Tag: Dragon capsule

Splashdown!

By Phil Plait | October 28, 2012 9:56 pm

Because why not: raw (that is, shaky) footage of the splashdown of the SpaceX Dragon capsule from Sunday morning, taken by the SpaceX dive team:

SpaceFlightNow is reporting the capsule was recovered and will soon be on its way first to NASA, and then the SpaceX facilities in Texas.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Space
MORE ABOUT: Dragon capsule, SpaceX

The Dragon returns to the nest

By Phil Plait | October 28, 2012 1:38 pm

As I write this, moments ago, the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a two week mission to the International Space Station. Splashdown occurred at 19:22 UTC. Yay!

[UPDATE (20:30 UTC): SpaceX has a picture of the Dragon floating in the Pacific:

Click to ensmaugenate.]

This ends the first operational mission of the Dragon. It’s the first of twelve contracted by NASA to bring supplies up to and back from the ISS. There was no live coverage of the splashdown, unfortunately (and no, I don’t know why; I imagine that’ll come out soon) but NASA did get footage of the Dragin un-berthing from ISS. Here it is, sped up 15x:

I should add the "Enterprise leaving drydock" music from Star Trek II in there.

Anyway, congrats to everyone at SpaceX and NASA. I’ll note that while most of this mission went smoothly, there is still the issue of the engine that failed during launch, resulting in the loss of an ORBCOMM satellite secondary payload. Hopefully SpaceX will discuss this more during the mission wrap-up.

Image credit: SpaceX


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

SpaceX Falcon 9 lost an engine on the way up; Dragon on its way to ISS

By Phil Plait | October 8, 2012 9:20 am

Last night (Sunday October 7), SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule full of supplies on a mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon was deployed successfully (as were its solar panels to give it power) and it’s on its way to ISS.

However, not everything went as planned. One of the nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9 had a failure 90 seconds into the flight. It’s not clear what happened just yet, but there is pretty dramatic footage of the engine failure; in the slow motion video below you can see some sort of flash and puff of flame at the 30 second mark (I’ve set the video to start 22 seconds in):

You can see a bright spot glowing on the upper right engine, then what looks like shrapnel blowing back as well, so it appears something catastrophic happened to the engine. I can think of many things that could’ve caused this – a crack in the engine bell that failed when it got hot, a faulty valve, something in the pipes – but I’m just spitballing; hopefully the folks at SpaceX will be able to determine the cause from the engine telemetry.

[UPDATE: SpaceX issued the follow notice at 17:00 UTC today:

"Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event.

As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission.

Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission."]

Although this looks scary, the engine nozzles are coated with Kevlar to protect them specifically in case something like this occurs, so the other engines continued working. Also, the onboard computer immediately shut down the failed engine, and then on the fly – literally – recalculated all the needed changes to the thrust of the other engines to compensate. In the end, the first stage boost lasted an extra thirty seconds to cover for the failed engine. It’s important again to note that the Dragon capsule was delivered on orbit and will rendezvous with ISS on Wednesday.

Having said that, there may have been another problem as well: my friend Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan’s Space Report is reporting the upper stage didn’t make its second burn, so an Orbcomm satellite that was carried as a secondary payload didn’t make the correct orbit. I don’t have any more information about that, but I’ll update this post when I hear more.

[UPDATE: ORBCOMM has confirmed the satellite was placed into the wrong orbit due to the engine failure. They, along with aerospace company Sierra Nevada, are looking into using the satellite’s onboard propulsion system to raise the orbit.]

Elon Musk at SpaceX is expected to have an announcement later today about the launch. Again, I’ll update this post as info comes in.

Tip o’ the nose cone to AstroEngine for the alert about the video.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

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.


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

Video: SpaceX Dragon mission highlights

By Phil Plait | July 18, 2012 12:02 pm

In May 2012, the private company SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit with a Dragon space capsule as its payload. In a history-making event, it docked with the International Space Station and a few days later successfully returned to Earth.

SpaceX put together a short video with the highlights from this amazing mission:

I am not at all embarrassed to admit that parts of this choked me up a little. As incredible as the engineering display was, the best parts of this video are where it shows the SpaceX employees cheering and celebrating the mission milestones. We may get wrapped up in the technical details of these things, but never forget that even in uncrewed missions, space exploration is a singularly human endeavor. I’m proud of these folks, and proud to be a part of species that always wants — always needs — to venture ever outward.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

Rocky Mountain (very) high

By Phil Plait | June 4, 2012 9:54 am

I don’t have a lot to add to this incredible picture taken by astronaut André Kuipers of the Dragon capsule as it approached the International Space Station on May 25:

[Click to embiggen.]

Isn’t that spectacular? Actually, I will add something: the caption for this post indicates it’s over the Rocky Mountains. I got excited for a second, thinking maybe it was near my neck of the woods. But then I realized the icy mountaintops look nothing like they do here in Boulder. I checked anyway, and on Wolfram Alpha I found the picture was taken over Vancouver Island, which is where my friend Fraser Cain from Universe Today lives!

Huh. Small planet.

[P.S. Speaking of Fraser, I’ll be doing a live video star party with him, Pamela Gay, and many others for the Transit of Venus Tuesday. We have telescopes lined up all over the world to view this last-chance-in-a-lifetime event! Stay tuned for more info, but I’ll have the chat embedded here on the blog when the time comes.]

Image credit: ESA/NASA


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History is made as Dragon splashes down safely in the Pacific!

By Phil Plait | May 31, 2012 10:40 am

At 15:42 UTC on May 31, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon capsule came home, splashing down in the Pacific ocean about 800 km (500 miles) southwest of Los Angeles. As I write this, it’s floating in the water and will be picked up via barge in a little while. There’s still much to do, but it’s not too early to declare this mission a big success.

[Artwork courtesy SpaceX]

The splashdown reminded me strongly of the Apollo homecomings. There was live video as the capsule came down, taken in the infrared by chase planes. The three main parachutes could be seen, brightly and broadly striped, just like Apollo’s. And we haven’t seen an ocean splashdown of an American spacecraft since the 1970s!

[UPDATE (19:10 UTC): Battered and a bit burned from re-entry, here’s the first picture of Dragon as it floats in the Pacific Ocean waiting to be picked up:

Cooool. Image credit: SpaceX.]

The entire mission lasted about 9 days 8 hours. After launching at 07:44 UTC on May 22, things went nearly flawlessly. The only glitch I can recall is when Dragon was approaching the International Space Station, and the LIDAR — a laser guidance system used during docking — was having a hard time locking onto the docking port. A quick software change fixed that, and Dragon docked with ISS around 14:30 UTC May 25. The astronauts on ISS got busy opening the hatch and unloading the supplies carried from Earth, and reloaded it with waste and equipment to go back — over half a ton of cargo, more than it brought up!

The capsule was undocked during the middle of the night US time on May 31, then pulled away from the ISS by the robotic Canadarm. It backed away from ISS, then burned its rocket motors to change its velocity by about 100 meters/second (roughly 200 mph). This changed the shape of the orbit, dropping the lower part into the Earth’s atmosphere. Before it re-entered, it jettisoned the lower half of the capsule (called the trunk) that had the solar panels attached; that burned up over the Pacific.

A few minutes later, the pressure increased enough to slow Dragon. Once it slowed enough, the parachutes deployed successfully, and it splashed down. For those keeping track at home, the touch-down point was 26.92˚ N by -120.70˚ W.

Why was this mission so important? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Space
MORE ABOUT: Dragon capsule, ISS, SpaceX

Timeline for the fall of the Dragon

By Phil Plait | May 30, 2012 2:06 pm

Tomorrow morning, Thursday May 31, the SpaceX Dragon capsule will undock from the International Space Station, perform a series of maneuvers, and then come back home to Earth. Over at The Planetary Society Blog, Jason Davis has a great writeup giving the times of the key events.

The preliminary stuff happens in the middle of the night for me in Colorado, but the actual descent to Earth happens at a much more palatable time. At 14:51 UTC (10:51 a.m. Eastern US time) the Dragon will begin the deorbit burn, dropping it lower in orbit. Less than an hour later, at 15:44 UTC it is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific ocean about 900 km (540 miles) off the coast of Los Angeles in California.

This will all be covered by various live webstreams, including NASA TV. I’ll be on Twitter as early as I can and I’ll update this post with more video streams as I hear of them.


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When a Dragon mated the space station

By Phil Plait | May 25, 2012 10:08 am

At 16:02 UTC, Friday, May 25, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon officially became the first privately-owned commercial spacecraft to be captured by and berthed at the International Space Station. It is (if I’ve done the math correctly) the 114th spacecraft to dock with ISS, including the missions sent up to build the station. It is the first privately-owned commercial spacecraft in history to do so.

You can read more about this in my last post, which also has a few pictures from the approach and capture.

Congratulations to NASA and the team at SpaceX! Fantastic.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space
MORE ABOUT: Dragon capsule, ISS, SpaceX

Dragon is approaching the space station – UPDATED: CAPTURED!

By Phil Plait | May 25, 2012 7:13 am

[UPDATE: ISS has captured the Dragon!

That’s not a sim! That’s the Dragon capsule held by the ISS robot arm, 30 minutes after capture. See the notes below.]


The SpaceX Dragon capsule is currently on approach to the International Space Station. As I write this (13:00 UTC) it is about 50 meters away and moving in. NASA has a live feed that I am embedding here:

You may need to refresh this page to see it.

Dragon had approached to 30 meters, but a glitch made NASA ask for it to back off to 70 meters. Dragon uses a laser ranging device called LIDAR to determine its position and velocity relative to ISS. It was getting a stray reflection from a structure on ISS that was giving it bad data. The problem was quickly fixed by narrowing he LIDAR’s field of view, excluding the stray reflection. Clever.

Dragon and ISS need to be in daylight for the astronauts to be able to grapple the capsule with the robot arm. That time is currently scheduled for 14:40 UTC (10:40 a.m. Eastern US time).

I will update this post as new info comes in.

[UPDATE 1 (13:22 UTC): Here’s a frame grab of the Dragon as it holds 30 meters from ISS. The shadow of one of the station’s solar panels is across the capsule. Lovely!]

[UPDATE 2 13:30 UTC): Another pretty shot of the Dragon capsule, this time with part of the station as well. This is a screen grab of the live NASA video stream from 14:30 UTC. Dragon is moving from 30 meters to 10 meters from ISS, where it will once again hold. At that distance, the robot arm will be able to grapple the capsule. It should reach that point around 13:55 UTC.]

[UPDATE 3 (14:38 UTC): NASA expects Dragon will reach 10 meter hold position at 13:45. The first opportunity to grapple it with the robot arm is at 14:02 UTC, which is when the pair will be in the dark. A second opportunity is at 14:28 when they are in daylight once again.]

[UPDATE 4 (13:50 UTC): We are GO for capture! Dragon is 10 meters from ISS, and they will use the robot arm in a few minutes to grapple the capsule. This shot grabbed from the live feed shows Dragon as it holds position off the ISS.]

[UPDATE 5 (13:58 UTC): CAPTURE! At 13:56 UTC history was made as the Canadian robot arm of the International Space Space grappled the SpaceX Dragon capsule, making it the first privately-owned commercial spacecraft to connect with ISS. Congrats to NASA and SpaceX for this wonderful moment. Next step: bring it in and mate it to the docking berth on the Harmony node of ISS.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Space
MORE ABOUT: Dragon capsule, ISS, SpaceX
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