The Dragon has been captured. The SpaceX unmanned craft connected with the International Space Station at 5:31 a.m. ET, The robotic arm will bring it in for docking at approximately 930am
The first spacecraft NASA has designed to fly astronauts beyond Earth orbit since the Apollo era is well on its way to making a flight test next year, agency officials said Wednesday. The mission is planned for launch in September 2014, and will see an Orion capsule orbit Earth without a crew and return through the atmosphere at speeds unseen since astronauts last returned from the moon in 1972.
"It's a key element of our overall plan to get humans beyond Earth orbit as quickly as we can," said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Development Division.
Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, will be the first chance engineers get to test Orion's design in space. Flying atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket, the spacecraft will be pressurized as it would be if astronauts were onboard. It will orbit the Earth twice on a track that will take it more than 3,600 miles above us, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station.
From that height, Orion will be steered to a re-entry at speeds of about 20,000 mph, slamming into the atmosphere to test whether the heat shield will protect the spacecraft adequately.
"It allows us to stress the heat shield in conditions that are very close to what we will see coming back from a region around the moon," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is going to help us make our heat shield lighter, safer and more reliable."
Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the spacecraft will carry scores of instruments. Even the heat shield will have instruments to measure temperature and plasma flow around the spacecraft as it endures the searing conditions of high-speed reentry.
Engineers will use the readings to update computer models and refine designs for the spacecraft, ground support equipment and the in-development Space Launch System rocket. The agency also will provide the data to the agency's commercial partners developing their own spacecraft.
Orion will land under parachutes in the Pacific Ocean where recovery teams from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Department of Defense will retrieve it and return it to Florida.
Just as the mission will help spacecraft designers, the recovery will show those on the ground what to expect when they begin retrieving crews after long missions into deep space, said Pepper Phillips, director of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program based at Kennedy.
"The teams are exercising some static tests now, but we're going to be ready with this full-up active test of a live spacecraft," Phillips told reporters who had gathered in the Young-Crippen Firing Room at Kennedy for the update Feb. 27.
The firing room, which has been refurbished and extensively modified since last hosting a space shuttle launch, will give engineers direct links to the Orion after it is powered up later this year. Launch controllers will follow the mission from the same firing room, as well.
NASA designed Orion as a versatile spacecraft able to handle the hardships of flying safely far beyond Earth's atmosphere to take astronauts to distant destinations such as an asteroid and Mars. Starting in 2017, Orion spacecraft will be paired with the agency's Space Launch System (SLS), a massive rocket in development more powerful than the Saturn V that propelled astronauts to the moon.
Although EFT-1 will focus largely on testing the Orion spacecraft, it also will aid the teams designing and building the SLS, said Todd May, program manager for the new booster.
"There are a lot of things about this mission that helps SLS," May said. "A lot of this data we're going to use to understand the structural properties, the aero-loading, the guidance navigation and control that we feed back into our calculations."
The SLS team, based at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala., designed and built an adapter ring for this mission that will connect Orion's broad base with the much narrower Delta IV second stage.
While the Orion spacecraft takes shape inside the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, the heat shield's skin and skeleton have been finished. The heat-resistant coating will be applied next month and the all-important component will be shipped to Kennedy in July for attachment to the spacecraft.
NASA has designed the mission to evaluate how the spaceship behaves in 10 of the 16 highest risk areas for a crew. Avionics systems, software and the myriad other elements that go into a spacecraft are expected to get a rigorous workout. Those elements are making their way into the spacecraft in a careful procession as Lockheed Martin builds up Orion into a working spacecraft.
"We all have these great (computer) models but when you fly in the real environment, does it behave as you expect," Geyer said.
The flight will begin a series of flight tests for the Orion and Space Launch System programs as the agency moves toward launching astronauts into space in 2021. Orion is scheduled to fly a second test mission in 2017 aboard the first Space Launch System booster.
Along the way, engineers also will conduct smaller-scale flight tests to evaluate the performance of specific systems such as the escape rocket designed to pull a crew out of harm's way in the event of an emergency during launch and ascent.
The progression from concept drawings to working with mockups and replicas to building the actual spacecraft reinvigorates the teams, the officials said.
"I think it helps keep the team's morale up and you want to see a steady beat of successes as you move forward," May said.
"Now we're actually doing it," Geyer said. "It shows you that we're putting the expertise into actually making it happen."
SpaceX is back on track to the International Space Station, Elon Musk tweeted that they have successfully raised Dragons orbit and all the problems we discussed earlier have been resolved. My friend Robert Pearlman of CollectSpace.com was on the roof of the vehicle assembly building during the launch and provided these beautiful photos below. He also wrote a great article on today's events at
SpaceX employees watch the launch, all systems nominal, Dragon in Orbit for ISS resupply mission
Update: Dragon having some thruster/solar array issues... Will update after 11am press brief
Update 2: they appear to have worked through the thruster issues, solar arrays deployed successfully!
Update 3: two of the 4 thrusters are up, docking with ISS will be delayed until they either get the other two working OR they build confidence they can safely dock with two. This will be the last update on this post. Will issue a new blog entry when appropriate
Launch is still scheduled for 1010am est
It will be carried live on Nasatv and webcast here
Elon Musk reported a computer glitch that they could not replicate during the countdown and stated they are preceding with the launch
@SpaceX: Falcon 9 and #Dragon rolled out from hangar, looking pretty on the pad. In final prep for launch tmrw 10:10A ET!
PASADENA, Calif. - Two compact laboratories inside NASA's Mars rover Curiosity have ingested portions of the first sample of rock powder ever collected from the interior of a rock on Mars.
Curiosity science team members will use the laboratories to analyze the rock powder in the coming days and weeks.
The rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments received portions of the sample on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23, respectively, and began inspecting the powder.
"Data from the instruments have confirmed the deliveries," said Curiosity Mission Manager Jennifer Trosper of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The powder comes from Curiosity drilling into rock target "John Klein" on Feb. 8. One or more additional portions from the same initial sample may be delivered to the instruments as analysis proceeds.
During a two-year prime mission, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 science instruments to assess whether the study area in Gale Crater on Mars ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.
SpaceX reported a few minutes ago the Falcon9 and Dragon have passed their readiness review and are ready for launch at 1010am Friday. An earlier tweet also indicated a 90% chance of good weather for launch time.
I have truly waited my whole life hoping for something like this, it is a stepping stone, I give them my full support and hope the stars align at the same time the planets do, God Speed!!
UPDATE: After you read all of this, Here is a pdf link to the feasibility study done for this mission(18 pages)http://www.inspirationmars.com/Inspiration%20Mars_Feasibility%20Analysis_IEEE.pdf
A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Inspiration Mars Foundation believes in the exploration of space as a catalyst for growth, national prosperity, knowledge and global leadership. History has shown that strong nations reap these benefits when they boldly follow a path rooted in curiosity and guided by technological innovation.
We created our foundation to inspire Americans to take advantage of this unique window of opportunity to push the envelope of human experience, while reaching out to our youth to expand their views of their own futures in space exploration. Revitalizing interest among our students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education is a vital part of our overall mission. Our goal is to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station.
NASA and America’s space program have been a critical part of inspiring our nation and people everywhere to reach for their dreams and dare to invent their future. The Inspiration Mars Foundation is committed to moving America farther and faster toward our destiny as the world leaders in technical innovation, science, exploration and discovery.
Mars presents a challenging, but attainable goal for advancing human experience and knowledge. We plan to launch "A Mission for America" that will use existing space transportation hardware and further drive technology development. It will generate knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration. It will encourage and embolden all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring the next generation of explorers to pursue their destiny through STEM education and exploration.
In 2018, the planets will literally align, offering a unique orbit opportunity to travel to Mars and back to Earth in only 501 days. Inspiration Mars is committed to sending a two-person American crew – a man and a woman – on an historic journey to fly within 100 miles around the Red Planet and return to Earth safely.
The mission’s target launch date is Jan. 5, 2018. This exceptionally quick, free-return orbit opportunity occurs twice every 15 years. After 2018, the next opportunity won’t occur again until 2031. The mission will provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station. It will be financed primarily through philanthropic donations, with some potential support from government sources.
This mission will be a flyby passing within 100 miles of the surface of Mars. Additional maneuvers will be minor course corrections only, using the gravitational influence of Mars to “slingshot” the vehicle onto a return course to Earth. An inflatable habitat module will be deployed after launch and detached prior to re-entry.
Investments in human space exploration technologies and operations by NASA and the space industry are converging in time to make such a mission achievable. The mission is being designed based on proven Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) systems and technologies that are available on the market today. We are currently in discussions with many of the leading U.S. commercial aerospace companies to tap into their existing launch engines and vehicles. Environmental and life support operations will be directly derived from International Space Station technologies, which have proven design, development and operational lessons to draw from.
This mission will showcase American innovation at its best, generating knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration. It represents an unprecedented, long-duration research opportunity that will lead to new, cutting-edge discoveries. It validates decades of taxpayer investment in NASA technology and strengthens the United States’ position as a leader in exploration. It inspires the next generation of explorers to pursue their destiny through STEM education. This mission is the ultimate demonstration of our collective space exploration capabilities to date.
Rewards & Risks
The beauty of this mission is its simplicity. The flyby architecture lowers risk, with no critical propulsive maneuvers, no entry into the Mars atmosphere, and no rendezvous and docking. It also represents the shortest duration roundtrip mission to Mars. The 2018 launch opportunity coincides with the 11-year solar minimum providing the lowest solar radiation exposure. The next launch opportunity for this mission (2031) will not have the advantage of being at the solar minimum.
There are risks associated with the mission, as is true of every space exploration mission. But these are exactly the kinds of risks that America should be willing to take in order to advance our knowledge, experience and position as a world leader. We believe the risks and challenges we have uncovered are well within the scope of our collective experience and can be overcome to achieve a safe and successful mission. In fact, studies by experts have found that the technology and systems are viable with proper integration, testing and preparation for flight.
We are steadfastly committed to the safety, health and overall well-being of our crew. We will only fly this mission if we are convinced that it is safe to do.
Role with NASA
Our "Mission for America" aligns perfectly with our nation's emerging space priorities and programs, and will contribute valuable research to accelerate the next generation of systems and their missions. NASA has a strong plan for taking Americans farther into space and is investing wisely in a new human spacecraft and heavy lift launch vehicle - systems our nation needs for our long-term plans beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO). We're using the proven LEO systems and technology that NASA and the industry have created to seize this unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to create public awareness, enthusiasm and momentum for a long-term commitment and vision for space exploration beyond LEO…all the way to Mars.
In addition, the foundation has formed a partnership with NASA via a reimbursable Space Act Agreement between Paragon and the Ames Research Center to conduct thermal protection system and technology testing and evaluation. Foundation officials will also seek to tap into NASA’s knowledge, experience and technologies to fine-tune and/or develop some of the more challenging elements of this mission, including environmental controls, radiation protection, and human health and productivity plans.
This mission showcases American innovation at its best. We will tackle this unique challenge via a low-cost, collaborative, nonprofit approach that has the support of NASA and an evolving team of industry partners. We are engaging the best minds in industry and government to develop and integrate the space flight systems and to design innovative research, outreach and education programs for the mission.
NASA’s Ames Research Center
Paragon Space Development Corporation
Applied Defense Solutions
Space Exploration Engineering Corporation
"I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it"
President Barack Obama. Kennedy Space Center, April 15, 2010
As reported earlier speculation mounts as Dennis Tito prepares for a press conference tomorrow in Washington DC. Tito is expected to announce a 501 day manned mission to Mars to be launched in January 2018. The mission is said to be a free return as illustrated by the graphic above. I have been looking through all my usual sources but have not found much more to report, SpaceX remains silent and all twitter traffic by Elon Musk and the gang are focused on the March 1st ISS resupply mission. If you think about it, it would make sense for SpaceX to not say anything, Tito would be a paying customer and they would not want to steal any of his thunder. We are excited to hear the plan tomorrow and will update as soon as new information is released.