SpaceX Test Fires Merlin 1D – 55 Percent Power Upgrade

Wednesday, SpaceX conducted a full length test firing of the new Merlin 1D rocket engine at their test facility in McGregor, Texas.

Merlin 1D is the fifth version in the Merlin 1 series, all of which have been built in-house at their manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, California. The first generation Merlin flew on several Falcon 1 missions. The Merlin 1B never flew, and the Merlin 1C flew a couple of Falcon 1 flights before being superseded by the Merlin Vacuum in 2009, which has powered all the Falcon 9 rockets.

The Merlin 1D produces 147,000 pounds of thrust (55% more than the Merlin Vacuum) and burned for 185 seconds, simulating a complete Falcon 9 first stage launch.

The Merlin 1D engines will first see flight on Falcon 9 Flight 6, expected to launch in 2013.

NSS Congratulates SpaceX Team — Calls on Congress to Fully Fund Commercial Crew & Space Technology

Washington, DC-June 1 – The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team on the Dragon spacecraft’s historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and its safe return to Earth yesterday.

“The mission was truly spectacular and marks a watershed moment in space history – proving that the commercial sector can successfully service the ISS,” said NSS Executive Director Paul E. Damphousse. “We were especially fortunate to celebrate the Dragon’s grappling at ISS on Friday morning with NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., who was at that very moment addressing an audience of nearly one thousand at NSS’s recent International Space Development Conference (ISDC).”

ISDC, the National Space Society’s annual conference, wrapped up in Washington, DC earlier this week. Administrator Bolden was delivering the opening keynote speech just as Dragon approached and then berthed at the ISS.

The safe return of Dragon and the advancement of commercial cargo and crew programs mark true milestones on the path to enabling a space-faring civilization. NASA’s efforts to advance space technology will also have a significant impact: technologies such as cryogenic propellant storage and transfer (CPST), solar electric propulsion (SEP), and advanced robotics are “mission-multipliers,” and are but a few examples being advanced by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist. These efforts will help to enable robust space operations while providing dramatic reductions in overall costs.

The National Space Society recognizes that there is still much to be done, and maintains that strong leadership in government will be critical going forward. In this context, NSS calls on the Senate to fully fund the commercial crew development program and space technology lines of the NASA budget as proposed in the President’s budget request earlier this year, removing the proposed cuts made by the House in May. While NSS acknowledges the difficult budgetary parameters under which Congress must work, we strongly encourage both the Senate and the House to accede to the President’s FY2013 budget request for both commercial crew and space technology during conference later this year.

“The successful conclusion of SpaceX’s COTS-2/3 missions has demonstrated that the commercial sector is now ready to move forward with increased responsibility for servicing ISS, including the development of crew transport capability,” Damphousse said. “If funded and executed correctly, the commercial crew program will end our sole reliance on foreign providers and bring that capability – and the jobs associated with it – back home. We should be preserving funding for these commercial and space technology programs – which are producing tangible successes today, and will continue to do so in the near-term and beyond – rather than shifting it to already well-funded programs that may be years away from providing results.”

About the National Space Society: NSS is an independent, educational, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. Founded when the National Space Institute and the L5 Society merged in 1987, NSS is widely acknowledged as the preeminent citizen’s voice on space. NSS has over 10,000 members and supporters, and over 50 chapters in the United States and around the world. The society publishes Ad Astra magazine, an award-winning periodical chronicling the most important developments in space. To learn more, visit

Dragon Cargo Transfer to the ISS


At 1200 UTC on Monday, 28 May, the crew of the International Space Station is busy unloading the 1,014 pounds of cargo brought up by the Dragon spacecraft.

You can watch the process live at UStream.

Activity will continue today and tomorrow.

After that, the Dragon will be loaded with 1,367 pounds of science experiment results and other gear from ISS. On Thursday, Dragon is scheduled to depart from the ISS and return to Earth. Splashdown will be several hundred miles off the coast of Southern California.

Transferring Dragon Cargo to the International Space Station
Image Credit: NASA via UStream

Dragon Hatch Opening Images


This morning, we had the opening of the Dragon hatch.

Here are some more images from the opening.

Dragon Hatch Opening
Image Credit: NASA TV








For another view of the interior, see the post on CCDev2 with Cady Coleman, Mark Kelley and two SpaceX folks inside the Dragon.

Dragon COTS 2,3 – Day 5 – Hatch Opening


After a long day of thruster burns yesterday, Dragon completed all of the tests for both the COTS-2 and COTS-3 requirements. Dragon was then given a Go to approach the International Space Station (ISS) first to the 30 meter mark and then to the 10 meter mark, where the SSRMS arm captured the spacecraft and berthed it to the Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA2) on the Harmony Node.

The SpaceX/Dragon hatch opening coverage on NASA TV will begin at 0930 UTC, Saturday, 26 May.

At 0930, the crew has opened the PMA2 hatch and are now equalizing pressure between the Dragon and the Space Station.

Diagram of Dragon Location at the International Space Station
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dragon Hatch Closed Prior to Opening
Image Credit: NASA TV

As shown in the diagram above, left, Dragon is currently located on the nadir port of the Pressurized Mating Adaptor (PMA) located on the Harmony module.

The next step will be to open the hatch and place air vent tubes to prevent particles from Dragon getting in the eyes and lungs of the crew. Once the air is well mixed (about 20 minutes), the crew will move inside Dragon and begin work unloading the cargo. Total time for unloading is scheduled for 25 hours.

Upmass: 1014 lbs

  • 674 lbs food and provisions
  • 46 lbs utilization payload: nanoracksetc, icebricks
  • 271 lbs cargo bags
  • 22 lbs computer, batteries, etc.

Downmass: 1367 lbs

  • 315 lbs Crew items
  • 205 lbs Science experiments
  • 760 lbs Pump assembly and other hardware
  • 86 lbs Spacewalk gear

At 0953 UTC, the hatch on Dragon has been opened. The ISS is 253 miles above the Earth, near Auckland New Zealand.

Inside view of Dragon at ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dragon Hatch Open
Image Credit: NASA TV

The crew has now installed the air ducts and will start the airflow. After 20 minutes, the crew can remove their masks and begin unloading the Dragon.

Don: “No sign of fog or dust floating, so ok to remove our masks. Size looks like it can fit in my pickup, and it smells like a new car”.

Megan: “We ask you to wear your dust masks per flight rules”.

So, the crew is anxious to get started, and Megan Benken at Cap Com says follow the rules.

Dragon COTS 2,3 – Day 4 – Update


At 1525 UTC, the command to maneuver to the pre-latch position was given. The solar arrays on the Dragon have to be turned to their zero position to allow the berthing.

Don Petitt is operating the Canadarm (SSRMS) and Joe Acaba is the Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) operator.

At 1548 UTC, the command to proceed with first stage capture was given. Nominal 1st stage capture is complete. Go to take the SSRMS to “limp”. This takes the stress of the docking mechanism. With the SSRMS “limp”, GO for 2nd stage capture was ordered.

And at 1602 UTC, 2nd stage capture is complete and Dragon is officially secured to the International Space Station.

The first commercial spacecraft to be launched to the ISS has completed its berthing procedure.

Dragon Berthed to the Pressurized Mating Adapter on Harmony
Image Credit: NASA

Dragon COTS 2,3 – Day 4


Joomla has the NASA / SpaceX Mission Briefing, which followed the Fly-Under on Flight Day 3.

Here are the slides and milestones for Flight Day 4 from the SpaceX Press Kit (pdf) for COTS 2,3.

Slide 2
Mission Profile for Dragon – Slide 2 – Flight Day 4 – Approach
Image Credit: SpaceX


  • Height adjust burn, Dragon begins burns that bring it within 2.5 km of station (GO/NO-GO)
  • Dragon again receives and sends information from/to the CUCU unit on station
  • Height adjust burn, brings Dragon 1.2 km from station (GO/NO-GO)
  • Height adjust burn, carries Dragon into the station’s approach ellipsoid (GO/NO-GO)

Slide 2
Mission Profile for Dragon – Slide 3 – Flight Day 4 – Capture
Image Credit: SpaceX

RBAR TO CAPTURE Day 4 (Slide 3)

  • Dragon LIDAR Demo, shows LIDAR is providing Dragon with necessary information for proximity operations
  • Dragon holds at 250 meters (GO/NO-GO) for Demo Maneuvers
  • Dragon begins R-Bar Demonstration (GO/NO-GO)
  • Dragon holds at 30 meters
  • Dragon holds at capture point, 10 meters below the station
  • Station’s robotic arm (SSRMS) captures Dragon (GO/NO-GO)
  • Dragon berths

NASA has announced that integrated operations will begin around 0700 UTC, after which the space station control team in Houston will have authority over the progress of the mission. This means that the initial approach procedure has a GO.

At 0615 UTC, the HA2 and CE2 burns have been completed and Dragon has arrived at the 2.5 kilometer level shown in Slide 2 above. Integrated Operations have begun.

At 0640, polling for the GO / NOGO decision on HA3 was completed, and a GO for HA3 was given. The commands have been sent to Dragon. HA3 is scheduled for 0705 UYC.

At 0705, HA3 has begun. And it is complete. At 0615 UTC, the HA2 and CE2 burns have been completed and Dragon has arrived at the 2.5 kilometer level shown in Slide 2 above. Integrated Operations have begun.

At 0640, polling for the GO / NOGO decision on HA3 was completed, and a GO for HA3 was given. The commands have been sent to Dragon. HA3 is scheduled for 0705 UYC.

At 0705, HA3 has begun. And it is complete.

At 0717 and 0734, a series of mid course corrections (MCC) are expected. This will bring Dragon to the 1.4 kilometer mark.

The HA4 (Approach Initiation) burn is scheduled for 0811 UTC, with MCC at 0828 and 0845. Arrival at the 250 meter mark is now expected at 0921 UTC, where Dragon will perform a series of Advance, Hold and Retreat maneuvers shown in slide 3. Capture is now schedule for 1159 UTC, a little earlier than anticipated yesterday.

U-Stream has Dragon in sight of the Space Station.

MC2 has been completed at 0739 UTC, and the CE3 burn will follow.

Dragon is now 10 kilometers behind and 1.4 kilometers below ISS.

Grappling and Berthing with the Canadarm will be controlled by Don Petitt, Andre Kuipers and Joe Acaba using the Robotic Work Station (RWS) aboard the ISS.

Crew Command Panel in the ISS Cupola
Image Credit: NASA TV

The CE3 burn began at 0749 UTC and is complete.

SpaceX controllers in Hawthorne are confirming that thermal imagers aboard Dragon are now picking up the ISS. Holly Ridings is polling her team at MCC-N in preparation for the HA4 burn. All stations are ready. The strobe light on Dragon has been turned on.

At 0812 UTC, the ISS is passing the east coast of the United States and heading into daylight. We should get some good views of Dragon.

The HA4 (AI) burn is now scheduled for five (5) minutes from now at 0820 UTC. And MCC confirms the burn has been completed.

Dragon Approaching from the 1.4 Kilometer Level (In Darkness)
Image Credit: NASA TV

An interview with astronaut Cady Coleman is coming up on NASA TV.

At 0844 UTC, Dragon has entered 1,000 kilometers.

At 315 Meters per SpaceX, closing at 0.24 meters/second.

At 0927, Dragon has closed to 275 meters.

At 0954, polling for demonstration maneuvers.

At 1008, Dragon is approaching 235 meters where the crew will issue a retreat command (second procedure in Slide 3 from left to right). Dragon will now retreat to 250 meters and hold.

1019 UTC, Dragon will resume the approach.

1020 UTC, Andre Kuipers has been told to issue a Hold command at 235 meters. This is the final maneuver on Slide 3 before continuing in toward capture.

At 1023, “Please send the Hold command now”. Andre has issued the Hold command. 237.4 meters and Holding.

Dragon Holding at 235 Meters from the ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

In the darkness, you can see the strobe light and the thrusters firing (NASA TV).

Back in daylight at 1054 UTC, Dragon is holding at 236 meters while the data is being evaluated for a GO / NOGO decision on close approach. The LIDAR data is being cross checked against the thermal imaging data.

Mission Control has deemed the Hold and Retreat test to have been performed successfully.

At 1120 UTC Dragon is holding at 150 meters. This has been added by the crew. Don Petitt is asking about capture timing…thinks they may be grappling at night. Notes that all the SSRMS (Canadarm) lights are out. Ground has not determined a new capture time. Grappling will commence when Don says he has enough light.

At 1143 UTC, Dragon is continuing to 30 meters. This is expected to take about 30 minutes, which should put the Space Station in darkness (see here).

At 1200 UTC, Dragon is 100 meters from the space station. Both teams are monitoring the primary and secondary distances, which seem to be converging.

Coming up on sunset for ISS. Everyone is suggesting waiting for sunrise before capture. New capture time is 1310 UTC.

At 1200 UTC, Hawthorne has called a hold on the Dragon’s position 80 meters from ISS. The Hawthorne team is reconfiguring the LIDAR, swapping modes. Approach will resume. The SpaceX approach telecast will begin at 1245 UTC.

At 1220 UTC, Dragon is resuming the approach to 30 meters.

And now ground has called a retreat to 60 meters, and hold there. LIDAR data is the problem. Dragon holding at 72 meters.

Dragon and the ISS are about 20 minutes from sunrise. The hold is giving Hawthorne time to thoroughly test the LIDAR. SInce this is a test flight, they are testing. Gather as much data as you want and evaluate it. It will make future flights easier. And safer.

Sunrise at 1245 UTC. The problem seems to be reflections from the Japanese Experimental Module (JEM). The resolution appears to be to narrow the viewing angle of the LIDAR and avoid the stray reflections from JEM. Approach should resume in 5-10 minutes. Testing is good for new spacecraft.

At 1210, approach has resumed.

1213 and 30 meters and holding. It appears the LIDAR problem is resolved.

40 Meters
Dragon 40 Meters from the ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

A key question now is whether there is enough time before sunset to move to 10 meters and perform the grapple. SpaceX and MCC-H (Houston) are polling for GO / NOGO decision on 10 meters. Hawthorne is GO. Still polling MCC-H. And the ISS crew is configuring the external cameras for capture.

At 1330, Dragon is moving to ten meters, about 20 minutes, for grapple. Approaching sunset and TDRS LOS in a little less than eight minutes.

1344 UTC and 15 meters. The strobe has been turned off.

11 Meters and one final poll to approve the grapple maneuver. And the answer is GO!

Capture Confirmed!!

Dragon COTS 2,3 – Day 3 – Update


At 1930 UTC on 24 May 2012, Dragon is located several hundred kilometers ahead of the International Space Station (ISS). It is scheduled to move above, then behind the ISS and eventually below as it moves back into the position from which it began today’s activities. From there, it will begin FD 4 rendezvous tests and eventual berthing.

The image below was taken from the ISS by one of the crew members during the fly-under.

Dragon Under ISS
Dragon Under ISS – Hi Resolution from The ISS
Image Credit: NASA

At 0200 on Friday, 25 May, the Dragon space craft is now 300 kilometers behind the International Space Station.

Dragon COTS 2,3 – Day 3 – Images


NASA Mission Control Center
Image Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX Mission Control Center
Image Credit: NASA TV

Russian Mission Control Center
Image Credit: NASA TV

Sally Ridings
Mission Director Sally Ridings (Right)
Image Credit: NASA TV

Cap Com Megan Benken (McArthur) to the left.

NASA TV Schedule
Image Credit: NASA TV

CUCU – COTS UHF Communication Unit.
Image Credit: NASA TV

Canadarm – Grapple and Berth Dragon
Image Credit: NASA TV

ISS Sufferdini
ISS Mission Director Mr. Sufferdini
Image Credit: NASA TV

Sally Ridings briefing ISS Mission Director Mike Sufferdini.