by MATT GORDON Editor-in-chief
The SpaceX Dragon officially arrived at the International Space Station Wednesday, October 10 as the first commercial cargo mission in space.
Around 7 a.m., the cargo capsule was grabbed by a robotic arm manned by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and by 9 a.m., the craft was attached to the station’s docking module. The Dragon capsule contained about a half ton of supplies for the crew as it docked onto the station 273 miles above the South Atlantic Ocean.
The succesful mission marked the first commercial mission in space and could lead to commercial exploration or space tourism. The first test flight in May carried around 1,000 pounds of cargo to the station without error and gave way to the Dragon mission. This was the first of about 1,000 missions ordered by NASA in cooperation with the company.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a statement released by the company, “This is a big moment in the course of this mission and for commercial space flight. We are pleased that Dragon is now ready to deliver its cargo to the International Space Station.”
After spending about two and half weeks attached to the station, the Dragon capsule will return to Earth with scientific experiments and failed or broken equipment that can be repaired and sent back to the station on future missions.
Although the mission was a success, it did not come without error. The capsule experienced some engine trouble on the booster shortly after liftoff on Sunday. A minute and 19 seconds after liftoff over Cape Canaveral, Florida, one of the nine engines “lost pressure suddenly,” the company disclosed Monday.
Despite the engine trouble, the capsule remained on course and the mission went on smoothly from there. However, a communications satellite that the capsule was carrying was not released into its designated orbit. The satellite had to be released early in order to ensure a second burn on the engine and preserve enough fuel and liquid oxygen.
SpaceX later stated, “For the protection of the space station mission, NASA had required that a restart of the upper stage only occur if there was a very high probability (over 99%) of fully completing the second burn. While there was sufficient fuel on board to do so, the liquid oxygen on board was only enough to achieve a roughly 95% likelihood of completing the second burn, so Falcon 9 did not attempt a restart.”
The satellite was built by New Jersey-based company Orbcomm, which stated that the satellite was circling in a lower-than-intended orbit, and the company was trying to determine whether the satelltie’s own propulsion system could carry it higher into space. Unfortunately, the satellite fell out of orbit Thursday and will no longer be used by the company.
Even though there were multiple problems with the first flight, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called Sunday’s launch and the mission “a critical event in space flight.” In the future, NASA looks to continue commercial space flight with SpaceX, as well as aerospace giants Sierra Nevada and Boeing.