Dragon (SpaceX)

 October 7, 2012 Launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A commercial cargo ship rocketed into orbit Sunday in pursuit of the International Space Station, the first of a dozen supply runs under a mega-contract with NASA.

It was the second launch of a Dragon capsule to the orbiting lab by the California-based SpaceX company. The first was last spring.

This time was no test flight, however, and the spacecraft carried 1,000 pounds of key science experiments and other precious gear. There was also a personal touch: chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream tucked in a freezer for the three station residents.

The company’s unmanned Falcon rocket roared into the night sky right on time, putting SpaceX on track to reach the space station Wednesday. The complex was soaring southwest of Tasmania when the Falcon took flight.

Officials declared the launch a success.

In more good news, a piece of space junk was no longer threatening the station, and NASA could focus entirely on the delivery mission.

NASA is counting on private business to restock the space station, now that the shuttles have retired to museums.

The space agency has a $1.6 billion contract with SpaceX for 12 resupply missions.

Especially exciting for NASA is the fact that the Dragon will return twice as much cargo as it took up, including a stockpile of astronauts’ blood and urine samples. The samples — nearly 500 of them — have been stashed in freezers since Atlantis made the last shuttle flight in July 2011.

The Dragon will spend close to three weeks at the space station before being released and parachuting into the Pacific at the end of October. By then, the space station should be back up to a full crew of six.

None of the Russian, European or Japanese cargo ships can bring anything back; they’re destroyed during re-entry. The Russian Soyuz crew capsules have limited room for anything besides people.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX – owned by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk –  is working to convert its unmanned Dragon capsules into vessels that could carry astronauts to the space station in three years.

Other U.S. companies also are vying to carry crews. Americans must ride Russian rockets to orbit in the meantime, for a steep price. Musk, who monitored the launch from SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., called the capsules Dragon after the magical Puff to get back at critics who, a decade ago, considered his effort a fantasy.

The name Falcon comes from the Millennium Falcon starship of “Star Wars” fame.

An estimated 2,400 guests jammed the launching center to see the Falcon, with its Dragon, come to life for SpaceX’s first official, operational supply mission.

It was no apparition.

“Just over a year since shuttle retirement, to be able to do that is, I think, what people are very excited about,” said NASA’s deputy administrator, Lori Garver.
Across the country at SpaceX headquarters, about 1,000 employees watched via TV and webcast.

SpaceX is shooting for its next supply run in January.

Another company looking to haul space station cargo, Virginia’s Orbital Sciences Corp., hopes to launch a solo test flight in December and a demo mission to the station early next year.

** UPDATE **

OCTOBER 10, 2012

Capture Confirmed!

SpaceX Dragon arrives at space station

By Marcia Dunn

Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private company successfully delivered a half-ton of supplies to the International Space Station early Wednesday, the first official shipment under a billion-dollar contract with NASA.

The SpaceX cargo ship, called Dragon, eased up to the orbiting lab, and station astronauts reached out with a robot arm and snared it. Then they firmly latched it down.

“Looks like we’ve tamed the Dragon,” reported space station commander Sunita Williams. “We’re happy she’s on board with us.”

Williams thanked SpaceX and NASA for the delivery, especially the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream stashed in a freezer.

The linkup occurred 250 miles above the Pacific, just west of Baja California, 2½ days after the Dragon’s launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“Nice flying,” radioed NASA’s Mission Control.

It’s the first delivery by the California-based SpaceX company under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA. The contract calls for 12 such shipments.

This newest Dragon holds 1,000 pounds of groceries, clothes, science experiments and other gear. Williams and her crew won’t get access to all that until Thursday, when the hatch is opened.

The vessel will remain at the space station for nearly three weeks before departing with almost twice that much cargo at the end of the month. Dragon is the only cargo ship capable of bringing back research and other items, filling a void left by NASA’s retired shuttles.

SpaceX — owned by PayPal’s billionaire creator Elon Musk — launched Dragon aboard a Falcon 9 rocket Sunday night. One of the nine first-stage engines failed a minute into the flight, but the other engines compensated and managed to put the capsule into the proper orbit. The mishap, however, left a secondary payload aboard the rocket — an Orbcomm communication satellite — in too low of an orbit.

This is the second Dragon to visit the space station. Last May, SpaceX conducted a test flight.

NASA is hiring out space station supply runs to American companies now that the shuttles are museum relics. The shuttle fleet was retired in 2011 after 30 years so the space agency could focus on human trips beyond low-Earth orbit; the destinations include asteroids and Mars.

Space station partners Russia, Japan and Europe also launch cargo ships, but those vessels are filled with trash and destroyed during descent. NASA scientists eagerly are awaiting nearly 500 samples of astronauts’ blood and urine that have been stockpiled aboard the complex since Atlantis visited for the last time more than a year ago.

NASA’s human exploration and operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, called the returning specimens “unbelievably unique and precious” and a major reason for going commercial in the post-shuttle era.

“There were a lot of skeptics at the beginning, but as evidenced today, I think you’re starting to see that this can work and can move forward,” Gerstenmaier said.

SpaceX is working to make its Dragon capsule safe enough to carry astronauts, possibly in three years. For now, NASA is paying the Russian Space Agency tens of millions of dollars to launch astronauts to the space station. Other U.S. companies also are vying for crew-carrying rights.

The space station currently houses three astronauts from America, Russia and Japan. Another American and two more Russians will arrive in two weeks.

http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_21740246/spacex-dragon-arrives-at-space-station

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