was never designed to leave Earth's orbit, and strapping rocket engines to it would not fix this.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2011
and strapping rocket engines to it would not fix this.

It would do quite the opposite.
RETT
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2011
It is time to quit mincing words about the Space Shuttle. It was one of the most benighted systems ever created, and it probably cost us 15-20 years worth of advancement in space during the 30 years that it was in operation, not to mention the lives of so many. Throwing a maximum of about 250k lbs. into orbit, only to return around 200k lbs every time was not a winner under any circumstances. If the thing had been fly, land, load, fly again on the promised schedule, it still would have been ridiculously expensive. The Atlas V and the Delta IV Heavy are not just a whole lot more cost efficient and certainly not any safer because they are not designed from the ground up for carrying astronauts. In fact, the only rocket being built in that manner that will fly at a decent cost is the SpaceX falcon 9 and associated F9 Heavy. Something like them could have been built in the same time frame as the shuttle. ...continued...
Hengine
4 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2011
The lessons learned from the NASA shuttle program have been incredibly extensive and are invaluable to the future of any space program.

I think the entire space shuttle program has been a fantastic success, I don't care if it wasn't as cheap as everyone wanted or as readily reusable. They were given a list of requirements, a budget and to the best of their abilities they took us to space very often over 30 years.

Not to mention the massive failure the Hubble would have been without intervention (note the 10,000th research paper story).

Pay attention to all of the other NASA missions, they're more interesting and more difficult than you first expect. All very exciting stuff! Looking forward for the next 30 years.
GSwift7
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 13, 2011
SpaceX is a good demonstration of how much more difficult we make things due to all the red tape at NASA and in Congress. Congressional earmarking that requires NASA funding to get divided amongst certain States is a huge part of the NASA problems. By simply using NASA funding to support SpaceX, you can side-step all that, and it's off the radar of Congress so far. The faster SpaceX can get rolling, the smaller the chance that some greedy Politician is going to start pulling strings and slowing things down. It's a catch 22 in a way. You want to celebrate the tremendous success of SpaceX so far, in order to get continued funding and support, but you have to be carefull to stay quiet enough to remain off of Congressional money sucking schemes. It's funny that SpaceX was originally shooting for something like 2020 for humans. The graphic says 2015 and the statement said 2014. Wanna bet it's 2013 next year, and they do it?
GSwift7
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 13, 2011
A second thought about SpaceX: Does anyone know if they are working on anything for DoD? I can't imagine that they aren't looking for work in defense. Then again, that would place them in competition with Boeing and Lockhead (United Launch Alliance), and that may not go well for them politically. I similarly wonder why ULA has never even thought about human transport?
GDM
3 / 5 (4) Dec 13, 2011
SpaceX is being looked at as competition against ULA. ULA is trying to get a DoD committment to buy 40 "cores" immediately to supply all the DoD needs for the next 5 years. This would freeze out SpaceX as a competitor. The DoD is opposed to the commitment as they don't need all 40 cores, and to buy them would, in fact, require them to put them in storage and pay additional fees to refurbish them when they are needed. It would also (likely) stay unused for longer than 5 years, making the ULA even more protected. You can read this article on the Space Review at http://thespacere...e/1990/1
GSwift7
2 / 5 (4) Dec 13, 2011
Thanks for the link GDM. I knew there would be something like that going on. A startup like SpaceX has a steep uphill battle due to the politics and established industry pressure.
GDM
3 / 5 (4) Dec 13, 2011
Here is another article, just out from SpaceFlightNow: Fabulous!
http://spacefligh...olaunch/
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2011
lol, that's funny. So, in order to avoid all the roadblocks being thrown up by the FAA, EPA, OSHA, etc. they use an airborn launch platform and do the launch from international airspace over the ocean. That is truely brilliant. From necessity comes innovation.

Of course, this amplifies the danger of a rocket blowing up on the launch pad.
gopher65
5 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2011
Of course, this amplifies the danger of a rocket blowing up on the launch pad.

The rocket doesn't ignite until it is quite some distance away from the aircraft. If anything, this is safer for the launch crew than a traditional launch. They could still die, but it would have to be an exceptional accident, involving a weird series of engine misfires on the first stage right at ignition.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (37) Dec 15, 2011
And if this private, virtually untested, and potentially unreliable private space craft impacts with the ISS who will take the blame for destroying over a decade of assembly in space?

GDM
3 / 5 (4) Dec 16, 2011
Oh BS VD. The chances of that are similar to any other approaching craft. For SpaceX's Dragon module, being launched in early February, test 1 will only come within 50 miles. Test 2 will come closer, under the control of the ISS, and if it is still performing as expected, the ISS robotic arm will grab it. It is hardly "untested" having already made a successful orbital flight with a safe return. All spacecraft are "potentially unreliable" - Space Shuttles, Proton rockets, etc have all had their failures. That's the risk of space flight, but if you think anyone will let a malfunctioning craft approach the ISS, think again. The ISS has been manuvered away from potentially hazardous space debris many times. The people doing this work are not idiots.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 16, 2011
It is time to quit mincing words about the Space Shuttle. It was one of the most benighted systems ever created, and it probably cost us 15-20 years worth of advancement in space during the 30 years that it was in operation, not to mention the lives of so many.
Who died building ISS? Its construction was primarily meant to develop the skills necessary for building large structures in space. It is a proof-of-concept program. It is also a multipurpose platform which can serve as a staging facility for the assembly of purpose-built vehicles.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (37) Dec 16, 2011
"It is hardly "untested" having already made a successful orbital flight with a safe return." - GDM

And if this private, virtually untested, and potentially unreliable private space craft impacts with the ISS who will take the blame for destroying over a decade of assembly in space?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 16, 2011
Here is another article, just out from SpaceFlightNow: Fabulous!
http://spacefligh...olaunch/
I guess you missed the physorg article on this a few days ago?

Also - ISS is supposed to get a vasimr engine of its very own:
http://news.yahoo...110.html