Satellite Technology Feature Article
SpaceX Completes First Commercial Cargo Flight to Space Station
By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor
SpaceX (News - Alert) (Space Exploration Technologies) completed the first commercial cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on October 28, 2012, successfully splashing down at 3:22 p.m. EDT a couple hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico.
"With a big splash in the Pacific Ocean today, we are reminded American ingenuity is alive and well and keeping our great nation at the cutting edge of innovation and technology development," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Just a little over one year after we retired the Space Shuttle, we have completed the first cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not with a government owned and operated system, but rather with one built by a private firm – an American company that is creating jobs and helping keep the U.S. the world leader in space as we transition to the next exciting chapter in exploration."
The recovered Dragon capsule is being taken by boat to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas for processing of its non-spoilable cargo. At dockside in California, some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA within 48 hours from splashdown, including the contents of a GLACIER freezer packed with research samples of blood and urine collected on orbit at ISS over the past year.
The ability to return frozen samples is a first for the flight, and represents the first time since the space shuttle's retirement that the capability has been restored.
All total, the Dragon returned to earth with 1,673 pounds of cargo, including 163 pounds of crew supplies, 866 pounds of scientific research, and 518 of hardware returned for analysis, troubleshooting and failure analysis.
Dragon left earth on October 7, launched on the CRS-1 (Commercial Resupply Services) mission on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, packed with 882 pounds of supplies for ISS, including bonus food in the form of ice cream and fresh apples.
CRS-1 was the first of at least 12 cargo resupply missions to the space station through 2016 under a NASA a Commercial Resupply Services contract worth $1.6 billion dollars. SpaceX is supposed to deliver at least 20 metric tons of cargo up to the space station under the contract, plus provide bulk "downmass" return services from orbit.
With the retirement of the space shuttle, the SpaceX Dragon is the only cargo vehicle to provide large downmass capability.
The next CRS flight is tentatively scheduled in for January 2013, assuming NASA and SpaceX don't run into any delays with a review of the Falcon 9 rocket. During the launch of CRS-1, one of the Falcon 9's nine first stage engines shut down, triggering the flight computers to throttle up the remaining engines in order to make sure the Dragon reached the necessary orbit to rendezvous with the space station. NASA and SpaceX are currently reviewing the engine failure to find the root cause and determine if it may affect future launches.
Edited by Braden Becker