Saturday, December 20, 2014

SpaceX Conducts Static Fire Test and Completes First Milestone for CCtCap

SpaceX conducts static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX on Friday completed a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket in advance of the CRS-5 mission for NASA. The test was conducted at SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and ran for the full planned duration. Meanwhile, NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency. During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, then launch, fly, land and recover the crew. The company also outlined how it will achieve NASA certification of its system to enable transport of crews to and from the space station.

“This milestone sets the pace for the rigorous work ahead as SpaceX meets the certification requirements outlined in our contract,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is very exciting to see SpaceX's proposed path to certification, including a flight test phase and completion of the system development.”

Throughout the next few years, SpaceX will test its systems, materials and concept of operations to the limits to prove they are safe to transport astronauts to the station. Once certified, the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket will be processed and integrated inside a new hangar before being rolled out for launch. This will all take place at the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Crew Dragon is expected to be able to dock to the station for up to 210 days and serve as a 24-hour safe haven during an emergency in space.

“SpaceX designed the Dragon spacecraft with the ultimate goal of transporting people to space,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer. “Successful completion of the Certification Baseline Review represents a critical step in that effort—we applaud our team’s hard work to date and look forward to helping NASA return the transport of U.S. astronauts to American soil.”

SpaceX also conducted a static fire test on Dec. 17 and while the test accomplished nearly all goals, it did not run the full duration. The data suggested the company could have pushed forward without a second attempt, but out of an abundance of caution, it opted to execute a second test.

Given the extra time needed for data review and testing, coupled with the limited launch date availability due to the holidays and other restrictions, earliest launch opportunity is now Jan. 6 with Jan. 7 as a backup. A few times a year, the ISS orbits through a high beta angle period. This is where the angle between the ISS orbital plane and the sun is high, resulting in the ISS being in almost constant sunlight for a 10 day period. During this time, there are thermal and operational constraints that prohibit Dragon from being allowed to berth with the ISS.


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