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February 19, 2013

Commercial Space Station Resupply Continues its Progress

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

NASA has started setting up media credentials for the next commercial supply mission to the International Space Station ISS while its second source vendor fine-tunes its rocket in preparation for a spring launch test.

The target date for Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 is March 1, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. A SpaceX (News - Alert) Falcon 9 rocket will carry the company's Dragon spacecraft into orbit to commence a rendezvous and berthing approximately three days later.  

CRS-2 will be the second official U.S. and commercial cargo run to ISS and will mark the fourth flight of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and the fifth flight of the two stage Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The Dragon will carry about 1,200 of supplies and experiments to be conducted onboard the space station.

Dragon is scheduled to return to Earth on March 25 with parachutes and a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The capsule will be returning more than 2,300 of "downmass" experiment samples and station equipment.

The CRS-2 flight will be carefully monitored by NASA and SpaceX for any anomalies similar to the one on the previous flight, where one of the Falcon 9's nine first stage engines was shut down during the flight. SpaceX has reportedly identified a "most probably cause" of the engine shutdown, according to New Space Journal, but NASA or SpaceX have yet to provide details.

Speaking of CRS and engine difficulties, Orbital Sciences (News - Alert) Corporation (OSC) is gearing up for a second "hot fire" test for its Antares rocket at the end of this month. The first planned test, being conducted at the MARS spaceport at Wallops Island, VA, was shut down by the rocket's flight computer 1.5 seconds before lighting up the Antares' two liquid oxygen/kerosene first stage engines. Low pressurization levels of a "nitrogen purge" in the aft engine compartment trigged the computer abort.

A successful hot fire test is the last step before Orbital can set a date for a first full up test launch of Antares, designed to lift medium-weight payloads of up to 6120 kilograms into orbit.   Orbital will use Antares to place its Cygnus cargo spacecraft into orbit, first for a demonstration rendezvous and berthing mission and then for eight missions to deliver 20,000 kilograms of cargo to ISS. A demo flight to ISS will likely take place later this year -- barring any more problems.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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