Delay for space station's 1st private cargo run (Update)

Jan 20, 2012 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer

The first commercial cargo run to the International Space Station is off until spring.

SpaceX planned to launch its unmanned supply ship from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 7. But the company said more testing was needed with the spacecraft, named Dragon. And on Friday, officials confirmed the launch would not occur until late March.

Space station commander Daniel Burbank said as much as he'd like to take part in the historic event, it's important that SpaceX fly when it's ready. Burbank will return to Earth in mid-March.

"If that's not to be during our mission, then that's OK," Burbank said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. "We've got plenty of other things to occupy us ... but they'll fly when they're ready and they'll fly when they need to."

Just over a year ago, the California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched a test version of the capsule, becoming the first private business to send a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely. NASA is counting on companies like SpaceX to keep the station stocked, now that the shuttles are retired.

Until then, the Russian, European and Japanese space agencies - all government entities - are picking up the slack as best they can, sending up regular shipments to the orbiting outpost.

SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham pointed out that this is a developmental program for her company, and everyone wants it to be a complete success.

"It may take a little more time, but when it happens, it's going to be amazing," she said.

This first Dragon capsule to visit the space station will carry several hundred pounds of astronaut provisions - nothing crucial, in case of a failure.

Astronauts aboard the space station will use a huge robot arm to grab and berth the Dragon.

"This will be one step in the long road to human expansion off of the planet into low-Earth orbit and beyond," space station astronaut Donald Pettit said Friday. He is barely one month into a five-month mission.

The beauty of the Dragon is that it will be able to return scientific samples to Earth, Burbank noted. None of the other countries' supply ships can do that; they burn up on re-entry.

Americans Burbank and Pettit, three Russians and a Dutchman make up the six-man crew.

NASA closed out its 30-year shuttle program last July.

"There have been some impacts ... the shuttle did all the heavy lifting" for space station, Burbank said. There's excess equipment and trash on board, especially given the loss of a Russian supply ship in a launch accident last year. Those cargo carriers are filled with garbage before being jettisoned.

"I think we're getting by OK," Burbank said, "but we need to have as much up-mass and down-mass capability as we can to support space station operations at the level we need it."

SpaceX - run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk - is one of several companies vying for space station visiting privileges. Its long-term goal is to modify its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule to ferry astronauts to the station.

In the meantime, Americans are buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Explore further: Video gives astronaut's-eye view inside NASA's Orion spacecraft

More information: NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/station/main/index.html

SpaceX: http://www.spacex.com/

5 /5 (5 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US space capsule launch set for Wednesday

Dec 07, 2010

A US company has received the go-ahead to launch its first space capsule into orbit Wednesday, in a key test for the future of commercial space flight as NASA looks to end its shuttle program.

SpaceX's 'secret' payload? A wheel of cheese

Dec 12, 2010

In the historic launch of its Dragon space capsule Wednesday, Hawthorne, Calif.,-based rocket venture SpaceX didn't carry astronauts or cargo into outer space. ...

Recommended for you

Water fleas prepared for trip to space

1 hour ago

Local 'Daphnia' waterfleas are currently being prepared by scientists at the University of Birmingham for their trip to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be observed by astronauts.

The worst trip around the world

2 hours ago

As you celebrate the end of the year in the warmth of your home, spare a thought for the organisms riding with a third-class ticket on the International Space Station – bolted to the outside with no protection ...

Four Galileo satellites at ESA test centre

2 hours ago

ESA engineers unwrapped a welcome Christmas present: the latest Galileo satellite. The navigation satellite will undergo a full checkout in Europe's largest satellite test facility to prove its readiness ...

Funding challenges for Orion and SLS

3 hours ago

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, which exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.