SpaceX, you are go for the ISS.
Officially signing off on what was previously a tentative proposal, NASA has greenlit the combination of SpaceX’s second and third Dragon spacecraft demonstration flights, and approved a launch date of November 30, 2011. If all goes as scheduled, the capsule will dock with the ISS nine days later.
The Dragon will ride into orbit on SpaceX’s very own Falcon 9 rocket system, which has already been fueled and tested on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral during a countdown rehearsal on August 15th. The Dragon capsule should arrive in Florida next month. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has also been in the news for his bold claims about sending humans to Mars within a decade or two — and he’s received enough press for PETA to take notice. Why PETA? The animal rights organization sent Mr. Musk a letter urging him to make any future Mars colony a vegan one. Which shouldn’t be a problem initially, as it’s doubtful that livestock will be riding along for the trip. What the astronauts bring from Earth is another matter, as Musk responded by saying that he was an advocate for free choice.
In the nation’s capital, the Space Launch System (SLS) debate seems to get uglier with each passing week. In the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, congress called on the space agency to begin construction on a heavy launch system to replace the space shuttle. Perched atop the rocket system will be the Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, a capsule capable of eventually carrying humans to an asteroid and Mars. Although the crew capsule is making significant progress, the design of the SLS itself hasn’t even been finalized, and the delay has now drawn the ire of a group of congressmen from southern U.S. states where aerospace jobs are at stake.
In a letter to president Obama, Richard Shelby (R-AL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Thad Cochran (R-MI), David Vitter (R-LA) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) have demanded that NASA proceed post-haste with the release of the SLS design, and stop using funds appropriated to the SLS for other purposes. This isn’t the first time congressional fingers have wagged over the SLS; the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee issued a subpoena in July to glean similar SLS information.
Rounding out human spaceflight news is the release of issue two of NASA’s “Return on Investment Report,” which provides details on NASA’s partnerships with its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) partners (200 KB PDF here). The report covers the SpaceX/ISS mission, the new NASA/ULA partnership on which I previously reported, a note about how CCDev partners use NASA facilities for testing, and a few general updates from Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. Among those updates:
- SpaceX completed testing on their launch abort system, which will be used to propel their Dragon capsule and its human occupants away from a failing rocket stack.
- Boeing‘s CST-100 capsule went through more safety reviews and design reviews.
- Sierra Nevada‘s Dream Chaser spaceplane now has an airfoil and a shiny new cockpit simulator for testing. The airfoil refers to the shape of the Dream Chaser’s wing.