SpaceX Conducts Successful Wet Dress Rehearsal of Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft rest at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) after a day of successful testing that began at 4 a.m. EST. Photo Credit Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – Hawthorne, Calif-based Space Explorations Technologies (SpaceX) conducted a wet dress rehearsal or WDR Thursday, Mar. 1 – of the Falcon 9 rocket that is currently slated to carry one of the company’s Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) late next month. 

The WDR is a procedure that walks through all of the launch-day steps – just shy of launching the rocket. This marks a major milestone for the NewSpace firm as they prepare both the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft payload – to make history. 

Space Launch Complex 40, the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, lightning protection towers, improved flame trench and oxygen storage tank all highlight the upcoming historic COTS-2/COTS-3 mission. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Both this upcoming flight and the previous mission were part of the $1.6 billion Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract that SpaceX has with NASA. Under this contract SpaceX is tasked to launch three demonstration flights and nine resupply missions to the ISS. The company completed the first demonstration flight successfully in December of 2010. SpaceX then began lobbying NASA for something rather ambitious. 

In an effort to reduce cost, SpaceX asked to combine the second and third demonstration flights into a single mission. NASA mulled the idea over and eventually gave their approval. 

[youtube_video]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y45cI-Q48PI[/youtube_video]

SpaceX will attempt to become the first private company in history to launch its spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). Once it has shown that it can safely rendezvous with the orbiting laboratory, astronauts on the space station will grapple the Dragon with the station’s robotic arm and berth it to the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony module. 

This is the same location as where Japan’s HTV is berthed to when it travels to the ISS. Dragon, however, will not return to Earth in the same fashion as the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) spacecraft. 

Dragon, unlike the HTV, is capable of returning safely to Earth as was proven during the COTS-1 mission in Dec. of 2010 when, after completing two successful orbits the first Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just off the Coast of California. 

The Dragon spacecraft seen here atop its Falcon 9 launch vehicle is being readied to become the first commercial spacecraft to be berthed to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Currently, the mission is scheduled to take place on April 30. By all accounts, today’s WDR was an unqualified success.

“The test went very well, the first time you fill the tank with cryogenic propellants – that is usually when the problems are going to become apparent,” said NASA Spokesman George Diller. “Not only did the Falcon 9 not have any serious problems during the cryogenic tanking but all of the other systems that are involved with the general launch process, communications, telemetry and elements that have to be coordinated with the Eastern Range – all of that went really well.”

The final milestone on the road to launch is a static test fire of the Falcon 9 rocket. This takes place two weeks before the actual launch. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

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