SpaceX set to launch Dragon to the ISS tonight!

By Phil Plait | October 7, 2012 7:00 am

[UPDATE: The Falcon 9 carrying the Dragon capsule successfully launched right on time, at 20:35 Eastern US time. 15 minutes later the Dragon was in orbit with its solar panels successfully deployed. Amazing. Next up: rendezvous with the ISS at 05:00 Eastern US time Wednesday morning.]

Tonight, Sunday, October 7, at 20:35 Eastern (US) time (or 00:35 UTC on the morning of October 8) the private company SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (PDF). Sitting on the top of the rocket is a Dragon capsule loaded with half a ton of supplies for the astronauts on the ISS.

This is very exciting! They have accomplished this amazing feat once before, back in May, as part of a demonstration flight. Because of that, NASA gave them a contract for twelve more flights, and this is the first one of those dozen – it’s designated Commercial Resupply Services-1 or just CRS-1.

[Click to tsiolkovskenate.]

That’s this mission’s Falcon 9 rocket there, lying on its side. As you can see, it’s quite a beast. As with all rockets, most of the main body you see there is for carrying fuel, and the payload, the Dragon, is at the very top.

Once launched, the Dragon will detach, and is scheduled to rendezvous with ISS on Wednesday, October 10. It’ll dock with the station and remain berthed there for two weeks. It’s carrying supplies, including equipment, hardware, and even clothes for the astronauts on board. Once all that is offloaded, the astronauts will load it back up with 350 kilos of material to bring back to Earth, including results from experiments and now-unneeded hardware.

I have my suspicions there might be a stowaway on board though. Anyone seen Bernadette lately?

Anyway, on October 28, the Dragon is scheduled to undock, do a de-orbit burn, and splash down in the Pacific off the coast of southern California.

A complete overview of the mission is available as a press kit (PDF; same link as above). It’s pretty good reading, so if you plan to watch you should give it a once-over.

If you do want to watch, there will be a live video stream both from SpaceX and NASA.

There’s also a nice collection of photos of the rocket on the SpaceX site, including this nice one of a test firing of the actual CRS-1 rocket sans Dragon:

Coooool. There’s also video of this short test burn:

This mission is really important. Well, they all are, of course, but it’s critical that SpaceX can show not only that they can do this, but that they can do it again. When I was in high school band, we’d rehearse the music, and if we played it perfectly the band instructor would say, "Let’s do it again to make sure that wasn’t by accident." The earlier Dragon mission was almost completely flawless, but it’s when you can do it again that you can really show you know your stuff.

My best wishes to the team st SpaceX. And I’ll be live-tweeting the event, so follow me on Twitter for that. I’ll update this blog post as I can and if needed, too.

Related Posts:

History is made as Dragon splashes down safely in the Pacific!
Video: SpaceX Dragon mission highlights
NASA chooses SpaceX to return US astronauts to space (though read the note at the top of that post)
Rocky Mountain (very) high

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space

Comments (29)

  1. Bob P

    Why only 1000 lbs the Dragon can carry 6000? How much will they bring back? That’s what makes Dragon unique It’s the only unmanned ship that can bring things back to Earth.

  2. Chris

    It’s not Bernadette, it’ll be Howard’s mother!

  3. carbonUnit

    Looking at that shiny new rocket on its side makes it clear why the cost of getting a kg to orbit is so high. All that gets thrown away. Imagine how expensive air travel would be if one had to pay for a new plane every time…

  4. MaDeR

    According to manifest, it will get up 400 kg (905 kg with packaging – indicator that a lot of those are voluminous), but down 759 kg (905 kg with packaging), not 350 kg. Also they have Orbcomm satellite as secondary payload (in second stage).

  5. Josh

    Will it dock on it’s own, or will it be like last time where it’s grabbed by the arm?

  6. Robin

    @Bob P (#1): Total mass isn’t the only constraint. Dragon is also volume limited, and it’s likely that is what is limiting the mass of the payload.

    Ad astra, SpaceX!

  7. worlebird

    @Chris #3 – Even if they had it fully unloaded, I doubt there’d be room for Howard’s mother!

  8. renke

    Josh (6): afaik Dragon has no automatic docking procedure, similar to the H-II vehicle (but both ATV and Progress use the Russian auto-pilot)

  9. Robin

    @ Josh (#6) and renke (#9):

    Dragon does not have automated docking capabilities. In that respect it’s like the Japan’s HTV.

  10. MadScientist

    I look a the photo and marvel how such a long tube can be supported at only 2 points at the ends. I wonder how much the structure flexes?

  11. Josh

    @ renke (9) & @Robin (10): didn’t think it did, thanks for the info. :)

  12. VinceRN

    This is awesome. What will be even more awesome is after a couple of these it will become routine and won’t be newsworthy anymore. Incredible to commonplace in just months.

  13. carbonUnit

    Looks like I have some good ISS overflights in the next few days. Is the Dragon capsule naked eye visible from the ground?? I loved the few times I was able to catch ISS & the shuttle passing overhead “near” each other…

  14. carbonUnit
  15. ellindsey

    It does appear that something violent and bad happened to engine one at Max Q, there was some kind of flash and debris and then the engine appears to have shut down. Impressive that the rocket was able to compensate and make it to the intended orbit anyway.

  16. Robin

    Awesome, SpaceX!

    @ellindsey (#18):

    At least one Apollo launch lost an engine on ascent. Having so many engines provides a nice margin of error for an engine out scenario. It certainly did look like the Falcon 9 lost an engine nozzle.

  17. Cal

    Reports are saying engine one was shut down (at this time unclear if it blew up before or after shutdown, as both are possible given conditions). Amazing that it managed to still reach the intended orbit even after that loss.

    I believe two Apollo missions suffered engine failure, but only one of them manned (13).

  18. Tim

    Yup, look at that engine blow at the 5:21 mark

    Amazing redundancy by Space X. My hat’s off to them.

  19. Robert

    Channel 7 national news in Australia just told us, in all seriousness, that this was the first rocket launched by a private company.

  20. Nic

    Apollo 6 lost two second stage engines, and the third stage engine would not restart after reaching orbit. Apollo 13 lost one second stage engine.
    At least two Saturn 1 (or 1b?) lost a first stage engine, though one of those was a deliberate test of engine out capability.

    Looks to me like the combustion chamber completely let go, but it’s hard to tell. Impressive as has been said that it otherwise held together. SpaceX have mentioned at some stage that each engine has ‘armor’ around it to prevent such an event wrecking the rest..

    I wonder if this will have any impact on the development of the Merlin 1D. Hopefully they will have sufficient telemetry or other information to know what happened and why.

  21. Dave

    The press this morning is confirming that one of the engines failed during ascent, but that the remaining 8 compensated and the first stage continued to operate normally. From Bay News 9 out of Tampa:

    Officials declared the launch a success, despite an engine blow out. About a minute and a half into launch, one of Falcon 9’s nine engines suffered some sort failure. However, the remaining rockets were not damaged and were able to recover for the loss of thrust. SpaceX’s president, Gwynne Shatwell, said that’s exactly what the rocket was supposed to do.

    …and the on-board computers handled it all without intervention from the ground. Very nice! I’ll be interested to see if any COTS skeptics attempt to make any hay out of this minor glitch, as they were very inclined to do during Falcon’s teething period.

    I also noticed during the countdown there was a mention of orbital debris that the ISS fortunately did not have to dodge, thus avoiding any re-computation of Dragon’s flight path. It was a reminder that the debris problem is serious, but I’m afraid it won’t get fixed until it gets a good deal worse. There haven’t been any major events since the Iridium/Kosmos collision since 2009, so naturally people think that the problem’s gone away (if they’re paying any attention to the issue at all).

  22. Mad Scientist @ #11 said: “I look a the photo and marvel how such a long tube can be supported at only 2 points at the ends. I wonder how much the structure flexes?”

    Keep in mind that it’s empty in that picture. According to Wikipedia, the launch weight of the Falcon 9 is about 330-340 tons. As with these rockets, fuel represents about 90% of the rocket’s launch weight, it suggests the dry rocket weighs perhaps 30-40 tons.

    I’m also reminded of a picture of a Soviet rocket from the 1960s being hoisted horizontally by cranes at each end, and with a man standing on the middle of the rocket.

  23. “Tsiolkovskenate.” Hehe, I love it :)

    Also, woohoo! Go SpaceX!


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