Dragon’s next trip to the International Space Station (ISS) is now targeting a launch date of NET (No Earlier Than) March 16, following consultation between SpaceX and NASA. This will be Dragon’s first ride on the upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1, with the launch tracking a T-0 of 04:41 Eastern from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40).
However, Orbital’s Cygnus gained the first opportunity, as SpaceX opted to aim for the early 2014 opportunity afforded to them in the busy Visiting Vehicle schedule.
As a result, the CRS-3 Dragon was initially realigned for a mission that has an available berthing window ranging from January 17, 2014 through February 16.
Due to the continuous merry-go-round of the VV schedule, only a handful of launch and berthing windows are available to spacecraft on missions to the ISS.
This situation became more complex as Cygnus was delayed until January, due to the ISS cooling issue that required two spacewalks to mitigate over the Christmas period. As a result, Dragon’s CRS-3/SpX-3 mission was provisionally pushed back to February.
A February 22 launch date target held firm for a number of weeks, prior to recent documentation showing a new NET of March 1 on the schedule.
It is understood this date was never a firm target, due to ongoing considerations relating to Dragon’s EOM (End Of Mission) requirement of returning to Earth in daylight – per its recovery operations.
A target later in the month was always more realistic, which also catered for a flow that had been slightly delayed by a slower-than-planned delivery of the Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage, due to the very poor weather in the United States so far this year.
Technically, SpaceX could have supported a new NET as early as March 12. However, the Station’s Visiting Vehicle schedule discussions recommended March 16 as the opening launch target.
This date also allows for a number of attempts in the event of a scrub, per L2’s updated CRS-3 status, with March 17, 19 and 20 also available.
Based on Falcon 9 and her Dragon passenger launching on the 16th, Station notes provided to the ISS crew show they should be prepared to ingress the spacecraft on March 19, prior to working berthed ops in removing the array of cargo Dragon is providing.
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Hatch closure is timelined for April 17, prior to unberthing and splashdown.
The SpX-3 flight will carry a full launch and return complement of 1,580kg/3,476lb of payload, an increase from the previous limit of 800kg, afforded by the increased upmass capabilities of the Falcon 9 v1.1.
For launch, Dragon will carry a record of one GLACIER and two MERLIN freezers for transporting ISS experiment samples.
The CRS-3 mission will also involve the delivery of a replacement Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), allowing for the return of a faulty suit on the same vehicle when it returns to Earth.
His suit, EMU 3011, suffered a water leak, leading to a lengthy investigation into the suits, along with some troubleshooting and replacement hardware being sent up on Progress and Cygnus.
Plans were made for Dragon to return the suit back to Earth for investigation, via a specially made rack. However, it will be a different suit that will head home on the SpaceX vehicle.
That relates to the troubleshooting work that eventually returned EMU 3011 to full functionality, leaving the ISS has three working spacesuits (EMU 3010 and 3005 being the others).
It’s a fourth suit, EMU 3015, that is deemed as faulty and needs to be returned to Earth.
In order to bring the ISS back to four available spacesuits, EMU 3003 will be enjoying a trip on the Dragon via the specially made rack.
The spacesuit relay involves a large amount of hardware, with EMU 3003’s equipment including the Hard Upper Torso (HUT), Portable Life Support System (PLSS), Display and Control Module (DCM), arms and helmet.
SpaceX remain on track to conduct four CRS missions in 2014, all part of what is expected to be a record-breaking year for the California-based company.
(Images: via L2’s SpaceX Special Section, which includes over 1,000 unreleased hi res images from Dragon’s three flights to the ISS. Other images via Cygnus L2 special and NASA)
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