Soyuz TMA-03M Undocks and Returns to Earth.

Soyuz TMA-03 Undocking from the Mini Research Module (MRM-1)
Image Credit: NASA TV

The Russian Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft undocked from the Mini-Research Module at the International Space Station (ISS) at 9:48 PM Saturday night, while flying above China. This brought Expedition 31 to a close and inaugurated Expedition 32 under the command of Gennady Padalka. The other two crew members on ISS are Russian Sergey Revin, and American Joe Acaba.

The deorbit burn occurred at 12:19 AM Phoenix time Sunday. Russian cosmonaut and Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Don Pettit, and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers, returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz Descent Module. The landing in Zhezkaghan took place at 1:14 AM Phoenix time (0814 UTC).

The remainder of the year is heavily booked with activity:

  • 15 July – launch (with 17 July docking) of the Soyuz TMA-05M/31S spacecraft, carrying three additional members of Expedition 32 – Russian Yuri Malenchenko, American Suni Williams, and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide.
  • 21 July – the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle-3 (HTV-3) spacecraft will launch to the ISS, for a rendezvous and berthing to the ISS
  • 22 July – the Progress M-15M/47P spacecraft will undock from the Docking Compartment-1 (DC-1) module
  • 24 July – the Progress M-15M/47P spacecraft will perform a re-docking to the ISS to test a new Kurs-NA antenna.
  • 30 July – Progress M-15M will undock for the final time and reenter the atmosphere and burn up.
  • 1 August – Launch of Progress M-16M/48P, which will dock to the ISS just a few hours after launch to test a new fast-rendezvous profile.
  • 6 September – departure of the HTV-3 and burn up on reentry
  • 17 September – departure of Soyuz TMA-04M/30S with Gennady Padalka, Sergey Revin and Joe Acaba, marking the end of Expedition 32
  • 23 September – departure of Europe’s ATV-3 spacecraft
  • 5 October – Launch of the first Dragon flight under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract – known as SpX-1
  • 7 October – Docking of SpX-1

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.

NASA Gains Breathing Room On Commercial Crew Program

NASA has negotiated a continuation of its successful Space Acts Agreements (SAA) procedures for contracting and funding of the next phase of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The SAA has also been the process for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), which saw the flight of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo, and its return with science experiments and no longer needed space station equipment.

The deal, worked out between NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va), will allow NASA to select 2.5 partners under the CCP using SAA rather than the more restrictive and cumbersome Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Wolf’s statement on his website was followed by a letter from Bolden.

The agreement allows the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of CCP to proceed under SAA rules, but then commits NASA to using FAR procedures for certification and procurement of services.

There was also agreement to fund the program at the Senate level of $525 million, although Bolden in his letter urged the conference committee to fund the CCP at a higher level for 2013. The Administration had originally requested $836 million.

Contenders in the Commercial Crew arena include:

  • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – SpaceX – Dragon
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation – SNC – Dream Chaser
  • Boeing – CST-100
  • Blue Origin – New Shepherd

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 Completes Successful COTS 2,3 Mission

Dragon Floating
The Dragon Spacecraft Floating in the Pacific Ocean
Image Credit: Michael Altenhofen / SpaceX

The Dragon spacecraft successfully completed all mission objectives and floats quietly in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico following reentry and splashdown.

Dragon Barge
The Dragon Spacecraft Loaded onto its Barge Following Recovery
Image Credit: Michael Altenhofen / SpaceX

Dragon Parachute
Parachutes on the Horizon at Dragon Splashdown
Image Credit: Michael Altenhofen / SpaceX

Dragon – Reentry and Recovery


Dragon Released
The Dragon Spacecraft Released from the SSRMS
Image Credit: NASA TV

Reentry and Splashdown Timetable (Phoenix Time)

  • 02:35 – Dragon released by the station’s robotic arm
  • 02:36 – Dragon’s Draco thrusters fire first departure burn
  • 07:51 – Draco thrusters fire deorbit burn
  • 08:09 – Dragon’s trunk is jettisoned
  • 08:35 – Drogue parachutes are deployed
  • 08:36 – Main parachutes are deployed
  • 08:44 – Dragon lands in the Pacific

The Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) panel on Dragon has closed.

At 6:41 Phoenix time (1341 UTC), Dragon is one hour and ten minutes from its deorbit burn.

Reentry has been completed.

Drogue chutes have been deployed.

Main chutes have been deployed. All three chutes are open and in good shape.

Splashdown is still on track for 8:44 AM Phoenix time (1544 UTC).

Splashdown occurred at 8:42 AM (1542 UTC).

Congratulations SpaceX.

The images below show the parachute descent. Splashdown was pretty much on target. The recovery vessel saw the chutes. The NASA P3 plane has observed the chutes in the water. SpaceX reports that Dragon landed at 27° latitude and 120° longitude.

The recovery vessel has the chutes in sight in the water.

The main chutes have been released by Dragon. Certain systems aboard Dragon are being powered down prior to recovery.

Dragon is floating in the Pacific Ocean in the “stable one” configuration.

NASA TV will carry the Status Briefing at 11:00 AM Phoenix time (1800 UTC).

Drogue Chute
The Dragon Spacecraft and the Drogue Chute
Image Credit: NASA TV

Main Chute
The Dragon’s Main Chute Starts to Open
Image Credit: NASA TV

Main Chutes Open
The Dragon’s Three Main Chute Are Deployed
Image Credit: NASA TV

Main Chutes
The Dragon Descending under the Three Main Chutes
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dragon Comes Home

Dragon Summary
Live Coverage of The Dragon Spacecraft Re-entry and Splashdown
Image Credit: NASA TV

Unberthing is currently schedule for 1:05 AM Phoenix time (0805 UTC).

Live Coverage: Dragon Spacecraft Prior to Undocking the ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dragon is currently equilibrating the pressure prior to departure.

Image below shows the location of Dragon attached to the ISS. The location is the Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA) attached to the Harmony node.

Live Coverage: Dragon Spacecraft to the ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dragon is attached to Canadarm and is slowly releasing the bolts and latches.

Dragon Spacecraft Attached to the Canadarm on the ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

The Canadarm (Space Station Remote Manipulator System – SSRMS) is waiting for all the latches to be released prior to moving the Dragon to its release point.

The breaks are on the SSRMS, preventing the arm from moving and damaging the docking and latching mechanisms.

At 0755 UTC, work on the third set of bolts on the Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) is in progress. We are about 10 minutes from release.

At 0802 UTC, the fourth and final set of bolts is being released.

And Dragon is released (demated) from the ISS at 0807 UTC.

Dragon Released
Dragon Spacecraft Attached to the Canadarm Released from the ISS
Image Credit: NASA TV

Time on Station: 5 days, 16 hours, 5 minutes.

Re-entry coverage begins on NASA TV at 7:15 Am Phoenix time (1415 UTC).

Key events:

1451 UTC Deorbit burn
1544 UTC Splashdown