Dragon Ready to Fly on Wings of Solar Light


Video courtesy of SpaceX 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Space Exploration Technologies’ Dragon spacecraft has wings of light. Or rather, it has solar arrays that collect light, thus providing the cargo vessel with the power needed for it to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). These solar arrays will power the Dragon’s sensors, heating and cooling systems as well as crucial communications equipment. These arrays are capable of generating some 5,000 watts of power – just enough energy to power about 80 standard light bulbs. 

These deployable arrays will serve as the main power source for the Dragon. This power is crucial, as it will also allow Dragon to remain in contact with SpaceX’s Mission Control Center. For its impending launch, the arrays are sealed, safely behind covers to protect them from the turbulence of launch. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will be the first commercial spacecraft to use solar panels.

In this concept image, the Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station in preparation for the station's crew to grapple the cargo vessel and dock it to the ISS's Harmony Module. Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX will utilize its Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Dragon toward the ISS on what is actually two missions combined into one. Under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or COTS contract that the firm has with NASA the company was originally required to launch three demonstration flights and nine resupply missions to the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX lobbied for and tentatively received permission to combine the second and third demonstration flights – into one. 

SpaceX successfully launched the first Dragon spacecraft into orbit, where it orbited the Earth twice – before safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California. This occurred on Dec. 8, 2010 – a little over a year ago. 

Currently, SpaceX and NASA have announced a target launch date of Feb. 7, 2012. The launch will take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex – 40 (SLC-40). 

SpaceX launched its first Dragon spacecraft on Dec. 8, 2010. The spacecraft was launched atop one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets and completed two orbits before successfully completing its mission and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

Solar arrays are employed by all of the spacecraft that currently travel to the International Space Station. The Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s HTV transfer vehicle all utilize solar panels to generate electricity. SpaceX has plans to develop the Dragon spacecraft so that it can one day deliver astronauts to not only the ISS, but points beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO) as well. 

“Technically the potential of SpaceX accomplishing the COTS-2 and COTS-3 demo flight looks good,” said NASA’s Program Manager for the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, Alan Lindenmoyer. 

Lindenmoyer was appointed manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office in November of 2005. He has been tasked with overseeing NASA’s efforts to encourage the commercial space industry and foster an environment where these firms can develop reliable and cost effective transportation services not just for the government – but the private sector as well. Lindenmoyer’s office manages the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract, of which SpaceX’s efforts are a key part. 


Technician's at Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) prepare the Dragon spacecraft for its upcoming combined COTS-2/COTS-3 flight. Photo Credit: SpaceX


If things do not go according to script, SpaceX will then revert back to the original plan of two separate flights. If it must fly a separate COTS-3 mission, any objectives that were not accomplished on the combined flight will be incorporated into the renewed COTS-3 mission. 

SpaceX recently decided that the Feb. 7  flight of the Dragon – has enough on its plate already. As such, the Orbcomm satellite that was to be deployed as part of this mission, have been pushed back to be a part of the first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission – currently slated to take place mid-2012.


Video courtesy of SpaceX

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