Dragon Reaches Space, Headed for Friday Station Rendezvous

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon space freighter rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: NASA TV

The Dragon spacecraft has separated from its second stage and achieved its preliminary orbit. Dragon’s solar arrays have deployed and will provide 5 kilowatts of power to the spacecraft as it begins a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the International Space Station.

At 7 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 17, the Dragon spacecraft will catch up to the orbiting laboratory, and Flight Engineer and European Space Agency Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts will use the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) robotic arm to reach out and capture it as they operate from the station’s cupola.

A post-launch news conference will air on NASA TV at 5:30 p.m. EDT. NASA will issue the following news release shortly:

Research for One-Year Space Station Mission Among NASA Cargo Launched Aboard SpaceX Resupply Flight

Research that will help prepare NASA astronauts and robotic explorers for future missions to Mars is among the two tons of cargo now on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:10 p.m. EDT on Tuesday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Five years ago this week, President Obama toured the same SpaceX launch pad used today to send supplies, research and technology development to the ISS,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Back then, SpaceX hadn’t even made its first orbital flight. Today, it’s making regular flights to the space station and is one of two American companies, along with The Boeing Company, that will return the ability to launch NASA astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil and land then back in the United States. That’s a lot of progress in the last five years, with even more to come in the next five.”

The mission is the company’s sixth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon’s cargo will support approximately 40 of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will be performed during Expeditions 43 and 44, including numerous human research investigations for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission in space.

Science payloads will support experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that improves life on Earth and drives progress for future space exploration. Investigations include:

  • A study of potential methods for counteracting cell damage that occurs in a microgravity environment

The Cell Shape and Expression research program will provide for the first time a reliable experimental model able to highlight the relationships between microgravity, cell shape and gene expression, which may also inform pharmacological ways to counteract microgravity-induced cell damages.

  • Research to improve understanding of bone cells, which could lead to treatments for osteoporosis and muscle wasting conditions

Osteo-4 studies the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, which are the most common cells in bone. These cells reside within the mineralized bone and can sense mechanical forces, or the lack of them, but researchers do not know how. Osteo-4 allows scientists to analyze changes in the physical appearance and genetic expression of mouse bone cells in microgravity.

  • Continued studies into astronaut vision changes

Dragon also will deliver hardware to support an ongoing one-year crew study known as Fluid Shifts. More than half of American astronauts experience vision changes and alterations to parts of their eyes during and after long-duration spaceflight. The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid shifts from the lower body to the upper body, in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the impact these shifts have on fluid pressure in the head and changes in vision and eye structures.

  • Tests on a new material that could one day be used as a synthetic muscle for robotics explorers of the future

Robots can perform tasks too repetitive, difficult or dangerous for humans. Robots built with synthetic muscle would have more human-like capabilities, but the material would have to withstand the rigors of space. This investigation tests the radiation resistance of an electroactivepolymer called Synthetic Muscle, developed by RasLabs, which can contract and expand like real muscles.

The spacecraft also will deliver hardware needed for the installation of two International Docking Adapters scheduled for delivery on future SpaceX missions. Once installed, these adapters will enable commercial crew spacecraft to dock to the space station.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Dragon to the station at 7 a.m. Friday, April 17. Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA will assist.

After about five weeks, Dragon will depart the space station for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California. The capsule will return more than 3,000 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The ISS remains the springboard to NASA’s next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

For more information about International Space Station science and research, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/station

For more information about the SpaceX resupply mission, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/spacex

SpaceX Countdown is Progressing Smoothly

SpaceX Dragon
ISS034-E-060222 (3 March 2013) — This is one of a series of photos taken by the Expedition 34 crew members aboard the International Space Station during the March 3 approach, capture and docking of the SpaceX Dragon. Thus the capsule begins its scheduled three-week-long stay at the orbiting space station.

NASA television coverage for today’s scheduled launch of the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station has begun and can be seen at https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv.

Countdown is progressing smoothly toward a scheduled lift off at 4:10:41 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The weather forecast remains at 60% “go” with concerns for anvil and cumulous clouds.

The Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon spacecraft carrying about two tons of supplies and materials to support about 40 of more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during the station’s Expeditions 43 and 44.

For a mission overview, press kit, launch countdown coverage, NASA’s launch blog, and more information about the mission, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/spacex

To join the online conversation about the SpaceX CRS-6 launch, the International Space Station and Expedition 43 on Twitter, follow @Space_Station and the hashtag #ISScargo.

Dragon Launch Occuring No Earlier Than Jan. 6

The SpaceX Dragon
The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on Sept. 23, 2014 for grapple and berthing.

NASA and SpaceX announced today the launch of SpaceX’s fifth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station now will occur no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 6. This will provide SpaceX engineers time to investigate further some of the issues that arose from the static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 16 and will avoid beta angle constraints for berthing the Dragon cargo ship to the station that exist through the end of the year.

Beta angles are the angles between the space station orbital plane and the sun, resulting in the station being in almost constant sunlight for a 10 day period. During this time, there are thermal and operational constraints that prohibit Dragon from berthing to the station. This high beta period runs from Dec. 28 through Jan. 7.

The new launch date also will allow the teams to enjoy the holidays.

Space station managers will meet on Monday, Jan. 5, for a thorough readiness review in advance of the Jan. 6 launch attempt. The launch postponement has no impact on the station’s crew, its complement of food, fuel and supplies and will not impact the science being delivered to the crew once Dragon arrives at the station.

A launch on Tuesday, Jan. 6, is scheduled at approximately 6:18 a.m. EST. NASA TV coverage will begin at 5 a.m.

A backup launch attempt is available on Wednesday, Jan. 7.

A launch on Jan. 6 will result in a rendezvous and grapple of Dragon on Thursday, Jan. 8, at approximately 6 a.m. NASA TV coverage will begin at 4:30 a.m. Installation coverage will begin at 9 a.m.

Prelaunch briefings at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will be rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 5 with the times to be determined.

For an updated schedule of prelaunch briefings, events and NASA TV coverage, visit:

http://go.nasa.gov/1FrjDEO

Expedition 42 Stays Busy as NASA Preps for Orion Launch

NASA Astronaut Terry Virts
iss042e016770 (Nov. 27, 2014) — Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Terry Virts works out on an exercise bicycle in the Destiny laboratory.

The six-member Expedition 42 crew aboard its orbital home and laboratory is conducting international science and advanced maintenance. Back on the ground, NASA is preparing for the launch of its new Orion spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on its first test flight, the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. The International Space Station is providing valuable experience and research that will help further future exploration missions on Orion.

The week-long servicing of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly continued Wednesday as astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts replaced filters and checked for leaks. The device removes humidity and carbon dioxide from the station’s environment.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was in Europe’s Columbus lab module cleaning the BioLab. The facility allows the observation of micro-organisms, plants and invertebrates and their adaptation to microgravity. The cosmonauts in the station’s Russian segment gathered in Japan’s Kibo lab module to record a televised event in between their regularly scheduled duties.

› Read more about the BioLab

At KSC, Orion will launch atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket Thursday at 7:05 a.m. EST for a two-orbit test mission taking it 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface. EFT-1 will last less than 4-1/2 hours and will end when Orion splashes down in the Pacific Ocean for recovery by NASA personnel.

› Get the Latest News on Orion’s Flight Test