Monday, October 15, 2012

Cold Cargo as Freight Deliveries Go Further than Usual

When Orbital Means More than the M25 Motorway
Shipping News Feature

US – INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (ISS) – NASA managers, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) officials and international partner representatives recently launched the first contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. The vessel, for even in the relatively new parlance of freight in space, that is what it is, launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with cargo which included ice cream for the ISS crew.

For cargo launches the inside of the spacecraft is outfitted with a modular cargo rack system designed to accommodate pressurized cargo in standard sizes and form factors. The Dragon craft carried about 1,000 pounds of supplies including critical materials to support the 166 investigations planned for the station's Expedition 33 crew and the Dragon will return about 734 pounds of scientific materials, including results from human research, biotechnology, materials and educational experiments, as well as about 504 pounds of space station hardware.

The launch of the Dragon spacecraft has not been without incident and is the first of twelve contracted flights by SpaceX to resupply the space station and marks the second trip by a Dragon to the station, following a successful demonstration mission in May. SpaceX services under the CRS contract will restore an American capability to deliver and return significant amounts of cargo, including science experiments, to the orbiting laboratory, a feat not achievable since the retirement of the space shuttle, now no more than a museum piece.

Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency used an ISS robot arm to grapple the Dragon following its rendezvous with the station securing Dragon to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module for a few weeks while crew members unload cargo and load experiment samples for return to Earth.

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop commercial spaceflight capabilities, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.

Photo: Dragon approaches the ISS for capture by the robot arm.