Friday, March 01, 2013

Commercial cargo craft Dragon launches to Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A privately owned cargo craft destined to resupply the International Space Station with new science experiments and supplies lifted-off from America's Space Coast on Friday.

The flight by Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) marks it's second operational resupply flight by a commercial company, and will repeat the company's first flight last October in which saw their unmanned craft captured by the station's robotic arm for docking.

On the same day as a major government spending cuts began, NASA associate administrator Lori Garver today applauded the private sector's venture into space exploration moments before launch.

As the countdown ticked closer to zero, the weather forecast improved and the Falcon 9 rocket was pressurized for flight.

The 157-foot Falcon 9 launched into the cloudy skies over Cape Canaveral at 10:10:13 a.m. EST, to begin it's twenty-hour sprint to earth's orbital outpost in space.

This flight will also mark the quickest time in which America has sent a spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory. Currently, Russia has developed a flight plan which allows their Progress M cargo craft to arrive at the complex just six hours after launch.

Powered by nine Merlin engines, the Falcon 9 soared out over the Atlantic waters just as the space station passed 250 miles high over the southern tip of Florida.

Three minutes later, the engines were shutdown and the first stage separated followed seconds later by the protective payload fairing.

The second stage's engines quickly took over pushing the Dragon module higher and faster.

The resupply craft was then let go from the second stage ten minutes after lift-off.

However, one minute later, SpaceX controllers in Hawthorne, California delayed the deployment of the craft's twin solar arrays when three of four thruster pods which are used to move around.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk later Tweeted that the solar arrays were successfully deployed before noon after a second thruster pod became active.
The thruster issue has forced a delay in Dragon's ability to reach the outpost early on Saturday.

Dragon is loaded with over 1200 pounds of oxygen, fuel, food and experiments which it will deliver following docking on Saturday, including a special package of California grown apples, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said on Thursday.

On Saturday, space station astronauts Kevin Ford and Thomas Marshburn will use the station's 57-foot Canadarm 2 to reach out and snag the arriving cargo craft.

Two hours later, flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center near Houston will slowly guide the craft over for it's docking to the station's Harmony node.

Dragon is the only unmanned supply craft in the world to have a heat shield and parachutes which allows NASA to return real time science experiments back to earth safely.

Twenty-five days following it's launch, Dragon will be unberthed and will soar towards a same day splashdown in the Pacific Ocean some 200 miles off the coast of Baja California.

CRS 3 is planned for late-Fall of this year, Gwynne Shotwell stated on Thursday, and it will fly atop an upgraded Falcon 9.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.) 

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