Space station crew anticipating SpaceX Dragon's arrival

January 5, 2012 By Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
As part of the COTS 3 objectives Dragon approaches the ISS, so astronauts can reach it with the robotic arm. Credit: NASA / SpaceX.

In a media chat on Wednesday three crew members from the International Space Station said they are anticipating the historic arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship to the ISS next month. “For all of us, we’re very excited about it,” said ISS Commander Dan Burbank. “Number one, for the sake of the Space Station, that is critical capability — to resupply the station and be able to return critical hardware, or payloads… And down the road it also affords capability to actually deliver crew to the station. I think that is very exciting.”

Burbank called the first arrival of a commercial vehicle “the start of new era.”

February 7, 2012 is the target date for the launch of the Dragon capsule. It will arrive at the ISS one to three days later and once there, Dragon will begin the demonstrations related to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Phase 2 agreements (COTS 2) to show proper performance and control in the vicinity of the ISS, while remaining outside the Station’s safe zone. Then, if all goes well, Dragon will receive approval to begin the COTS 3 activities, where it will gradually approach within a few meters of the ISS, allowing astronauts to reach out and grapple Dragon with the Station’s robotic arm and then maneuver it carefully into one of the docking ports.

Burbank said Dragon’s non-autonomous docking will put the astronauts at the center of activities for the vehicle’s arrival. “Anytime we have a visiting vehicle, those are exciting, dynamic events that from the operational standpoint,” he said.

SpaceX released this image on January 4, 2012 showing the Dragon spacecraft in final processing, getting ready to head to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX

But vehicles that come to the Station that need to be captured with the robotic arm offer an exceptional challenge for the crew. “From the standpoint of a pilot it is a fun, interesting, very dynamic activity and we are very much looking forward to it,” Burbank said. “It is the start of a new era, having commercial vehicles that come to Station.”

The Dragon will stay docked to the ISS for about a week while astronauts unload cargo and then re-load it with Earth-bound cargo. It will undock and return to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near the California coast.

NASA announced in December that the COTS 2 and 3 activities could be combined in one flight.

“This will be the first of many ‘wagon train’ wagons to bring us supplies,” said Flight Engineer Don Pettit. “One of the neat things about the SpaceX vehicle is that it will allow us to take significant payloads down, which is a real important thing since we no longer fly shuttles, we can’t take anything sizable back down from without it burning up. SpaceX will be our way to get…things back to the ground.”

In talking with the media, Burbank also spoke about his opportunity to capture stunning images of Comet Lovejoy from space, and encouraged the next generation of astronauts that now is the time to join the astronaut corps.

Pettit and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers discussed science research currently being done on the ISS, such as human medical experiments. Kuipers was covered with monitoring systems to determine his cardiac response while doing different activities in space. There are also human life studies and engineering research, which Pettit described as “mundane things like how to make a toilet that works and to take the urine and process it and make it back into water… Now you can go into the toilet and the machines will whir and grind and then you can go and make yourself a bag of coffee. We‘ll need these kinds of things if we are going to go far from Earth for long periods of time.”

Watch the video of the entire conversation below.

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2 / 5 (11) Jan 05, 2012
Ha! This is so cool. The good ol private sector is finally getting its space legs. Let's just hope the government doesn't get too jealous when the profit starts rolling in.

What's that smell? Smells like space taxes!
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 05, 2012
Cheaper than the russians. Bigger payload than the European ATV. Made in America, and on its way to becoming human rated.

If other industries had the pluck, perseverence, and gall of spaceX, we'd have self driving electric cars for 10,000 dollars, fusion power at half the cost of coal, and smartphones that lasted a week on a single charge.

@Xbw - FWIW, I don't see why the govt would treat the space industry any different from the space industry. There are already commercial launches from boeing, lockheed, etc.

I would also point out that SpaceX would be a pipe dream if the govt hadn't offered to use the services of an unproven rocket startup.

let's hope the government doesn't get too healous when the profit starts rolling in


It's treated like any other corporation as far as taxes, except that most of their money flows from the govt in the first place.
4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 05, 2012
Entirely wrong about SpaceX's finances. The majority of the money has come from Musk's own pocket and venture capital funds. COTS has only funded a portion of the Dragon's development and made no contribution to the launch vehicles.
5 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2012
I second dschlink 100%. Musk had the vision, and the cash to make that vision a reality, long before NASA threw some money their way. The launch vehicles along with the highly efficient engines that power them were designed, built, and paid for in-house, and clients were lining up and contracts signed well before COTS. This company, along with Tesla which Musk also founded and paid for, showcase what the best and the brightest can do given the willingness to innovate and risk it all for a dream. Branson, Rutan, Bob Bigelow and several others fall into this category, and I give them all a great deal of credit. What they've accomplished and will continue to accomplish is no small feat.
4 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2012
@DS and Neurons.

You are correct that initial costs to start the company were bore by musk and other investors.

I am correct that SpaceX would have a much slower start or smaller future if it werent for major contracts and agreements with NASA.

You're talking about startup costs. I'm talking about INCOME (And some research costs for the dragon/falcon 5).

As you should well know, SpaceX has not pulled in much income from other sources - 3 successful falcon 1 launches?

The infusion from Nasa made a big difference that allows them to keep an aggresive schedule.(How much now? 500M?)
5 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2012
Still a much cheaper tab than if NASA had done it themselves, and a very flexible spacecraft.

This pic highlights the solar panel pontoons - the panel stowage being moved from recessed trunk bays to external mounts to maximized internal cargo volume. Some of the coming payloads for the trunk are pretty big, ranging from a new commercial crew docking adapter for ISS to several largish experiments.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2012
Be careful what you wish for. Discoveries made by NASA are owned by the American public. Discoveries made by private companies will be owned by those companies.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 09, 2012
Be careful what you wish for. Discoveries made by NASA are owned by the American public. Discoveries made by private companies will be owned by those companies

yeah, a double edged sword for sure. However, I wouldn't be too paranoid about where that will go. We seem to be doing fine with private companies owning the rights on things like microchips and software. Aviation has always been a mix of both public and private. NASA will still conduct the science. Doesn't matter who launches it. Anyway, work done under contract is the property of the contract holder, not the contractor.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 09, 2012
As for funding, Cave_man is right. Without NASA as an early adopter, SpaceX would be stuck doing these test missions with no paying customer. DoD wouldn't stick any of their stuff into an untested launcher, and neither would any company. They would be forced to take up some college science project or some other low budget stuff. The NASA resupply mission is a unique fit for a test mission because supplies are mostly cheap stuff compared to a comm's satellite or something, and NASA is willing to pay top dollar for someone to haul water, groceries and air. How cool is that?

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