SpaceX

Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

Posted on Updated on

 

SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT Thursday. The capsule then performed a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station and begin its return trip to Earth. Credits: NASA TV
 
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT Thursday with almost 3,100 pounds of NASA cargo from the International Space Station, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. It is the U.S. company’s sixth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station and carried more than two tons of supplies and scientific cargo when it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. NASA also has contracted with American companies SpaceX and Boeing to develop their Crew Dragon and CST-100, respectively, to once again transport astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory from the United States in 2017.

The returning Space Aging study, for example, examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms. By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions.

“Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts,” said Julie Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness.”

Also returned on Dragon were samples for the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. Researchers with Osteo-4 will observe the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, the most common cells in bone. Understanding the effects of microgravity on osteocytes will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity, including the NASA’s journey to Mars. The results derived from this study also could have implications on Earth for patients suffering bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, as well as metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.

Equipment and data from the Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SpinSat) investigation also made the trip back to Earth. The SpinSat study tested how a spherical satellite, measuring 22 inches in diameter, moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.  

The Dragon will be transported by ship approximately 155 miles northeast of its splashdown location to Long Beach, California where NASA cargo will be removed and returned to the agency. The spacecraft then will be prepared for its trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The ISS remains the springboard to NASA’s next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station.

For more information about SpaceX’s mission to the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

NASA Announces Next SpaceX Station Resupply Launch

Posted on Updated on

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft on the sixth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.


 
 
NASA’s next commercial cargo resupply mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida to the International Space Station will be on June 26 at approximately 11:09 a.m. local time aboard the SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

This will be SpaceX’s seventh NASA-contracted cargo mission and its eighth visit to the station. The flight will deliver several tons of supplies, such as new science experiments and technology research, as well as the first of two International Docking Adapters. These adapters will be installed on the station to facilitate docking of commercial crew spacecraft, including the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is the first reusable spacecraft, a pivotal breakthrough according to the company. SpaceX believes that reusable rockets are needed to substantially reduce costs. SpaceX uses the commercial airliners as a model of reusability that reduces costs.

SpaceX rockets are designed to withstand reentry into Earth’s atmosphere instead of burning up like the majority of launches today and in the past. And not only does their spacecraft survive reentry, it also returns to the launch pad for vertical landing.

For more information about the SpaceX resupply mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

For information about the International Space Station, its crew and research, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station.

SpaceX Demonstrates Astronaut Escape System for Crew Dragon Spacecraft

Posted on Updated on

 

This image shows the SpaceX docking with the International Space Station. Image from NASA
 The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends under a parachute into the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday, May 6 following a simulated emergency at the launch pad.

Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflet 

A loud whoosh, faint smoke trail and billowing parachutes marked a successful demonstration Wednesday by SpaceX of its Crew Dragon spacecraft abort system – an important step in NASA’s endeavor to rebuild America’s ability to launch crews to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. The successful test of the spacecraft’s launch escape capabilities proved the spacecraft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of a life-threatening situation on the launch pad.

The Crew Dragon simultaneously fired its eight SuperDraco engines at 9 a.m. EDT and leapt off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The engines fired for about six seconds, instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust each and lifting the spacecraft out over the Atlantic Ocean before jettisoning its trunk, as planned, and parachuting safely into the ocean. The test lasted about two minutes from engine ignition to splashdown.

The flight test is a vital milestone in the company’s development effort and furthers its plan to meet a major requirement for the next generation of piloted spacecraft — an escape system that can quickly and safely take crew members away from their rocket while on the pad and through their ascent to orbit. SpaceX can use the test data to help refine its aerodynamic and performance models, and its design, to help ensure crew safety throughout all phases of flight.

“SpaceX was founded with the goal of carrying people to space, and today’s pad abort test represented an important milestone in that effort,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “Our partnership with NASA has been essential for developing Crew Dragon, a spacecraft that we believe will be the safest ever flown. Today’s successful test will provide critical data as we continue toward crewed flights in 2017.”

The test was the first with a full-size developmental spacecraft using a complete set of eight SuperDraco engines in the demanding real-world conditions of a pad abort situation. SpaceX built the SuperDracos for pad and launch abort use. Each engine, the chambers of which are 3-D printed, burns hypergolic propellants monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

More than 270 special instruments, including temperature sensors and accelerometers, which are instruments that measure acceleration, were strategically placed in and around the vehicle to measure a variety of stresses and acceleration effects. A test dummy, equipped with sensors, went along for the ride to measure the effects on the human body. To further maximize the value of the test, weights were placed inside the capsule at crew seat locations to replicate the mass of a crewed launch.

The trunk, an unpowered cylinder with stabilizing fins, detached from the spacecraft when it reached maximum altitude and fell back to Earth, while the capsule rotated on as planned for a couple seconds before unfurling its drogue parachutes, which then deployed the main parachutes. Boat crews have begun the process of retrieving the Crew Dragon from the ocean and returning it to land for further analysis.

Spacecraft development and certification through the Commercial Crew Program is performed through a new arrangement that encourages innovation and efficiency in the aerospace industry, bringing to the process the space agency’s expertise in the form of safety and performance requirements for the spacecraft, boosters and related systems.

The pad abort test is a payment milestone funded by the Commercial Crew Program under a partnership agreement established with the company in 2012. The agency awarded contracts last year to Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective systems for flight tests and operational missions to the space station. Known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, the awards allow continued work on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon at a pace that is determined by their respective builders, but that also meets NASA’s requirements and its goal of flying crews in 2017.

“Our partners have met many significant milestones and key development activities so far, and this pad abort test provides visual proof of one of the most critical safety requirements — protecting a crew in the event of a major system failure,” Lueders said.

NASA already is preparing the space station for commercial crew spacecraft and the larger station crews that will be enabled by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100. NASA plans to use the new generation of privately developed and operated spacecraft to carry as many as four astronauts each mission, increasing the station crew to seven and doubling the amount of science that can be performed off the Earth, for the Earth.

For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

For the latest on commercial crew progress, bookmark the program’s blog at: http://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

To see many videos about the SpaceX Dragon program, visit: http://nasasearch.nasa.gov/search?utf8=✓&affiliate=nasa&query=Spacex