Safety Milestone Hit For SpaceX-NASA Venture

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Officials from NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced the successful safety review of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket that are slated to launch humans into low-Earth orbit later this decade – a major milestone for the endeavor.

In late October, a team of NASA engineers traveled to SpaceX headquarters for two days of presentations and review sessions that involved the company’s safety practices.

“The milestone is not the end of the safety discussion, it’s really the beginning,” said Jon Cowart, deputy manager of the NASA Partnership Integration Team for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). “Because we’ve been doing this for so long, we all have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t and how safety processes can be strengthened to increase our confidence in the system.”

NASA said it is working closely with SpaceX to ensure the technologies being used for both spacecraft and rocket meet the strict safety requirements that come with flying in space.

“We greatly appreciate NASA’s support and feedback throughout this process,” said Garrett Reisman, commercial crew project manager at SpaceX and a former astronaut. “Together we are taking all the necessary steps to make Dragon the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown.”

While the private space company has already flown cargo missions to the International Space Station using its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, those vehicles did not transport astronauts. The system is scheduled to take crews up to the ISS within the next four years.

The review came just before the first SpaceX launch of a commercial communications satellite later this month. SpaceX President and Chief Operations Officer Gwynne Shotwell announced on Wednesday the launch would be pushed back to Nov. 25 from Nov. 22.

“We wanted a little bit more time to make sure the launch site was ready for us, and we wanted to give the [launch vehicle] crew a little more rest,” Shotwell said during a recent press conference.

The satellite will be launched aboard the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, the latest version of the nine-engine Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket debuted on Sept. 29 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California when it launched a weather satellite for the Canadian Space Agency. During the launch, the rocket’s upper stage failed to reignite — something it will have to achieve for the upcoming November launch.

Shotwell said the company is currently working on the Falcon 9 that will launch Thailand’s Thaicom 6 communications satellite.

“The elements [of Falcon 9] are ready and we’re going to start shipping them to the Cape right after a static fire test on Nov. 19,” Shotwell said. “And we will continue to hold the Thaicom 6 launch date of Dec. 20.”

NASA is currently prepping for the launch of its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which is scheduled to take place on Monday.The mission will scan high above the Martian surface for patterns of electrons that could explain why the Red Planet is losing its atmosphere.