UPDATE: SpaceX’s historic first commercial visit to the Space Station was aborted DURING engine ignition due to a problem detected during main engine start. The next launch opportunity is Tuesday at 3:44 a.m. EDT
Although this demonstration mission carries only cargo, Dragon was designed from the outset with crew carrying capability in mind. SpaceX is in the process of developing necessary systems for transporting crew, such as seating, a launch escape system, and environmental control and life support systems.
In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), since the Shuttle has retired. The $1.6 billion contract represents a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.
Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program, contracts were awarded to both Orbital Sciences and SpaceX. Unlike any previous NASA project, the proposed spacecraft are intended to be owned and financed primarily by the companies themselves and will be designed to serve both U.S. government agencies and commercial customers. NASA will contract for missions as needed.
A second set of Commercial Crew Development proposals was sought by NASA in October 2010. Winners of funding in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, were :
- Blue Origin, $22 million. Blue Origin proposed advancing technologies in support of a biconic nose cone design orbital vehicle, including launch abort systems and restartable hydrolox (liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen) engines. Not to be confused with the Blue Origin New Shepard VTVL spacecraft.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, $80 million. Proposed for phase 2 extensions of its Dream Chaser spaceplane, a lifting body design. Sierra Nevada will utilize Virgin Galactic to market Dream Chaser commercial services and will use Virgin’s White Knight Two aircraft as a platform for drop trials of the Dream Chaser atmospheric test vehicle in 2012.
- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), $75 million. SpaceX proposed to develop an “integrated launch abort system design” for the Dragon spacecraft, with reputed advantages over the more traditional tractor tower approaches used on prior manned space capsules.
- The Boeing Company, $92.3 million. Boeing proposed additional development for the 7-person CST-100 spacecraft. The capsule will have both personnel and cargo configurations, and is explicitly designed to be launched by multiple different rockets, and be reusable up to 10 times.
In other space news this week:
- A Japanese H-2A rocket deployed four satellites in orbit Thursday, putting up a research mission to track the changing role of water in Earth’s climate and a South Korean payload to gather high-resolution photos for environmental monitoring and security authorities.
- Telesat launched a direct-to-home satellite television for two million customers across Canada atop a Russian Proton rocket to orbit Thursday.
- Russia launched a photo surveillance satellite Thursday designed to collect intelligence on strategic sites around the world for defense purposes. Kobalt satellites orbit between 150 miles and 300 miles above Earth.
- The Advanced Extremely High Frequency 2 spacecraft, AEHF 2, launched atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral on May 4, reached a supersynchronous transfer orbit stretching from 138 statute miles at its lowest point to over 31,200 statute miles at its highest, this week. The first satellite in that series, AEHF 1, launched in 2010, lost the use of its main engine, and became stranded in a useless orbit. But engineers created an alternate scheme using the craft’s smaller thrusters and electric propulsion that eventually brought it to the planned orbit 14 months later.
- The Sea Launch vessels have departed Sea Launch Home Port in Long Beach, California for the equator, in preparation for the launch of Intelsat-19. Boeing owned the majority in Sea Launch, until it filed for Chapter 11 in 2009. Now Energia, a Russian corporation, is the majority owner.
Intelsat acquired PanAmSat on July 3, 2006, and is now the world’s largest provider of fixed satellite services, operating a fleet of 52 satellites in prime orbital locations, worldwide. SES is the world’s second-largest telecommunications satellite operator by revenue and operates a fleet of 50 geostationary satellites able to reach 99% of the World’s population.
The largest fixed satellite operators also include Eutelsat (28 satellites ), Telesat Canada (13 satellites), Japan’s JSAT (8 satellites), Brazil’s Star One, Spain’s Hispasat, Australia’s SingTel/Optus, and Russian Satellite Communications.
Russia’s largest satellite-fleet operator, Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC), is in the middle of a major expansion program with Russia’s second-largest satellite fleet operator, Gazprom Space Systems of Moscow.
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