SpaceX makes final approach to space station

2012-05-25 16:20
Washington - SpaceX's Dragon capsule on Friday made its final approach toward the International Space Station, edging closer to the climax of its landmark mission to latch on to the orbiting research lab.

By 10:30, the unmanned Dragon was 240 meters from the $100bn space outpost "and continuing to close in," Nasa said on its live broadcast of the event.

Astronauts aboard the ISS are planning to help the berthing operation by reaching out with the station's robotic arm to grab the spacecraft so it can latch on to the Harmony module of the station.

As it approached, Dragon nimbly performed a series of test manoeuvres critical to the supply ship's navigation and communication abilities. The space station astronauts had even established communications when Dragon was still 90km out.

Near flawless

The cargo-carrying supply ship is on a mission to become the first privately owned craft to berth with the space station, restoring US access to the space outpost after the shuttle program's end.

Only Russia, Japan and Europe currently have supply ships that can reach the ISS. The United States lost that capacity when it retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

So far, the demonstration flight has been near flawless, according to progress reports from Nasa and SpaceX since the capsule blasted off atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday.

"It is a test flight. We are being cautiously optimistic," said lead mission director John Couluris of SpaceX on Thursday.

The launch marked the first time a commercial enterprise has sent its own craft to the orbiting lab and opened what Nasa, the White House and SpaceX officials described as a "new era" in spaceflight.

California-based SpaceX hopes that its gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule will be able to carry astronauts to the ISS in about three years' time. Russia is now the only nation capable of ferrying astronauts there aboard its Soyuz capsules.

In addition, a successful berthing mission opens the way for SpaceX's $1.6bn contract with Nasa to supply the space station and return cargo to Earth over the coming years.

"After this mission we are on contract for at least 12 more missions to the International Space Station," said Couluris, noting that while Japan and Europe can carry supplies to the ISS, only Russia can return cargo to Earth.

"So we are looking to provide regular services... at a faster rate than some of the other vehicles."
On Thursday, the Dragon capsule successfully completed a fly-under of the ISS at a distance of 2.4km as well as several other maneuvers to lay the groundwork for the berthing attempt.

They included an abort demonstration, communications tests, navigation by global positioning system (GPS) technology alone, and a "free-drift demonstration," whereby the capsule's thrusters were all shut down, as they will need to be prior to being grappled by the space station's robotic arm.

SpaceX and a handful of other companies are using their own funds but are also being helped in their endeavors with seed money from Nasa to build cargo and crew capability.

Both SpaceX and Nasa have praised their newfound partnership, while insisting that any missteps that may occur are a necessary part of such demonstration missions.

While SpaceX is the first in its field, its competitor Orbital Sciences also has a $1.9bn contract with Nasa to supply the space station and is scheduled for its first launch attempt later this year.

Billionaire’s brainchild

SpaceX is the brainchild of 40-year-old billionaire Elon Musk, who made his fortune founding a company that later merged with the PayPal online service, bought by Internet auction giant eBay for $1.5bn in 2002.

Today he leads SpaceX, Tesla Motors - a venture marketing electric cars - and SolarCity, a company that makes solar panels for homes and businesses.

Musk, who has invested $100m of his estimated $2bn fortune in SpaceX, has been celebrating the mission, confessing on Twitter earlier this week that he'd almost missed a phone call from US President Barack Obama.

"The President just called to say congrats. Caller ID was blocked, so at first I thought it was a telemarketer :)," Musk wrote.

Read more on:    spacex  |  good news  |  iss

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36 publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.