CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced today that they are targeting March 1 for the next flight under the space agency’s Commercial Resupply Services contract (making this mission CRS-2). Launch is currently slated to take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 at 10:10 a.m. EST (9:10 a.m. CST).
This will be the next cargo flight conducted by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) since the first CRS mission roared into the history books in October 2012. Not everything went as smoothly as NASA and SpaceX may have liked with CRS-1, but the issues were apparently resolved in time for next month’s launch.
This upcoming mission will see approximately 1,200 lbs (544 kilograms) delivered to the ISS; this will include experiments that are to be conducted on the orbiting laboratory. If all goes according to plan, the mission will conclude March 25 with Dragon gently splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja, Calif. It, however, will not be empty. It will carry some 2,300 lbs (1,043 kilograms) of samples and equipment back down to Earth. Dragon—unlike the Russian Progress, Japanese HTV, and European ATV—is not incinerated upon re-entry. Although not capable of touching down safely on land, and far smaller than the shuttle (two Dragon spacecraft could fit inside the now-retired space plane’s payload bay), the Dragon is promoted as being partially reusable. As with most major events held by NASA, the space agency is inviting 50 enthusiasts of various social media outlets—including, but not limited to, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook—for one of the agency’s “Socials.” Those selected will be chosen by NASA on a case-by-case basis and treated the same as actual journalists. To be accepted for this event, social media followers with U.S. citizenship need to apply by 5 p.m. EST, Feb. 22. For social media fans who are not U.S. residents, this deadline is 5 p.m. EST, Feb. 15.
Under the CRS contract that SpaceX has with NASA, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based firm must launch a total of 12 resupply flights to the ISS (11 now). SpaceX is actually doing pretty good, as it requested and received permission to condense elements of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract, thus reducing the amount of missions that SpaceX had to fly before moving on to CRS.
The NewSpace firm has also managed to sign a large number of contracts with companies wanting to use the Falcon 9 to send their payloads into orbit. Moreover, SpaceX currently plans to launch the first of its Falcon Heavy rockets this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with the first launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station either in 2013 or 2014.