Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SpaceX, Orbital Prepare for ISS Dockings

Italy's Thales Alenia Space developed the pressurized cargo module for the Orbital Cygnus.

Two online articles detail pending flights by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to the International Space Station.

Aviation Week "COTS Vehicle" Could Reach ISS This Year"

NASASpaceFlight.com "ISS Managers Evaluating SpaceX Via Safety Reviews Ahead of Debut Arrival"

The main points ...

The two companies are working through the NASA bureaucracy to have their flights certified safe for docking.

One issue with December's SpaceX Dragon flight is a commitment to deploy two OrbComm satellites using Falcon 9's second stage once Dragon separates.

To quote from the NASASpaceFlight.com article:

It is currently understood that two ORBCOMM satellites will ride uphill with Falcon 9 during the C2/C3 flight, which caused ISS managers some interest from the standpoint of a potential collision risk with the ISS. As such, NASA are using their experienced Monte Carlo analysis methods to clear this concern.

The article also cites a recent presentation projecting SpaceX production timelines:

"Significant additional tooling and automation will be added to the factory, as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks. Depending on demand, Dragon production is planned for a rate of one every six to eight weeks."

As for the Orbital Cygnus, Aviation Week reports the demo launch could be delayed due to concerns with the aging Soviet-era engines.

Orbital Sciences suffered a pair of setbacks over the summer as they pushed to mount their first suborbital Taurus II test flight in mid-September. Work on the greenfield launch pad for the new Ukrainian-built rocket at Wallops Island, Va., lagged, and the testing fire at Stennis Space Center, Miss., raised questions about the surplus Soviet-era kerosene-fueled NK-33 engines that will power it.

Initially thought to have been triggered by a fuel leak in the test stand, the fire damaged the engine beyond repair. And subsequent analysis revealed that the leak came from a Russian-built fuel manifold on the outside of the 40-year-old engine, which has been modified by Aerojet and redesignated the AJ-26.

Aerojet has about three dozen AJ-26s in its inventory, according to an Orbital spokesman. All will be evaluated to ensure they are free of corrosion or some other flaw that might have caused the manifold leak on the damaged engine.

The projected timelines have Dragon's demo docking in December, with deliveries beginning in February. Cygnus is also projected to fly its demo flight in February.

UPDATE August 17, 2011 — You have to be a subscriber to read it, but The Wall Street Journal has an article on the pending SpaceX launch.

Private spacecraft will begin docking with the International Space Station before the end of the year, months sooner than planned, after NASA gave the green light for the first cargo delivery by such a capsule.

Space Exploration Technology Corp. said the U.S. space agency has given tentative approval for it to conduct the late November flight. The launch will accelerate the shift to private ventures for future manned missions.

The flight will feature the initial effort to dock the company's Dragon capsule — the pioneer commercial spacecraft — with the space station, orbiting more than 200 miles above the earth.

Despite the subscribers-only status on WSJ.com, you can read the entire article on the Morningstar web site. In that article is this passage:

Seeking to cut costs and revitalize NASA for deep-space exploration, President Barack Obama wants to use private space taxis to support the space station. NASA has provided seed money to SpaceX and a number of other companies to work on projects capable of transporting astronauts to and from the station by the second half of this decade.

But simultaneously, SpaceX and other commercial-space groups also are vying to provide larger rockets and more-capable capsules, required for longer-term manned exploration initiatives to venture deeper into the solar system.

Meanwhile, Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX held a countdown rehearsal on August 15, and await the delivery of Dragon from California.

SpaceX says engineers have upgraded the seaside launch pad since the Falcon 9's previous launch in December 2010, including adding new liquid oxygen pumps to reduce the fueling time from 90 minutes to less than 30 minutes. The improvement will streamline the Falcon 9 countdown for the next launch.

The mission's payload, the first full-up Dragon spacecraft, will be shipped to Cape Canaveral in early September, according to Kirstin Grantham, a company spokesperson.

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