Friday, October 7, 2011

SpaceX, Orbital Closer to ISS Docking

Animation of a proposed Cygnus cargo delivery to the International Space Station. Video source: Orbital Sciences. reports that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences may dock at the International Space Station six or seven times in 2012.

A final decision to combine the second and third of three planned Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flights (C2 and C3) for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule still hasn’t been made, although a major hurdle – namely approval from the Russians – now appears to have been removed.

While initial concerns were raised with the “performance data” supplied to them from the COTS 1 flight - as much as it appears the issue was with the amount of information they gained, as opposed to any problems with the data – sources have pointed to the Roscosmos and RSC Energia “stakeholders” signing their approval for the arrival of the SpaceX vehicle at the orbital outpost “in recent days”.

The article reports that the Orbital Cygnus module is scheduled to dock at the ISS for a demo mission on February 12, but may slip due to delays caused by the recent Russian Progress cargo module loss. Their first cargo delivery, titled "Orbital 1," is due to dock June 1 for a 30-day stay.

While all these missions remain preliminary, this would be the first tangible signs of the commercial fleet beginning to make up for some of the lost capability since the end of the Space Shuttle Program.

Animation of a proposed Dragon cargo delivery to the International Space Station. Video source: SpaceX.

UPDATE October 8, 2011Space News takes a somewhat bleaker view of the commercial cargo scheduling:

Critical test launches of rockets and capsules NASA is counting on to deliver supplies to the international space station in the coming years are falling further behind schedule for both technical and logistical reasons.

Launches of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus 2 and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rockets, which until recently were scheduled for this year, are now expected to push into January and February, respectively, according to an internal NASA manifest. A second Taurus 2 flight, this one carrying Orbital’s Cygnus cargo module for the first time, is still officially scheduled for February, but the NASA manifest indicates a May launch date.

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