Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SpaceX, Orbital Prepare for Historic ISS Cargo Flights

An artist's concept of the Orbital Cygnus near the International Space Station. Image source: Orbital Sciences.

Expanding on various reports last week, Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX and Orbital are preparing for historic flights that will lead to ISS cargo deliveries in 2012.

NASA has "technically" agreed to combine SpaceX's next two demonstration flights of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, electing to send the next mission all the way to the space station, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of the agency's human space programs.

"We technically have agreed with SpaceX that we want to combine those flights, but we haven't given them formal approval yet," Gerstenmaier said last week. "We still want to go through some more analysis to go take and look and define exactly what criteria makes up that combined mission, what objectives are there, what the go/no go criteria is."

According to the article, if the SpaceX demo flight goes well, their "first operational resupply flight would launch in the first half of 2012."

As for Orbital, the article states that the first flight of the Cygnus capsule would be in February 2012 aboard a Taurus 2 rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. The Taurus will fly a test flight in December.

The December test launch was added with the help of NASA funding to reduce the risk in Orbital's rocket and spacecraft development programs. If the launch is successful, Orbital aims to bolt the first Cygnus craft to the second Taurus 2 rocket for liftoff in February.

Since Cygnus tends to be lost in the shadow of the SpaceX Dragon, you might be interested in the Cygnus Updates page on the Orbital web site.

UPDATE July 28, 2011Aviation Week chips in with this Reuters article about the November 30 SpaceX launch.

“We see both cargo and crew (flight) services as being the key to opening up not only NASA’s full use of the great International Space Station but also to open up other uses of low-Earth orbit, some we are talking about and some we have yet to even envision,” Dennis Stone, a program manager with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said at a commercial space conference July 28.

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