SpaceX Cleared for March 30 Launch Attempt on Third NASA ISS Resupply Mission

The CRS-3 mission will be SpaceX's first flight of a Dragon spacecraft in over a year. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The CRS-3 mission will be SpaceX’s first flight of a Dragon spacecraft in over a year. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Today, NASA and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) confirmed March 30 as the next available opportunity to launch the company’s Dragon spacecraft on its next flight to resupply the International Space Station, the third of at least 12 such missions to the ISS under a $1.6 billion commercial resupply services contract with NASA.

The mission, CRS-3, was scheduled for an early morning launch from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 16, but was delayed after workers discovered contamination on the beta cloth shields in Dragon’s unpressurized external trunk (a fabric used in multi-layer insulation for thermal protection). Four High Definition cameras for the ISS and other critical payloads, such as the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (Opals) communications testbed, are stored in the trunk, making them susceptible to the contamination and forcing the delay so immediate actions could be taken to fix the problem.

Launch of the SpaceX Dragon atop a Falcon-9 rocket on the CRS-3 mission is now officially rescheduled for 10:50 p.m. EDT on Sunday, March 30, with a second opportunity available at 9:39 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2.

Seen stowed against the sides of the Falcon 9 v1.1, it is hoped that the four deployable landing legs will enable the vehicle's first stage to perform a gentle splashdown. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Seen stowed against the sides of the Falcon 9 v1.1, it is hoped that the four deployable landing legs will enable the vehicle’s first stage to perform a gentle splashdown. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The launch will be Dragon’s first flight in over a year, following March 2013′s CRS-2 flight, and the Falcon-9 assigned to launch the CRS-3 mission boasts four new fold-out landing legs, made from carbon-fiber and aluminum honeycomb, on its first stage, which will be deployed during a controlled descent after the first stage separates. Shortly after the burn-out and separation of the first stage, it will execute a maneuver with its cold-gas attitude-control system to establish an “engine-forward” orientation. Three of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines will briefly fire to effect braking during the re-entry process, and the four landing legs will be deployed using high-pressure helium once in atmospheric flight. The legs span 60 feet (18 meters) when fully deployed, and the entire assembly weighs about 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg). If all goes well the center Merlin 1D engine will then ignite shortly before splash down in the Atlantic.

Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, has stressed that although an attempt will be made to retrieve the first stage from the ocean, the system remains experimental in nature and he does not anticipate success for at least the first several attempts.

“F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” said Musk shortly after the legs were installed on the rocket a few weeks ago.

Dragon, with a record-sized cargo of 3,480 pounds (1,580 kg), is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Wednesday, April 2 at approximately 7 a.m.—assuming, of course, a March 30 liftoff—and will remain at the orbiting outpost for a month before returning to Earth with a splash down off the coast of southern California. With Orbital Sciences Corp.’s second dedicated Cygnus mission (ORB-2) tentatively scheduled for launch in early May, and slated to also utilize the Harmony nadir port, any further delays threaten to disrupt the already tight schedule of visiting vehicles for the remainder of 2014. Present plans envisage Cygnus flights in May and October, with Dragon missions in July and November.

AmericaSpace will have on-site coverage of the launch from Cape Canaveral, as well as a live launch broadcast here on our website, so stay tuned!

Article written by AmericaSpace writers Mike Killian and Ben Evans.

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