COTS 2 Dragon at SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 40

SpaceX is preparing the next Dragon spacecraft for launch, which is currently scheduled for Dec.19. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NewSpace firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has a new member of their team at their hangar at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40). The next Dragon spacecraft that is set to launch later this year arrived on Sunday Oct. 23. 

The Dragon spacecraft that arrived Sunday is the one that is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be the first time that a privately-built spacecraft will dock with the orbiting outpost.The COTS Demo 2 Dragon was shipped from the company’s facilities located in Hawthorne, California to Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

The next Falcon 9 rocket is prepared to launch its Dragon spacecraft later this year. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

SpaceX is currently planning to launch its next Falcon 9 rocket, with its Dragon spacecraft payload, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s SLC-40 on Dec. 19. If all goes as planned the Dragon will be maneuvered along side of the ISS – where the space station’s robotic Canadarm 2 will grapple the Dragon and dock it with the space station. 

“This is very exciting, our last launch was a year ago, so to have a fully-operational Dragon up-and-ready to make a historic docking to the International Space Station it’s terrifically exciting,” said Bobby Block, SpaceX’s vice-president for communications. 

SpaceX has renovated Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) so as to accomodate the launch of its Falcon 9 rockets. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

SpaceX has recently accomplished another milestone in its goal toward launching astronauts to orbit one day. SpaceX passed a Preliminary Draft Review (PDR) of the Dragon’s Launch Abort System (LAS). This is the system that pulls astronauts and their spacecraft to safety in case of some problem with the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, is unlike other systems of its type. 

Normal abort systems are essentially small rockets that are attached to the top of the spacecraft (which is normally on top of the rocket). This is not how SpaceX’s design, dubbed DragonRider works – it will be built into the walls of the spacecraft. 

SpaceX technicians work to process the Dragon spacecraft which is currently set to launch later this year on top of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

This difference is intentional and meant to serve two purposes. First, it is hoped that it will mean that the costs to launch astronauts will decrease. Normal spacecraft waste traditional LAS during every flight. As Dragon is meant to be reusable – so to will its LAS be capable of being reused.  Secondly the system could one day be used as a potential means of landing spacecraft on other terrestrial worlds, such as the planet Mars. 

To date, SpaceX has launched two of its Falcon 9 rockets – both of them last year. The first flight occurred on June 4, 2010 with the second being launched on Dec. 8, 2010. It was on this second flight that SpaceX became the first private entity to launch a spacecraft into orbit and then safely recover it after it had successfully orbited the Earth twice. Before this only nations have accomplished this.

This "strong back" that will hold the Falcon 9 rocket vertical in preparation for launch. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

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