The count down has begun: the world’s first private built rocket, the SpaceX, is targeted to lift off at 1.55am PT/4.55AM ET.
For the first time in history, a private corporation is set to prove it can deliver cargo to the International Space Station. At the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., a Falcon 9 rocket belonging to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), is being prepared to place its Dragon spacecraft into orbit on a test mission to the orbital outpost.
Working for the past six years under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program (COTS), both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. have been pursuing independent efforts to design, test and fly two
brand new cargo vehicles. These will provide the United States with safe, reliable and efficient cargo delivery services to the orbiting complex NASA built with its international partners.
The first COTS demonstration flight that SpaceX completed was in December 2010, where it proved that it could launch, orbit and recover its Dragon spacecraft. Prior to that, the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 demonstrated it could launch a Dragon capsule simulator atop a Falcon 9 rocket. This upcoming mission will prove that Dragon can rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station.
After launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Dragon will begin its journey to the space station. Just under 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit, deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of engine firings to reach the station. During this part of the flight, Dragon will demonstrate the first set of tests as part of its COTS milestone requirements. The spacecraft will perform a test of its Absolute GPS (AGPS) system, using global positioning system satellites to determine its location. It also will conduct a free drift demonstration, allowing the spacecraft to float freely with all of its thrusters inhibited. Then Dragon will perform a demonstration of its abort capability to ensure it could move away from the station if necessary.
On the third day of the flight, Dragon will perform a burn that will bring it to a path 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) below the station. During this “fly-under,” Dragon will establish UHF communication with the station using its COTS Ultra-high frequency Communication Unit (CUCU). Dragon will perform a test of its Relative GPS (RGPS) system, which uses the relative positions of the spacecraft to the space station to determine its location. Also, using the crew command panel (CCP) on board the station, the Expedition crew will briefly interact with Dragon, monitoring the fly-under and sending a command to Dragon to turn on its strobe light. This ability for the crew to send commands to Dragon will be important for the next day’s activity. Once the fly-under is complete, Dragon will fire its engines to begin a loop out in front, above
and then behind the station in a racetrack pattern at a distance between 7-10 kilometers (4-6.2 miles). This will set the spacecraft up for a re-rendezvous with the station the next day.