Dream Chaser Spaceplane Gets ‘GO’ as NASA Awards Trio of Space Station Cargo Contracts

SNC's Dream Chaser Spacecraft a

A shuttle will soar again from American soil before this decade is out, following NASA’s announcement today (Jan 14) that an unmanned version of the Dream Chaser spaceplane was among the trio of US awardees winning commercial contracts to ship essential cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2019.

In addition to the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle built by Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, NASA decided to retain both of the current ISS commercial cargo vehicle providers, namely the Cygnus from Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia and the cargo Dragon from SpaceX of Hawthorne, California.

Thus with today’s announcement, NASA decided to plus up the number of ISS commercial cargo providers from two to three for the critical task of ensuring the regular delivery of critical science, crew supplies, provisions, spare parts and assorted gear to the multinational crews living and working aboard the orbiting outpost.

By adding a new third provider, NASA simultaneously gains the benefit of additional capability and flexibility and also spreads out the risk.

Unlike the Cygnus and Dragon which land via parachutes, the reusable Dream Chaser is capable of low-g reentry and runway landings. This is very beneficial for sensitive scientific experiments and allows much quicker access by researchers to time critical cargo. Dream Chaser will be capable of delivering 5,500 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS.

Each of the three aerospace firms “is guaranteed a minimum of six cargo resupply missions through 2024,” said Sam Scimemi, ISS Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in announcing the three awards at today’s media briefing.

These new awards secure continuing ISS resupply through its currently approved operational period to 2024 by all the partners except ESA – which is still evaluating its options.

The award to Sierra Nevada amounts to a huge reversal of fortune for the Dream Chaser spaceplane – which lost out in its prior bid in 2014 to win a commercial crew program (CCP) contract to fly a manned version of Dream Chaser from NASA.

The Boeing Starliner CST-100 and SpaceX crew Dragon ultimately were awarded the CCP contracts in September 2014 to fly astronauts to the ISS. The first crewed launches are expected in 2017.

Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK suffered catastrophic launch failures during ISS resupply missions, in June 2015 and October 2014 respectively, from which both firms are still in the process of fully recovering from.

The new contracts were awarded as part of NASA’s long awaited second round of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts to obtain regular and reliable cargo delivery services to the space station from 2019 through 2024. Other covered services include the disposal of unneeded cargo, and the return of research samples and other cargo from the station back to NASA and researchers.

The first round of CRS awards to SpaceX and Orbital ATK was made in late 2008. The goal was to replace the critical cargo delivery services formerly provided by NASA’s trio of manned space shuttle orbiters, that were subsequently retired in 2011. Shuttle flights ended before either of the private cargo freighters were ready to liftoff.

Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK have been flying their commercial Dragon and Cygnus resupply ships to the ISS. The first cargo flight by occurred in 2012 under the initial CRS contract.

“So far over 35,000 pounds of cargo has been delivered to the ISS,” said Scimemi.

“Commercial resupply a new way of doing business. We are learning. But it has not been easy. Both original providers had launch failures.”

The new contracts also include funding ISS integration, flight support equipment, special tasks and studies, and NASA requirement changes.

“Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work ‘with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,’ that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station — or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers. But that is exactly what is happening,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“Today’s announcement is a big deal that will move the president’s vision further into the future.”

The new awards start today as NASA negotiates the specifics of which company will fly what cargo and when for example.

“The second generation of commercial cargo services to low-Earth orbit begins today,” said Kirk Shireman, ISS Program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“By engaging American companies for cargo transportation, we can focus our attention on using this one-of-a-kind laboratory in the sky to continue advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”

The next currently scheduled American ISS commercial cargo flights are slated to take place in the next two months or so.

“The next Orbital ATK mission named OA-6 will launch on March 10 from Cape Canaveral,” Scimemi told Universe Today.

“SpaceX will announce the date of their next mission named CRS-8 soon.”

Other current cargo providers to the ISS include the Russian Progress and Japanese HTV vessels.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Dream Chaser Spaceplane Gets ‘GO’ as NASA Awards Trio of Space Station Cargo Contracts appeared first on Universe Today.

SpaceX Sets Dec. 20 For ‘Return to Flight’ Launch and Historic Rocket Ground Landing Recovery Attempt – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for Orbcomm OG2 launch slated for Dec. 20, 2015 stands vertical at pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX CEO Elon Muck announced today (Dec. 19) that his company plans to launch an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday night, Dec. 20, from Cape Canaveral, Florida – for the first time since it failed in flight six months ago on a mission for NASA to the space station – after successfully completing a crucial test of the rockets engines late Friday night.

Furthermore, SpaceX confirmed it will conduct a historic first ever attempt to recover the commercialrocket’s first stage by a soft landing on the ground at a special SpaceX site called Landing Zone 1 on the Cape’s Air Force Station.

“Currently looking good for a Sunday night attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral,” Musk tweeted today.

The path to Sunday’s ‘Return to Flight’ launch was cleared after SpaceX successfully conducted a static hot fire test of the Falcon 9 first stages engines at the Florida space coast launch pad last night.

“Static fire test looks good,” Musk confirmed via Twitter. “Pending data review, will aim to launch Sunday.”

Sunday’s launch of the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. is slated for 8:29 p.m. ET.

The primary mission of the liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 – in a newly enhanced upgraded configuration – is to carry a payload of eleven small commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm on the second OG2 mission. They are fueled and stacked on the satellite dispenser and encapsulated inside the payload fairing.

“The Falcon 9 will launch eleven next generation OG2 satellites as part of ORBCOMM’s second and final OG2 Mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,” says Orbcomm.

A successful launch is critical to SpaceX which has a fully booked manifest of more than 50 launches waiting in line and worth billions of dollars in needed revenue to the firm.

The launch window lasts 60 seconds launch and opens at 8:29 p.m. ET.

A live webcast will be available at SpaceX.com/webcast beginning at approximately 8:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 20.

If needed, SpaceX says a backup launch opportunity is available on Dec. 21.

Air Force meteorologists are predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at launch time.

After the Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to pad 40 on Wednesday, Dec. 16, SpaceX engineers carried out a fueling and countdown test in anticipation of conducting the critical static fire test of the first stage Merlin engines.

But technicians soon encountered a variety of technical issues that postponed the test completion until Friday evening. This subsequently forced a 1 day launch delay from Saturday, Dec. 19 to Sunday Dec. 20.

The static fire test is a routine prelaunch check with a fully fueled Falcon 9 held down on the pad and conducted by SpaceX to confirm the readiness of the rocket. It simulates a a launch countdown.

All SpaceX launches ground to an immediate halt this past summer when the commercial two stage Falcon 9 booster carrying a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft heading to the ISS on a critical resupply mission for NASA was unexpectedly destroyed by an overpressure event 139 seconds after a picture perfect blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28 at 10:21 a.m. EDT.

The cause of the in-flight breakup was traced to the failure of a critical support strut inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank holding a high pressure helium tank in the Falcon 9 rocket, as the likely cause, revealed SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk during a briefing for reporters on July 20.

Musk said the Falcon 9 launch failure was a ‘huge blow’ to SpaceX.

At recent public forums, SpaceX managers have confirmed that a failure of the second stage strut is still the leading candidate for the launch mishap in June.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Sets Dec. 20 For ‘Return to Flight’ Launch and Historic Rocket Ground Landing Recovery Attempt – Watch Live appeared first on Universe Today.

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