T-Minus 2 weeks until next SpaceX–ISS Mission

Tyra Robertson —  February 15, 2013

The SpaceX Dragon launches March 1, 2013 at 10:10am EST, are you ready? For the past few of weeks we’ve been breaking down key systems of the Falcon 9 and Dragon to get you prepped for the SpaceX CRS-2 Commercial Resupply Services flight.

Here’s what you missed—

Vertical stand at McGregor  test facility in Texas. Photo by SpaceX

Vertical stand at McGregor test facility in Texas. Photo by SpaceX

We started big picture highlighting some of the machinery and testing equipment used to build the Falcon and Dragon:

The Shaker Room has a large and a small shaker that are used to simulate the acoustic and vibration loads that take place during lift off. Seems like a hardware-store-paint-shaker-meets-a-Hulk-SMASH kind of scenario. If a part is going to break, it’s likely going to break in the Shaker Room.

We went Under the Hood with the Merlin Engine:

The rockstar of SpaceX may be Elon Musk, but the lead man behind the fire power is Tom Mueller. He is the Vice President of Propulsion Development and founding employee at SpaceX. Musk sought Mueller out in 2001 when Musk decided to build his own rockets instead of buying some from the Russians. Musk caught wind of a rocket engine Mueller built in his garage and “apparently had a religious experience” once he saw it.

Next we compared heat shields between the Mars Science Lab and the SpaceX Dragon. We were flattered when SpaceX sent the article through their social media.

Measuring nearly 15 ft (4.5 m) in diameter, the MSL heat shield was the largest to ever travel to another planet. That may sound impressive, when it comes to entering an atmosphere bigger is not necessarily better. While more resistance can act as a natural braking system the trade off is enormous heat build up on the spacecraft. And we’re talking serious heat here, 3360º F (1850º C), almost twice as hot as molten lava.

Artist rendition of Dragon spacecraft propulsive landing.

Artist rendition of Dragon spacecraft propulsive landing.

We kept things hot by talking about the Dragon’s Draco thrusters and the benefits of liquid propellants:

The thruster we will see in action on SpaceX’s next launch on March 1st will be the Draco. The Draco thruster is the smallest engine in the SpaceX fleet but don’t let the size fool you, it packs 90 pounds (400 N) of thrust. The Draco is a liquid propellant thruster that uses Monomethyl Hydranzine. There is an oxidizer needed with a liquid rocket engine and SpaceX uses Nitrogen Tetroxide, the combination of orbital propellant and oxidizer that were used for the Space Shuttle.

And most recently we talked the automated rendezvous and docking sensor, DragonEye:

While a DragonEye LIDAR sounds like a subplot to a James Bond movie, it is what the Dragon spacecraft uses to approach and position itself to dock with the International Space Station. Laser precision comes in handy when trying to attach the 1.3-meter hatch of the Dragon to the football-field-sized space station which travels at an astounding speed of 4.71 miles per second.

In upcoming articles we will highlight the solar arrays, launch set up, and the mission manifest so stay tuned!

Tyra Robertson

Posts Twitter Google+

Tyra is a Mac system administrator by day, and a designer, and photographer, by night. She recently discovered a sweet spot in her technology interests, heavy machinery + futurism, and has been writing about SpaceX for Pinehead.tv.