SpaceX set October 7 for Dragon’s opening CRS mission to the ISS

by Chris Bergin

Under agreement with NASA, SpaceX have set October 7 as the launch date for the Falcon 9 launch of Dragon to the ISS on the first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, known as Spx-1/CRS-1. The launch date comes after a late evaluation into issues with a berthing camera on the International Space Station (ISS).

Dragon Cargo Run:

SpaceX’s success with their debut trip to the ISS in May paved the way for this opening CRS resupply run, with the decision to combine the last two COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) missions into the “C2+” flight resulting in the completion of all the required demonstration objectives.

Now SpaceX open the run of 20 missions, shared between themselves and Orbital – via a contract award in 2008 of $3.5 billion.

The reason for the resupply contract is obvious – especially with all the attention on the retired Endeavour, as she nears completion of her farewell tour across the United States – with large demands on the ISS’ cargo resupply requirements in the post-shuttle era.

The award from NASA ordered eight flights valued at about $1.9 billion from Orbital and 12 flights valued at about $1.6 billion from SpaceX.

This opening CRS launch is scheduled for 8:34 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with a back up launch opportunity the following day on October 8. Current information shows the launch window will once again be instantaneous, although a final decision will take place at a readiness review a few days ahead of launch.

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The confirmation of the launch date came after a meeting of the International Space Station Program review, with L2 information noting one item of discussion on the ISS side, relating to the Centerline Berthing Camera System (CBCS) related to the operation involving the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) – the robotic arm that will grapple the Dragon “by the tail” when it arrives next month.

The Centerline Berthing Camera provides the operator of the arm on Station with a key view during the berthing procedure. The CBCS is actually a camera that is mounted over the window of the CBM hatch itself, and so provides views out of the CBM hatch window of the vehicle as it is manouvered toward the CBM port via the SSRMS.

Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA and Aki Hoshide of JAXA will be the operators for the grapple operation following Dragon’s rendezvous with the station on Wednesday, October 10.

“The plan was to install and checkout CBCS string 3 in Node-2. When the crew retrieved the string 3 bag, they reported that the missing string 1 items (as well as the string 3 items) were in that bag,” noted L2 SpX-1/CRS Update Section (L2 LINK). “The crew installed and checked out string 3 successfully.”

“To improve confidence in our CBCS redundancy, the crew also hooked up and successfully checked out string 1. This activity ensured that there would be two strings available for SpaceX-1.

“(However, there was) one issue: The CBCS string 3 camera has a stuck 1/4 turn fastener and could not be removed from hatch. It will be left in place for Dragon berthing, and then troubleshooting will be done on the fastener when it is time to deconfigure per the nominal plan.  From the crew description, OSO believes this to be a “splaying” issue that has been seen before and can be corrected.”

Once Dragon is berthed and attached to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module, the ISS crew members will take a few weeks to unload cargo and load experiment samples for return to Earth.

While the C2+ Dragon did carry out some upmass and downmass capability for the test run to the ISS, the CRS-1 Dragon will be loaded with about 1,000 pounds of supplies. This includes critical materials to support the 166 investigations planned for the station’s Expedition 33 crew, including 63 new investigations.

The Dragon’s downmass role – the only current vehicle with any notable return ability – will involve around 734 pounds of scientific materials, including results from human research, biotechnology, materials and educational experiments, as well as about 504 pounds of space station hardware.

SpaceX note the materials being launched on Dragon will support experiments in plant cell biology, human biotechnology and various materials technology demonstrations, among others.

One experiment, called Micro 6, will examine the effects of microgravity on the opportunistic yeast Candida albicans, which is present on all humans. Another experiment, called Resist Tubule, will evaluate how microgravity affects the growth of cell walls in a plant called Arabidopsis.

About 50 percent of the energy expended by terrestrial-bound plants is dedicated to structural support to overcome gravity. Understanding how the genes that control this energy expenditure operate in microgravity could have implications for future genetically modified plants and food supply. Both Micro 6 and Resist Tubule will return with the Dragon at the end of its mission.

The return date – involving parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California – has yet to be decided.

SpaceX are using brand new Dragon’s for each of their CRS missions, per agreement with NASA, although the company has previously noted each returning CRS Dragon may be refurbished for non-NASA missions.

The following Dragon mission – SpX-2/CRS-2 – is still tracking a December launch date, although a lot will depend on the success of the CRS-1 mission.

CRS-2 will debut the use of the Dragon’s trunk – used for unpressurized/external cargo, that will utilize Dextre for removal operations (see image left) – with payloads already allocated for a ride uphill in the trunk (L2 Link).

(Images: via L2’s SpaceX Dragon Mission Special Section – Containing presentations, videos, images (Over 800mb of unreleased hi res images from the C2+ mission) and more. Other images, NASA and NASA TV).

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