NASA Sets Date for SpaceX to Rendezvous With ISS

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Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has been given the go ahead to launch their Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). More importantly, they have been given a date to launch – Feb. 7, 2012. If all goes according to plan (and pending final testing and reviews) the private space firm will launch the spacecraft – to rendezvous with the orbiting outpost. 

The mission, the second demonstration flight under the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) contract, will actually be two missions combined into one. SpaceX was originally scheduled to fly three demonstration flights and nine resupply missions under the $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. SpaceX worked to develop and has received permission to try to merge the COTS 2 and COTS 3 demo flights. 

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“SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory.” 

According to Gerstenmaier SpaceX still has a ways to go before it is ready to accomplish this feat. He went on to add however, that the plans the private space firm currently has in place were solid – yet flexible. He emphasized the fluid nature of events that lead up to launch and noted SpaceX’s work to maximize the chances of success. 

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This mission will essentially be a “shakedown cruise” with the spacecraft’s systems tested out during the course of the mission. The Dragon will approach the space station up to about a distance of two miles. Dragon will then have its systems tested. Rendezvous, navigation and other operational sensors will all be checked out. 

With these tests behind it, the Dragon will perform one last approach to the ISS. The crew on board the space station will then grapple the spacecraft and dock it to the Harmony node. After the cargo has been unloaded and the mission is completed, the Dragon will be undocked. It will then reenter the Earth’s atmosphere for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, off the Coast of California. 

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This is a far cry from other the other cargo vessels that currently travel to the ISS. The Russian Progress spacecraft, Japanese HTV and European ATV – all burn up upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. 

This is, of course, surmising that everything goes according to plan. If things veer off course then SpaceX has stated it will reassign whatever elements left incomplete to the next flight. 

“When Dragon berths with the space station the world will be watching, SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham said. “We’ll move from talk of change coming to change has arrived.”

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Video Courtesy Space Exploration Technologies

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