May 7, 2012
SpaceX Test Launch Rescheduled For May 19
The need for further review of the company's flight software has forced SpaceX to delay the test flight of their commercial Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) until at least May 19.
The California-based company announced the new target date for the test flight, which was originally scheduled for Monday, late last week. The delay gives more time for NASA officials to review changes in their software, and also avoids a potential conflict with the liftoff and docking of a Russian Soyuz vehicle carrying three new ISS crew members, which is scheduled to depart on May 14 and arrive at the space station on May 17, Stephen Clark of SpaceFlight Now and Alan Boyle of MSNBC.com have reported.
"After additional reviews and discussions between the SpaceX and NASA teams, we are in a position to proceed toward this important launch," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, told Boyle. "The teamwork provided by these teams is phenomenal. There are a few remaining open items, but we are ready to support SpaceX for its new launch date of May 19."
According to a NASA statement, the test run, which they are reportedly partially financing, comes in the wake of what is being dubbed a "dress rehearsal" by the SpaceX launch team back on April 30. On that day, they conducted a brief engine firing in order to ensure that the Falcon 9 rocket is ready to launch, while also testing some of the systems onboard the Dragon capsule that will be flying to the space station later on this month.
"The flight is an ambitious test for the company and the agency as they work through a new spacecraft, rocket and rework the fundamental approach to spaceflight. Even if problems develop on this particular mission, NASA officials say the agency will keep the effort going and work to resolve any issues," the U.S. space agency reported on Friday. "Mission plans call for an extensive set of tests in space requiring the Dragon spacecraft to show that it can move precisely in orbit and approach the space station carefully. Only after these tests are successful will the spacecraft be allowed to approach the orbiting laboratory close enough to be grappled and berthed by the station's robotic arm."
"Originally, this mission was to include only the launch and tests in orbit rather than physically connecting to the station," they added. "If the Dragon is unable to complete its tests successfully, NASA expects to work with SpaceX to resolve whatever issues develop and accomplish a rendezvous and docking on the third demonstration mission. That would not set back any of NASA's plans for future cargo missions to the station because it would be following the parameters the agency originally established for the COTS contract with SpaceX."
SpaceX is one of two companies currently sharing $3.5 billion worth of contracts with NASA, joining Orbital Sciences Corporation as private-sector companies looking to partner with the organization in order to provide transportation for crew members and cargo to the ISS, said Discovery News reporter Irene Klotz. She added that the agency is also in the process of reviewing bids for space-taxi vehicles that can ferry astronauts into and home from outer space.