SpaceX Program

Title: SpaceX Rocket Glitch Puts Satellite In Wrong Orbit
October 9, 2012

A prototype communications satellite flying as a secondary payload aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket was sent into the wrong orbit because of a problem during launch Sunday evening, officials said Tuesday.

One of the nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9 rocket shut down early, though the other engines burned longer to make up for the loss of thrust, saving the primary mission of delivering a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station for NASA.

The rocket blasted off at 8:35 p.m. EDT Sunday (0035 GMT Monday) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, restoring a U.S. supply line to the $100 billion orbital outpost, a project of 15 nations, following the end of the shuttle program last year.

The Dragon freighter is due to arrive at the space station, which flies about 250 miles above Earth, on Wednesday.

Space Exploration Technologies said its rocket, which was created by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX, as the company is known, could lose two engines and still make its intended orbit.

"Like the Saturn 5 (moon rocket) and modern airliners, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine-out situation and still complete its mission. No other rocket currently flying has this ability," privately owned SpaceX said in a statement.

But that flexibility didn't help satellite communications provider Orbcomm, which owned a prototype OG2 communications satellite flying aboard the Falcon 9.

The satellite was deposited in a lower-than-intended orbit, Orbcomm said in a statement.

The company declined to release details, but Jonathan's Space Report, a website that tracks space launches, says Orbcomm expected its satellite to be placed into an elliptical orbit with a low point of 217 miles and a high point of 466 miles from Earth. That would later become a circular orbit at 466 miles from Earth.

Instead, it ended up in an orbit that ranges from 126 miles to 200 miles.

Orbcomm said an analysis has begun to determine if the satellite can use its onboard propulsion system to boost its orbit.

"Orbcomm will not be able to get to its operational 750 x 750 kilometer orbit, but there's a chance they'll get a few month's of system tests out of it," concludes Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard University astrophysicist who publishes the Space Report.

The company still plans to launch 17 more OG2 satellites on two Falcon 9 rockets in 2013 and 2014.

Those spacecraft will be primary payloads and delivered directly into their operational orbits, Orbcomm said.

SpaceX declined to release financial details of its contract with Orbcomm, and Orbcomm did not respond to requests for comment (Reuters, 2012)

Title: SpaceX Dragon Capsule Arrives At Space Station 
Date: October 10, 2012

Abstract: 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, 2 1/2 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 (AP, 2012).

Title: Satellite Burns Up Following SpaceX Rocket Glitch
October 12, 2012

An experimental communications satellite flying piggyback aboard a Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 9 rocket fell out of orbit and burned up in the atmosphere following a problem during liftoff, satellite operator Orbcomm said on Friday.

The New Jersey-based company's OG2 satellite was a prototype for a new 17-member communications satellite network scheduled to be launched aboard two more Falcon 9 rockets in 2013 and 2014.

Orbcomm declared the satellite a total loss and filed a claim under an insurance policy worth up to $10 million, "which would largely offset the expected cost of the OG2 prototype and associated launch services and launch insurance," the company said in a statement.

Orbcomm had planned on reaching an altitude of 466 miles above Earth, but fell well short of the mark after one of the Falcon rocket's nine Merlin engines shut down early following launch on October 7 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

With its remaining eight engines making up the lost power, the rocket successfully completed its primary mission, sending a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station. The flight was the first of 12 for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract.

To ensure the station's safety, the agreement with NASA prohibited Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX as the privately-held California-based company is known, from restarting the rocket's second stage - needed to deliver Orbcomm's satellite to its proper orbit - if there was not at least a 99 percent chance that the rocket had enough fuel to complete the burn, said SpaceX spokeswoman Katherine Nelson.

Due to the engine shutdown, the Falcon 9 used slightly more fuel and oxygen to reach Dragon's intended 202 mile- (325-km) high orbit. Over the next 2.5 days, Dragon flew itself to the station's orbit 250 miles above Earth. It reached the $100 billion outpost, a project of 15 countries, on Wednesday.

Falcon 9 had enough kerosene fuel left over to relight the engine, but the amount of liquid oxygen "was only enough to achieve a roughly 95 percent likelihood of completing the second burn, so Falcon 9 did not attempt a restart," Nelson wrote in an email to Reuters.

"Orbcomm understood from the beginning that the orbit-raising maneuver was tentative," Nelson wrote. "They accepted that there was a high risk of their satellite remaining at the Dragon insertion orbit. SpaceX would not have agreed to fly their satellite otherwise, since this was not part of the core mission and there was a known, material risk of no altitude raise."

Despite declaring the satellite a loss, Orbcomm said it met several key objectives of the test flight, including deploying the spacecraft's solar array and its communications antenna. Several spacecraft systems, such as power, flight control, thermal and data management also were tested, the company said in the statement.

"Had Orbcomm been the primary payload on this mission ... we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desired orbit," Orbcomm said.

Orbcomm has hired SpaceX to fly eight satellites for its new communications network on a Falcon 9 rocket launching in 2013 and the remaining nine satellites on another Falcon 9 in 2014.

On Friday, astronauts aboard the space station had finished unpacking more than 75 percent of the 882 pounds (400 kg) of cargo aboard the Dragon capsule and were looking forward to a little treat - ice cream.

"We don't usually have this type of stuff up here," station commander Sunita Williams said during an in-flight interview. "It's usually thermostabilized or dehydrated (food), so homemade ice cream is something special. We're going to have a little party."

Among the Dragon's cargo was a freezer that will be used to store scientific samples. For the ride up, SpaceX stashed chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream inside (Reuters, 2012).

Title: Private SpaceX Craft To Leave Space Station Sunday
October 26, 2012
NBC News

The private Dragon spacecraft is set to return to Earth Sunday, wrapping up the first-ever commercial cargo mission to the International Space Station.

The unmanned Dragon capsule, built by the California-based firm SpaceX, is scheduled to undock from the orbiting lab at 7:55 a.m. EDT (1155 GMT) Sunday, then be released by the station's huge robotic arm about 90 minutes later.

If all goes according to plan, Dragon will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast at 3:20 p.m EDT (1920 GMT) Sunday, where SpaceX personnel will retrieve it with a crane-equipped boat. You can watch the Dragon's undocking live on NASA TV here beginning at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT).

Humanity has long dreamed of putting boots on Mars, but those boots have the potential to stomp all over any lifeforms that may exist on the Red Planet.

"In California, SpaceX crew have already headed to the Pacific Ocean splashdown zone to await Dragon’s arrival, while at the station, Expedition 33 crew members are readying Dragon’s return cargo, including biological samples that have been stored in the station’s freezers since the retirement of the space shuttle," SpaceX officials wrote in a mission update Friday (Oct. 26).

Dragon launched atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Oct. 7, kicking off the first of 12 robotic supply flights the company will make for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract. The capsule arrived at the station three days later, delivering 882 pounds of supplies and scientific experiments.

Dragon will bring 1,673 pounds of cargo back down to Earth Sunday, including 866 pounds of scientific research gear, NASA officials said.

NASA is looking to American companies such as California-based SpaceX to fill the crew- and cargo-carrying void left by the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011. The agency also signed a $1.9 billion deal with another firm, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., to make eight unmanned supply flights with its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

Orbital plans to test-fly Antares for the first time later this year. Meanwhile, Dragon's second official supply mission is slated to blast off in January. That flight will actually mark Dragon's third visit to the space station; it first docked with the orbiting lab in May of this year during a historic demonstration mission.

SpaceX is also working to develop a manned version of Dragon, in the hopes of winning a NASA contract to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. The company has said it may be ready to carry crews by 2015 or so.

Three other firms — Sierra Nevada, Boeing and Blue Origin — have also received NASA funding in the last two years to develop crewed vehicles. NASA hopes at least two of the four companies have manned spaceships up and running by 2017 (NBC News, 2012).

Title: SpaceX Dragon Completes 1st Commercial Cargo Flight
October 29, 2012

The SpaceX Dragon has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a three-week flight to the International Space Station, completing the first commercial cargo mission to Earth's orbit, NASA announced Sunday.

The unmanned capsule came down about 250 miles west of Baja California at 3:22 p.m., the space agency reported. The craft was launched October 7, the first of a dozen flights to the space station planned under a contract with NASA.

The craft carried nearly 900 pounds of supplies to the station and returned with nearly 1,700 pounds of freight, mostly used hardware and scientific research material. The reusable craft has been loaded onto a ship and was carried back to shore Sunday afternoon, SpaceX said.

NASA chose SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the Dragon spacecraft to resupply the space station in 2008. The space agency has retired its fleet of space shuttles and plans to turn much of its focus toward exploring deep into the solar system.

"With today's mission, we've closed the loop and demonstrated that American industry is ready to step up to the plate and meet our needs for transport to low Earth orbit," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement issued after splashdown. "This work will transform our relationship to space, save money and create jobs. America remains the leader in space and technology development."

Another company, Orbital Sciences, is expected to launch its own demonstration flight to the space station within months under a contract with NASA. And SpaceX is one of three aerospace firms now vying for a contract for manned flights into orbit, along with Sierra Nevada and Boeing.

The mission was completed despite the failure of one of the nine engines on the Falcon 9 booster rocket that carried it into orbit. SpaceX said the engine failed 79 seconds after liftoff, but the remaining engines kept the craft headed for the space station as flight computers made the necessary adjustments.

However, a prototype communications satellite that the Falcon 9 carried as a secondary payload did not end up in its designated orbit. The satellite's builder, New Jersey-based Orbcomm, said controllers were able to successfully test the device's systems before it fell out of orbit and plans to launch two more of them aboard SpaceX rockets by 2014.

SpaceX said it was studying flight data with NASA to figure out what happened, "and we will apply those lessons to future flights" (CNN, 2012).

Title: SpaceX Dragon Capsule To Miss Berthing Date At Space Station After Thruster Issue
Date: March 1, 2013
Fox News

Abstract:  A commercial vessel carrying a ton of supplies for the International Space Station ran into thruster trouble shortly after liftoff Friday and will miss its docking date, despite a day spent scrambling by flight controllers to fix the problem.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the company had resolved issues that prevented three of the four sets of thrusters on the company's unmanned Dragon capsule from kicking in, delaying the release of solar panels -- and ultimately preventing the vehicle from making its planned docking date.

Dragon's twin solar wings swung opened two hours later than planned as SpaceX worked to bring up the idled thrusters, which Musk said should happen shortly.

“We’ve been deeply engaged in trying to find out what went wrong with the Dragon thruster system,” Musk said over the phone from SpaceX mission control in California. "I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to turn all four thruster pods on and restore full control” soon, he added.

The Dragon is equipped with 18 thrusters, divided into four sets, and can maneuver adequately even with some unavailable. The thruster issues caused SpaceX to miss its scheduled rendezvous.

“Fortunately, we have quite a bit of flexibility in our birthing date,” explained Michael Suffredini, International Space Station program manager. Musk noted that the capsule could orbit safely for up to a month before docking, if needed. And because the cargo is largely scientific, a delay won't put the station crew in any jeopardy.

The problem cropped up following Dragon's separation from the rocket upper stage, nine minutes into the flight. The liftoff was right on time and appeared to go flawlessly; the previous Falcon launch in October suffered a single engine failure that resulted in the loss of a communications satellite that was hitching a ride on the rocket.

This is the first major trouble to strike a Dragon in orbit. Two similar capsules, launched last year, had no problem getting to the orbiting lab.

“It was a little frightening there,” Musk admitted, stressing that the Falcon rocket performed perfectly despite the minor troubles with the Dragon capsule. More than 1 ton of space station supplies are aboard the cargo craft, including some much-needed equipment for air purifiers.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 deliveries to restock the space station, and hopes the venture will lead to transporting astronauts there in a few years. A company-sponsored demo mission kicked everything off last May.

Launch controllers applauded and gave high-fives to one another, once the spacecraft safely reached orbit. The successful separation of the Dragon from the rocket was broadcast live on NASA TV; on-board cameras provided the unique views nine minutes into the flight.

Then the trouble struck, and the coverage ended.

The space station and its six-man crew were orbiting 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off the New England coast, when the Falcon soared. Astronauts are to use a hefty robot arm to draw the Dragon in and dock it to the station.

SpaceX tucked fresh fruit into the Dragon for the station residents; the apples and other treats are straight from the orchard of an employee's family. Also on board: 640 seeds of a flowering weed used for research, mouse stems cells, protein crystals, astronaut meals and clothing, trash bags, air-purifying devices, computer parts and other gear.

NASA's deputy administrator, Lori Garver, said using commercial providers is more efficient for the space agency. It's part of a long-term program, she noted, that has NASA spending less money on low-Earth orbit and investing more in deep-space missions. That's one reason why the space shuttles were retired in 2011 after the station was completed.

The goal is to have SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., and other private firms take over the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station in the next few years.

SpaceX -- so far the leader of the pack -- is aiming for a manned Dragon flight by 2015.

Competitor Orbital Sciences Corp. has yet to get off its Virginia launch pad. The company plans to launch a free-flying test of its Antares rocket and Cygnus supply ship in April, followed by a demo run to the space station in early summer. Then the so-called operational supply runs can begin.

Russia, Japan and Europe regularly make station deliveries as well, and Russia is the only option for astronaut rides. But only the Dragon is designed to bring back substantial amounts of research and used merchandise.

This Dragon is scheduled to spend more than three weeks at the space station before being cut loose by the crew on March 25. It will parachute into the Pacific with more than a ton of medical samples, plant and cell specimens, Japanese fish and old machinery, and used spacewalking gloves and other items.

SpaceX plans to launch its next Dragon to the station in late fall.

More than 2,000 guests jammed the Cape Canaveral launch site Friday morning to watch the Falcon take flight. It wasn't much of a show because of all the clouds (Fox News, 2013).

Title: SpaceX Dragon Set To Leave ISS Next Week
Date: March 21, 2013
Source: PC Magazine

Abstract: The SpaceX Dragon supply spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station and return to Earth on Monday and three new crew members are also scheduled to arrive at the ISS next week.

The three Expedition 35 crew members currently aboard the ISS are now preparing for the departure of Dragon, which arrived at the orbiting space lab in early March after a brief delay due to a thruster issue during launch which was fixed by SpaceX and NASA engineers.

The ISS multinational station mission management team met Thursday to discuss Dragon's release from the ISS's Harmony module to which it's been docked for the past three weeks and greenlighted Monday as the go date, according to NASA.

Coverage of the SpaceX capsule's release from the ISS on NASA TV will begin at 5 a.m. Eastern on Monday, the space agency reported. Officials expect Dragon to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at around 1:20 p.m. Eastern.

The private spaceflight company's unmanned capsule brought 1,268 pounds of supplies to the ISS crew and will return with about 2,668 pounds of cargo, including the results of experiments that tested how life in microgravity affected the growth of plant seedlings, changes to the human body, the behavior of semiconductors and detergents, and more.

Expedition 35 crew members Commander Chris Hadfield, Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn, and Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko continued to work on those and other experiments this week, NASA reported. Hadfield and Marshburn have also been loading Dragon with cargo for its return flight.

All three crew members are also getting ready to welcome the members of Expedition 36—Pavel Vinogradov, Chris Cassidy, and Alexander Misurkin—who are scheduled to arrive at the ISS aboard a Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft next week. On Wednesday, the ISS reboosted to an altitude about three miles higher than its operational altitude to prepare for the docking of the Soyuz capsule to the station's Poisk module, NASA said.

The Soyuz spacecraft is currently scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan next Thursday. The joint Expedition 35/36 crew will share the station until Hadfield, Marshburn, and Romanenko depart sometime in May (PC Magazine, 2013).