On January 30, 2012, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) sent an email alert to all SSEP Community Program Directors and Co-Directors for Mission 1 to ISS. It stated that Soyuz 30 failed a critical pressurization test at the fabricator’s facility, Energia, before shipping to the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan. Soyuz 30 was to be the ferry vehicle to ISS for Aquarius, the SSEP payload of Mission 1 experiments. NanoRacks alerted NCESSE to the Soyuz 30 failure on January 30 at 12:30 am EST. Conversations over the last two days between NASA and NanoRacks allowed the current status of SSEP Mission 1 to be assessed in light of the failure.
Here is what we now know:
1. While the media outlets have been reporting a number of estimates for the expected launch delay for Soyuz 30, NanoRacks has not received any official information concerning the delay.
2. NanoRacks has asked NASA for the launch of Aquarius to be switched from Soyuz 30 to SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle, which will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NanoRacks is optimistic that NASA will accept this request.
Dragon represents the beginning of a bold new era in human spaceflight. SpaceX is one of many private sector companies developing spacecraft to carry humans. Many of these companies are currently concentrating on development of sub-orbital vehicles, such as SpaceShipTwo from The Spaceship Company for commercial service to space provided by Virgin Galactic. SpaceX’s Dragon, however, is a vehicle that is designed to ferry crew and supplies to and from low Earth orbit and dock with the International Space Station (ISS). It is the first such commercial vehicle of its kind.
Dragon had a successful, uncrewed orbital test flight in December 2010. The next Dragon launch, again uncrewed, will be a resupply flight to ISS. This is historic — it’s docking with ISS will herald in a new era in human spaceflight operations.
SSEP experiment payloads Eagle and Intrepid (FYI – SSEP payloads are currently named for Apollo Lunar Modules) flew on the final flights of Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis, so we were part of a very emotional, historic end to the Space Shuttle era. If Aquarius is put aboard Dragon, we will part of this historic flight heralding in the next era.
3. NanoRacks has informed us that Dragon is expected to launch Spring 2012, and we are awaiting word from NASA on the official launch date.
4. Placing Aquarius on Dragon would have many distinct advantages, including no shipping out of country to Kazakhstan, no long term storage in Kazakhstan, the payload fully under NASA control until launch, and new potential for refrigeration:
– IMPORTANT: NanoRacks is requesting that all student flight teams stay with the currently scheduled mini-lab handover date of February 24th. Meanwhile NanoRacks is seeking to clarify what the processing schedule would be for the up-coming Dragon flight and is working to arrange to have the turnover of the minilabs to NASA be as late as possible. NanoRacks and the SSEP team will notify you of any extension of the handover date as soon as such information is available.
– Given Dragon would launch from Kennedy Space Center, NanoRacks would expect to provide refrigeration until the payload is loaded aboard Dragon. Since refrigeration is important for a number of experiments, NanoRacks is also exploring options for refrigeration closer to launch, e.g., ‘late loading’, which means loading of your mini-lab closer to the launch date, or possibly temporary refrigeration on the Dragon vehicle while it is on the pad. STAY TUNED
– Given Dragon is launching from Kennedy, there would be an opportunity for NCESSE to ask NASA if we can have access to a launch viewing site for SSEP students, teachers, and parents. NASA KSC had graciously provided access to KARS Park on KSC grounds for 300 SSEP folks for both the launches of STS-134 and STS-0135.
5. This is all GOOD news in light of the Soyuz 30 test failure. However, the current plan is still to have Aquarius return via Soyuz 29 that is currently docked with ISS. Soyuz 29 is to ferry 3 of the current ISS crew members back to Earth. But given that Soyuz 30 was to ferry 3 new crew members to ISS, the de-orbit of Soyuz 29 will likely be delayed given the strong desire to not have less than 6 astronauts on Station as is currently the case. STAY TUNED
Please direct all follow up questions to your wonderfully capable SSEP Flight Experiment Program Manager, Dr. Harri Vanhala, 202-297-9178, firstname.lastname@example.org
Real spaceflight, all the time.
-Your friendly SSEP National Team
SSEP is the first pre-college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture. SSEP is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.
The Dragon possibility is VERY COOL!
The possibility of this set of experiments flying aboard Dragon is truly exciting. It also seems to be a much better option in terms of meeting the needs of all of the investigators. This is a case where a challenge may turn into a strong positive.