SpaceX Ushers in an Age of Private Space Travel

on August 16 2011 5:29 AM

Since NASA has retired its space shuttle program, a private rocket company has stepped in to fill the gap and is in the process of readying a capsule for a liftoff to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

SpaceX of California is announcing on its Web site it will combine its earlier proposed twin missions (COTS Demo 2 and COTS Demo 3) into a single mission for a scheduled launch Nov. 30.

The Dragon capsule is to berth at the station nine days after the launch. 

 "SpaceX has been hard at work preparing for our next flight - a mission designed to demonstrate that a privately-developed space transportation system can deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station," the company said. "When the astronauts stationed on the ISS open the hatch and enter the Dragon spacecraft for the first time, it will mark the beginning of a new era in space travel."

SpaceX was established in 2002 by Elon Musk, a founder of PayPal and Zip2 Corp.

SpaceX has been privately developing the Dragon crew and cargo capsule and the Falcon family of rockets, including main and upper stage engines, the cryogenic tank structure, avionics, guidance and control software and ground support equipment.

In April NASA awarded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) $75 million to develop a launch escape system that will enable the company's Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. The award is part of the agency's Commercial Crew Development initiative that started in 2009 to help private companies mature concepts and technologies for human space flight.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station.

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In a SpaceX clean room in Hawthorne (Los Angeles) California, technicians prepare the Dragon spacecraft for thermal vacuum chamber testing. The open bays will hold the parachutes. NASA has given us a launch date of Nov 30, 2011 for Falcon 9 Flight 3, which will send a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. Space X

Space X Readies Shuttle to Carry Cargo to ISS in November

This week, Space X successfully completed a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) for the Falcon 9 Flight 3 launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The WDR is a significant test during which we load propellant into the vehicle and perform all operations just as we would on launch day right down to T-1 seconds, at which point we abort and detank the propellant. Space X

Space X Readies Shuttle to Carry Cargo to ISS in November

Also in Hawthorne, Space X conducted separation tests of the Dragon trunk from the Falcon 9 second stage. Release mechanisms hold the trunk (top, with solar panel covers on left and right sides) to the stage (bottom). When activated, springs on the Falcon 9 push against the Dragon trunk. The trunk separates and the test fixture’s counterbalance system raises the spacecraft up and away. Also in Hawthorne, we have conducted separation tests of the Dragon trunk from the Falcon 9 second stage. Release mechanisms hold the trunk (top, with solar panel covers on left and right sides) to the stage (bottom). When activated, springs on the Falcon 9 push against the Dragon trunk. The trunk separates and the test fixture’s counterbalance system raises the spacecraft up and away. Space X

Space X Readies Shuttle to Carry Cargo to ISS in November

In the Hawthorne factory high bay, the company tested the Dragon solar array rotary actuator by hanging the full array from the ceiling. The actuator (top center) turns the entire array. In flight, the solar panels will track the sun for maximum energy capture Space X

Space X Readies Shuttle to Carry Cargo to ISS in November

Upper Left: First stage tank, with domes and barrels for the second stage. Upper Right: All nine Merlin engines have been individually tested in Texas and then returned to California for integration into the thrust assembly. Lower Left: Composite interstage structure that joins the stages. Lower Right: The pressure vessel for the CRS-1 Dragon spacecraft has 10 cubic meters (350 cu ft) of interior volume Space X