Launch Preps Continue as Teams Evaluate Backup MDM

International Space Station Program officials and representatives of SpaceX decided Saturday to continue preparations for the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon cargo craft to the space station Monday from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., despite the failure Friday of a backup computer component that provides redundancy for commanding the Mobile Transporter rail car on the truss of the station. A final decision on whether to launch Dragon Monday will not be made until another status meeting is conducted Sunday morning.

NASA has rescheduled its SpaceX prelaunch briefing allow for operational reviews in the morning. It now will be held at 1 p.m. EDT at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Also, the SpaceX-3 Science and Technology Cargo briefing will take at 2 p.m. For updates on the schedule of events for Sunday, call the Kennedy News Center recording at 321-867-2525.

The component, called a multiplexer demultiplexer (MDM) is one of more than a dozen housed on the truss of the station that routes computer commands to various systems on the outpost. The failure Friday to a box called EXT-2, a backup box to a prime component in the S0 truss that measures 10.5 x 14.9 x 16.4 inches and weighs 50.8 pounds, occurred during a routine health check of the device. The prime multiplexer continues to operate flawlessly, and there has been no impact to station operations. The crew was informed of the problem and is in no danger, continuing its normal complement of research work and routine maintenance. A reboost of the station using the ISS Progress 53 thrusters was conducted Saturday as planned and placed the laboratory at the correct altitude for Soyuz crew landing and launch operations in May.

Station program officials, flight controllers and teams of engineers are working to determine whether there is any risk to launching the SpaceX cargo craft Monday. They will evaluate whether the station has enough redundancy to permit the launch to proceed, which would result in Dragon arriving at the station Wednesday where it will be grappled and berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module by Expedition Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio. The station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm that would be used to capture and berth Dragon has other redundancy capabilities not affected by the backup MDM failure.

While a final decision on the SpaceX launch is being reviewed, another team of engineers is laying out a timeline for a contingency spacewalk that is required to replace the failed spare MDM. No date for the spacewalk has been scheduled. Such a spacewalk is one of the so-called “Big 12” spacewalks that station crews train to execute for the loss of a critical component on the complex.
For now, Dragon remains scheduled for launch Monday at 4:58 p.m. EDT.

Forecast: 70 Percent Chance of Acceptable Conditions for Launch

Air Force weather forecasters said there is a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions Monday afternoon for the 4:58 p.m. EDT launch of the SpaceX-3 mission. The concern is that thick clouds will develop during the afternoon as the countdown winds toward liftoff. If the launch is scrubbed Monday, the next opportunity will come Friday, April 18. Conditions that day are expected to be worse than Monday’s, with the forecast calling for a 40 percent chance of acceptable weather.

SpaceX-3 to Launch April 14 at 4:58 p.m. EDT

SpaceX announced Friday they will launch the next cargo mission to the International Space Station on Monday, April 14 at 4:58 p.m. EDT. The Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Dragon spacecraft loaded 5,000 pounds of experiments, crew supplies and other cargo. The launch window in instantaneous. We will begin our continuous countdown coverage on the NASA Launch Blog at about 3:45 p.m. NASA TV also will begin coverage at 3:45 p.m. April 14.

Sunday’s Launch Postponed

SpaceX has confirmed that Sunday’s launch of its third contracted resupply mission to the International Station has been postponed due to a range asset issue. More information including a new target launch date will be posted here and at as it becomes available.

UPDATE – The Air Force said in a statement Thursday:

A mandatory range asset supporting the NROL-67 launch went offline, March 24, 2014.  An investigation revealed a tracking radar experienced an electrical short, overheating the unit and rendering it inoperable.  The outage resulted in an inability to meet minimum public safety requirements needed for flight, so the launch was postponed.

Initial assessment indicates repair of the tracking radar will take approximately three weeks.  The Air Force is evaluating the feasibility of returning an inactive radar to full mission capability to resume operations sooner.  The launch schedule impact is to be determined, pending resolution of the anomaly.  Early indications are all launches scheduled for FY14 will be supported. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

Launch Time: 10:49 P.M. EDT on Sunday

SpaceX will target its next cargo mission launch to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, for 10:49 p.m. EDT, Sunday, March 30. An on-time launch would put the Dragon’s arrival at the station at about 7 a.m. Wednesday, April 2.

We’ll begin our continuous launch coverage at 9:45 p.m. and NASA Television’s launch coverage will kick off at the same time. This is the company’s third contracted resupply mission to the orbital laboratory. Should the launch be postponed, the next launch opportunity is 9:39 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, with blog and NASA TV coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m.

NASA TV also will air a prelaunch news conference at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 29 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A 2 p.m. briefing on the science and technology cargo being delivered to the space station by SpaceX will follow.

SpaceX Targets March 30 Launch Date

From SpaceX: To ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance and allow additional time to resolve remaining open items, SpaceX is now targeting March 30  for the CRS-3 launch, with April 2 as a back-up.  These represent the earliest available launch opportunities given existing schedules, and are currently pending approval with the Range.

Both Falcon 9 and Dragon are in good health; given the critical payloads on board and significant upgrades to Dragon, the additional time will ensure SpaceX does everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch. 

Additional details on exact liftoff time, press activities, etc. will be available as we get closer to launch.

Forecast Calls for 70 Percent Chance of “Go” Weather

Florida at night as seen from the International Space Station, the destination of SpaceX-3.

The first launch weather forecast ahead of the SpaceX-3 cargo mission to the International Space Station sets out a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time, which remains 4:41 a.m. EDT. Thick clouds are seen as a potential obstacle according to the forecast. SpaceX-3 is the third commercial resupply mission to space station for SpaceX. During the mission, the Dragon capsule will deliver 4,969 pounds of cargo to the orbiting laboratory and return 3,578 pounds to Earth.

An Unusual First Stage Photo


SpaceX CEO Elon Musk released this photo yesterday of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the SpaceX-3 mission to the International Space Station. The unusual feature is the landing legs on the side of the rocket. According to Musk, they are 60 feet in diameter. He said the booster will still land in the ocean, but will attempt what’s known as a soft landing instead of simply plummeting as such stages have done until now. The exception is the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters which parachuted into the water and were recovered for reuse. Musk has said before that his goal is to bring the spent first stage back to land on land so the booster and its 9 engines can be used again. Musk ended his posts saying the company needs to prove precision control of the stage throughout the deceleration from hypersonic to subsonic speeds.