SpaceX (News - Alert) has announced it will attempt to launch its International Space Station (ISS) supply flight demonstration mission on May 7. The pushback from April 30 earned a brief comment from NASA's head of human spaceflight as the clock was reset for the first commercial flight to ISS.
“We appreciate that SpaceX is taking the necessary time to help ensure the success of this historic flight,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier in a press release. “We will continue to work with SpaceX in preparing for the May 7 launch to the International Space Station.”
The new launch date from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is set for May 7, at 9:38 AM ET in an instantaneous launch window. If they can't get the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft launched at that minute due to weather or other issues, SpaceX will have another shot at launching on May 10. After that, ISS operations will be gearing up for a three man crew rotation launch on May 13.
Launching on May 10 also has issues. SpaceX would get one shot at rendezvous and berthing on May 13 before ISS started gearing up for the Soyuz docking with Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba of NASA and Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin of Roscosmos on board. A second rendezvous and berthing attempt after May 16 would be dependent upon the health of the Dragon spacecraft and available consumables (i.e., fuel).
SpaceX, however, might not have a problem giving Dragon an extended in-orbit workout to demonstrate and verify the spacecraft's ability to conduct a longer duration mission. A free-flight DragonLab mission carrying experiments is manifested for a 2014 launch date; the company's datasheet says a mission can last anywhere from one week up to two years.
The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) 2/3 demonstration flight was originally planned to launch in 2011 after a successful initial demonstration of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule in late 2010. A variety of delays, including the crash of a Russian Progress cargo freighter and SpaceX software development issues, pushed the COTS 2/3 date back to late 2011 and then into February 2012 before SpaceX passed a NASA final flight review this month.
NASA has quite a bit riding on this flight. A successful demonstration will quell (some) criticism out of Congress over delays and the meaning of the word “commercial.” It would also prove NASA has picked the right approach in encouraging commercial companies and competition for cargo and crew transport services to low Earth orbit (LEO), while it focuses on the harder task of building a large rocket for deep space exploration.
Edited by Jennifer Russell