Space News Archive

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April 13, 2012 - April 30 launch date for SpaceX to visit the ISS - Now rescheduled for May 22nd due to engine problem which is now fixed

SpaceX is now targeting April 30th to launch its Falcon 9 rocket with its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. Overall the fight will last 21 days during which the uncrewed spacecraft will bring 1,200 pounds of non-critical cargo to the ISS.

Originally the plan was to do one flight to test approaching the ISS and then another to test docking but at SpaceX's request, NASA agreed to combine them. The spacecraft will first spend a few days in orbit on equipment tests and then it will be allowed to approach the ISS close enough for the robotic arm to grab it and dock it. At the end of the visit the craft will be loaded up with 1,400 pounds of cargo for return to Earth by parachute assisted splashdown in the ocean.

If the mission is a success then it's expected to be followed by regular supply runs to the ISS. It will also be the only cargo vessel that returns cargo to Earth. The Russian cargo craft, the progress, and the European cargo craft, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), both take on waste from the ISS which is burned up along with the craft, on reentry into the Earth's thick atmosphere. SpaceX's Dragon on the other hand is designed to one day carry crew to and from space, starting first with just cargo.

Image: SpaceX

April 3, 2012 - Astrobotic to send Polaris rover to the moon's north pole

Astrobotic announced their plan to send their Polaris rover to the moon's north pole region in late October 2015. It will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The lander is to be a Griffin, the same type that'll be used for it's Red Rover lunar mission scheduled for July 2015.

More details can be found here.

Credit: Astrobotic Technology

February 13, 2012 - Late April new date for SpaceX to visit the ISS

SpaceX is tentatively scheduled to launch it's Falcon 9 rocket to send its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on April 20, 2012. This is to be its first visit, intended as a test leading to the Dragon being used for cargo resupply runs.

Conducting extensive software testing has been the main reason for the delay. This is prudent given all the launches, deep space probes and even vehicles on the way to Mars that have failed over the years to some extent due to software errors.

The original date was to be December 2011 but that was pushed to February 2012 due to the launch failure of the Russian Soyuz, which ceased manned visits to the ISS for a while.

Image: SpaceX

November 22, 2011 - Blue Origin's plans for going to orbit

After years of secrecy Blue Origin gave a glimpse of it's orbital plans. On the surface they look a lot like SpaceX's. The 1st stage booster will launch the 2nd stage and a capsule on their way to orbit. The 1st stage booster will then return to Earth and do a vertical powered landing, making it fully reusable. The capsule will return via parachute. No mention has been made of the reusability of the 2nd stage booster.

Some interesting features of the 1st stage booster can be seen in the diagram at right. Near the base are some fins but more interesting is the top of the booster. The top portion of the cylinder wall looks as if while the 2nd stage is still attached it is flush with the rest of the cylinder but after separation it appears as if it will spread out to form an inverted cone. A guess is that this is intended to help orient the booster vertically and keep it vertical for its return to Earth.

Credit: NASA/Blue Origin
Blue Origin's orbital space capsule.
Credit: Blue Origin
Diagram of Blue Origin's complete orbital booster and capsule
          and the booster on its own.

October 22, 2011 - JP Aerospace's Tandem flies to record height to the edge of space

Source: JP Aerospace
JP Aerospace's Tandem airship on its way to the edge of space.

JP Aerospace is a company with a goal of getting to space using airships and has built and flew 126 missions to that end since 1993. Today they flew their Tandem airship from the Black Rock desert in Nevada to a record 95,085 feet (18 miles/30 km), considered the edge of space and almost 4 miles higher than any previous airship.

The Tandem consists of a 30 foot long carbon fiber truss suspended from two helium filled balloons. Attached to the truss are two electric motor driven 6 foot propellers specially designed for the thin atmosphere at those altitudes. At ground height the balloons are just 10 feet in diameter but at altitude end up being 60 feet.

During the three hour flight the propellers were remotely spun up and maneuvered the craft around. At the end of the mission, one of the balloons burst and the command was sent to release the other. The entire Tandem then returned to Earth using parachutes for a soft landing.


September 29, 2011 - Elon Musk unveils Falcon 9 reusability plans at National Press Club luncheon

Elon Musk announced at the National Press Club luncheon that SpaceX has a solution to how to make the Falcon 9 rocket reusable, rather than having it break up as it returns to Earth. This would significantly reduce the cost of going to orbit. The first stage will have legs added to it, will rotate to point the nozzle Earthward and reignite the engine to make a soft landing. The second stage will be travelling much faster and so will need a reentry shield in order to slow down somewhat, after which it will ignite its rocket for a soft landing on legs. As was already shown in the April 18, 2011 item below, the Dragon capsule is already reusable. The full animation can be seen here.

At the luncheon, Elon mentioned also that the Dragon's flight to the ISS has been pushed to at least January, 2012 (see below for the news announcing it for December, 2011.)

1st stage landing.
Source: SpaceX
Dragon landing.
Source: SpaceX

August 5, 2011 - The Atlas V will launch the CST-100 to the International Space Station

NASA has selected the United Space Alliance's Atlas V rocket for launching Boeing's CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation) space capsule to the ISS. The purpose is to ultimately carry a crew of seven or crew and cargo to and from the ISS. In 2015, ULA will do an automomous orbital flight, a transonic automonous abort test launch and a crewed launch if Boeing is selected by NASA for a development contract. Source:

Source: NASA

July 26, 2011 - SpaceX's Dragon will dock with ISS in December 2011

SpaceX and NASA have technically agreed that the next test of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will involve it docking with the International Space Station. The agreement isn't formal yet but plans are underway. The Dragon will launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on November 30, 2011 and dock on December 7. Source:

There will be no passengers in the Dragon spacecraft. Initial plans are for cargo resupply only, though the intention is to eventually carry people to and from the ISS.

Image: SpaceX

July 2011 - Bigelow moved to BA 330 development and is on SpaceX's online manifest

Bigelow's website in July 2011 states that Bigelow has moved directly to development of their BA 330 inflatable habitat. The habitat has a volume of 330 cubic meters (11,600 cubic feet) and has an occupancy of 6 people on a long term basis. That's the same occupancy as on the International Space Station.

The reasons given are customer demand and progress in commercial crew transportation.

This is news because previously Bigelow had planned on also developing a smaller 180 cubic meter habitat called Sundancer but all mention of it has been removed from their website. It's also the second time Bigelow has changed plans like this. The first time was when plans to test a third unmanned habitat in space were abandoned in favour of moving on to manned ones. Genesis I and Genesis II were the first two unmanned habitats sent up.

On a side note, SpaceX's online manifest has a an interesting line item. Bigelow Aerospace is scheduled to launch in 2014 from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket.

Bigelow BA 330 - cutaway
Bigelow Aerospace BA 330 - cutaway view.

April 18, 2011 - SpaceX awarded $75 million by NASA for launch escape sytem... and planetary lander

NASA awarded SpaceX $75 million which SpaceX will use for the launch escape system for its Dragon spacecraft. A few things that are unique about this:

  • it will be integrated into the capsule itself, rather than having a separate tractor type escape system above the capsule (see diagrams below),
  • a separate system would have to be jettisoned after liftoff, which is inherently more dangerous,
  • it can be used for landing too.
Annotated version of Artists image. Click on the above to see the original credited to SpaceX.
SpaceX's Dragon launch escape system.
Click on the image to see the original sourced from NASA.

Apollo launch escape system

But also unique is SpaceX's plan to use this same escape system as a landing system capable of landing back on Earth or any other planet. The following video from SpaceX shows the Dragon spacecraft landing on Mars.

Click here or on the image taken from the video below for a separate window with the video.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft landing on Mars.


April 5, 2011 - SpaceX announces Falcon Heavy details

SpaceX released details about its Falcon Heavy:

  • Capable of lifting 53,000 kg (117,000 lb) to low Earth orbit. That's more twice the payload mass of either the Space Shuttle or the Delta 4 Heavy. To put it in perspective, that's 36 average sized cars at 3200lbs each.
  • Price: $80 million to $150 million. This is signicantly cheaper than the Delta 4 Heavy.
  • Meets the no-longer-mythical $1000/lb to orbit.
  • Expected to be at the pad in 2012 and launch in 2013.
  • First launch from Vandenberg, California but will also launch from Cape Canaveral, Forida.
  • Two Falcon Heavys could send humans to the moon's surface and back; one for the journey out and one to send the return vehicle.
  • A Falcon Heavy will be able to send one of their Dragon spacecraft for a flyby around the moon, and even further out than the Apollo went.


Image: SpaceX

February 6, 2011 - Astrobotic to send robot to the moon as soon as December 2013

Astrobotic Technology has booked a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch for as soon as December 2013 to fly a robot, named Red Rover, to the moon. It'll land near the Apollo 11 landing site and explore for three months. They then plan to follow this with another expedition every year, the one in 2014 to be a mining rover with a bucket wheel for scooping soil into a bin.


Credit: Astrobotic Technology

February 1, 2011 - Bigelow Aerospace and UAE sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) to explore spaceflight program

Bigelow Aerospace and the Emirates Institute for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) signed an MoU to work together on a new era of human spaceflight for Dubai and the UAE. This will include work on a world class microgravity research and development program, possibly with a focus on advanced biotechnology applications and other commercial space-related activities.


January 15, 2011 - NASA talking about attaching a Bigelow inflatable module to the ISS

Between 1997 and 2000, NASA researched the idea of attaching an inflatable module, called TransHab, to the International Space Station (ISS). This research was cancelled and was later picked up by Bigelow Aerospace who is turning it into real hardware in the form of the Bigelow Orbital Complex to be launched in 2014.

In an interesting turn of events, a meeting recently took place at Johnson Spaceflight Center to discuss the possibility of attaching a Bigelow inflatable module to the ISS.


TransHab attached to ISS. Source: NASA
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