Monday, August 29, 2011
Stand and Deliver
The Falcon 9 launches with Dragon on December 8, 2010. Photo source: NASA.gov.
James Dean of Florida Today writes:
This week's failure of a Russian resupply mission bound for the International Space Station has increased the spotlight on the next U.S. vehicle scheduled to visit the outpost: SpaceX's Dragon capsule.
"It certainly puts some increased pressure on SpaceX," company founder and CEO Elon Musk said. "It just means we've got to make sure we deliver."
The company's December mission combines what were to have been two test flights. One was to maneuver within the vicinity of the ISS, the second was to actually dock. Now those two demonstrations will be performed on the same flight.
According to Dean:
Any spacecraft approaching the outpost orbiting 240 miles above Earth must have systems designed to continue functioning even after two failures, a process Musk identified one of the biggest challenges readying for the flight.
"Getting all of that redundancy right with quite a bit of complexity is pretty tricky," he said.
The article notes, "If it is not successful, NASA says the company has committed to a third demonstration."
New Scientist magazine technology correspondent Paul Marks writes that "the raft of commercial space firms now vying to put their stamp on the final frontier could have a big say in how long the station is kept in orbit."
"It is likely that ISS will be extended beyond the current time frame and such extension may involve some public-private partnership," says George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO and a former NASA chief of staff. "ISS is both an exciting destination in itself and a base for future deep-space operations. Virgin Galactic would certainly be interested in participating in ISS in the future should national agencies be open to the conversation," he says.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver inspects a Bigelow habitat mockup. Photo source: NASA.gov.
Marks writes that Bigelow Aerospace is working on two ISS deals — one with NASA, one with JAXA — to install inflatable Bigelow modules at the space station.
Bigelow director Mike Gold, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, says the firm is in "advanced discussions" with the commercial Japanese Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS) — which operates the Kibo module on the ISS for the Japanese Space Agency JAXA — to provide it with an orbiting habitat.
The module could be rented out as an ISS storage unit, making the station less dependent on frequent resupply flights, says Hiroshi Kikuchi of JAMSS. To show that the modules are capable of safe, crewed operation, Bigelow is also negotiating with NASA to attach one to a US-owned ISS module.