Friday, December 19, 2014

SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station Slips to January

Testing operation of hypersonic grid fins on Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Elon Musk/Twitter

NASA and SpaceX announced Thursday the launch of SpaceX's fifth commercial resupply services mission (CRS-5) to the International Space Station now will occur no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 6. The new launch date will provide SpaceX engineers time to investigate further issues that arose from a 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. A beta angle is the position of the sun relative to mechanical structures on the space station. During the time of high beta angles, which run from Dec. 28 through Jan. 7, thermal and operational constraints prohibit Dragon from berthing to the station.

During the flight SpaceX will attempt the precision landing of a Falcon 9 first stage for the first time, on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging.

The odds of success are not great—perhaps 50% at best. However this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage.

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

The launch is scheduled at approximately 6:18 a.m. EST. NASA Television coverage will begin at 5 a.m.

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

A launch on Jan. 6 will result in a rendezvous and grapple of Dragon 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 in Florida will be rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 5, with times still to be determined.

Credit: NASAspacex.com

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