Thursday, May 24, 2012

SpaceX Dragon COTS 2+ mission update

Click here to watch the companion video to this post

SpaceX rocketed into history earlier this week becoming the first private company to ever launch a craft to the International Space Station.

Following a perfect launch and a flawless orbital insertion, nine minutes into its flight, the Dragon unfurled its solar panels, a significant milestone in this test mission to deliver cargo to the ISS.

The Dragon spent the next day performing orbital adjustments and catching up with the ISS, arriving this morning and engaging in additional acrobatics under the control of ISS astronaut Don Pettit.

The mission began with the requirement to accomplish a certain set of milestones, and has already perfectly completed most of the checks NASA requires before berthing with the station.

May 22 saw the launch and, as mentioned, the deployment of the solar array. Immediately afterwards, the Dragon also began using its absolute GPS system, autonomously determining its position.

Yesterday, Dragon corrected its orbit to match the Space Station, rapidly closing the distance between the two. It also tested its ability to perform an emergency retreat, an absolute necessity should anything go wrong during the close approach tomorrow.

This morning, after arriving at the station and establishing a UHF communication link with the ISS, the Dragon demonstrated its ability to navigate around the station, and also responded to commands sent directly from the station. Today, these commands merely turned a strobe light on and off, but they successfully revealed the communications link.

Beginning early tomorrow morning, the Dragon will complete three important milestones, encroaching ever closer on the Space Station before being received by the ISS' "Canadarm" and maneuvered into berthing position. Assuming the completion of these milestones, astronauts will enter the berthed Dragon craft on Saturday morning and unload cargo.

The Dragon is loosely scheduled to be reloaded with returning cargo and to depart the station on May 31. A certain date has not yet been announced. After its separation from the ISS, the Dragon will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and be retrieved in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

Want to read more about the SpaceX launch? Check out:

Also, you can watch live coverage of the docking maneuvers on May 25, 2012 beginning at 7:30am EDT on NASA TV. We recommend the public USTREAM (top right link), if available.