Initial Launch Vehicle Could Be On A Launch Pad In
SpaceX reports that only a few
months remain before the first Falcon 9 Launch vehicle is assembled
on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, and that the initial
flight of the Dragon spacecraft qualification unit could come from
one to three months after that. The flight will give SpaceX data on
aerodynamics and performance for the Falcon 9 configuration that
will fly on the following COTS and CRS missions for NASA. The
second Falcon 9 flight will be the first flight of Dragon under the
NASA COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program, and
will demonstrate Dragon's orbital maneuvering, communication and
Falcon 9 First Stage
Though it will initially be used to transport cargo, the Dragon
spacecraft was designed from the beginning to transport crew.
Almost all the necessary launch vehicle and spacecraft systems
employed in the cargo version of Dragon will also be employed in
the crew version of Dragon. As such, Dragon's first cargo missions
will provide valuable flight data that will be used in preparation
for future crewed flight. This allows for a very aggressive
development timeline-approximately three years from the time
funding is provided to go from cargo to crew. The three year
timeframe is driven by development of the launch escape system.
This includes 18 months to complete development and qualification
of the escape engine, in parallel with structures design, guidance,
navigation & control, and supporting subsystems.
Another 12 months will be required to perform various pad and
flight abort tests, which are slated to take place at NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia). Under
this timeline, the first crew launch would take place 30 months
from the receipt of funding, leaving six months of schedule margin
to allow for the unexpected.
Dragon COTS Module
In another development, with the help of NASA's Commercial Crew
and Cargo Program Office, the DragonEye Laser Imaging Detection and
Ranging (LIDAR) sensor has already undergone flight system trials
in preparation for guiding the Dragon spacecraft as it approaches
the International Space Station (ISS).
DragonEye launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on July
15th, and tested successfully in proximity of the ISS. DragonEye
provides three-dimensional images based on the amount of time it
takes for a single laser pulse from the sensor to the reach a
target and bounce back, providing range and bearing information
from the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.
DragonEye Docing Simulation
SpaceX has also recently completed the parachute load test which
was the last part of the Dragon primary structure qualification.
Dragon withstood both nominal and off-nominal vertical parachute
loads up to 48,000 lbf applied to the main and drogue fittings. The
spacecraft is being shipped back to California from the Texas test
site where it will continue preparations for its first flight.