SpaceX (News - Alert) is asking Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a May 19 launch date for its International Space Station (ISS) supply demonstration mission. The company expects to clear NASA's software assurance process in time, with a backup date of May 22.
Despite numerous delays in the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) 2/3 mission tied into software verification issues, NASA continues to be supportive of SpaceX efforts.
"After additional reviews and discussions between the SpaceX and NASA teams, we are in a position to proceed toward this important launch," NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said in a press release. "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."
SpaceX has been trying to launch the COTS 2/3 flight since late 2011, with attempts slipping to February 2012, April 30 and May 7 before the last date was scratched. The May 19 attempt will come after a new crew arrives at the space station arrives.
A Soyuz carrying Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba of NASA and Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin of Roscosmos is scheduled to launch on May 10, with docking on May 13.
If SpaceX can't hit a May 22 launch it, it isn't clear when another launch attempt might occur. A pair of National Reconnaissance Office "spy" satellites are scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in June, with speculation the next open flight slot might not occur until late June.
When COTS 2/3 – originally slated to be two flights, now a combination – is launched, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry the company's Dragon spacecraft into low earth orbit. After it completes a series of system checkouts, it will first do a "fly under" to within 1.5 miles of the space station for a rendezvous and abort rehearsal.
A day later, the Dragon will pull within 50 meters of ISS, where the station's robotic arm will grapple and berth (spacecraft remains unpowered) it to an open docking port. After connecting to the ISS, a ceremony will be held to commemorate the first U.S. commercial flight to the space station followed by offloading of about 1000 to 1500 pounds of non-critical supplies.
Some days later, Dragon will be loaded with return cargo from ISS, then disconnected and released to return to earth. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, SpaceX's Dragon is the largest vehicle to provide a large "downmass" capability for ISS equipment and experiments; the Russian Soyuz provides limited downmass, since its main cargo are live passengers.
Edited by Braden Becker