SpaceX ship read­ies for a Sun­day launch

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY KERRY SHERI­DAN

Worms, let­tuce and a mas­sive park­ing sta­tion for fu­ture space­ships are aboard SpaceX’s un­manned Dragon cargo capsule, poised for a Sun­day launch.

The blast-off of the white, gum­drop-shaped space­ship atop the Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany’s Fal­con 9 rocket is set for 10:21 a.m. (1421 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Shortly af­ter launch, SpaceX will make a third at­tempt to land its rocket on an ocean plat­form. This is part of CEO Elon Musk’s vi­sion of re­vamp­ing the rocket in­dus­try by mak­ing ex­pen­sive rocket parts re­us­able in­stead of dis­card­ing them in the ocean as hap­pens now.

Mo­ments af­ter launch, as the Dragon heads for or­bit, the tall sec­tion of the rocket will ig­nite its en­gines and guide it­self back to a float­ing barge in the At­lantic for an up­right land­ing.

SpaceX’s first try in Jan­uary ended in fail­ure. The rocket col­lided with the drone ship plat­form, af­ter run­ning out of the hy­draulic fluid needed to power its steer­ing fins.

Dur­ing a sec­ond try in April, the 30,000-kilo­gram rocket man­aged to set it­self down on the plat­form in an up­right po­si­tion, but tipped over and ex­ploded sec­onds later.

SpaceX blamed a mal­func­tion­ing valve con­trol­ling the rocket’s en­gine power for the un­steady land­ing.

The SpaceX vice pres­i­dent of mis­sion as­sur­ance, Hans Koenigs­mann, said com­pany ex­perts have learned from past at­tempts, but it would be hard to pre­dict the chances of suc­cess on Sun­day.

Needed Cargo

The Dragon space­craft will de­liver 1,800 kilo­grams of food, sup­plies and science ex­per­i­ments to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, where two Rus­sian cos­mo­nauts and one Amer­i­can as­tro­naut are liv­ing.

NASA’s Scott Kelly and Roscos­mos’ Mikhail Kornienko are four months into a planned year-long stay in space. The space sta­tion com­man­der is Gen­nady Padalka.

SpaceX is now the only Amer­i­can com­pany ca­pa­ble of send­ing cargo to space. Or­bital Sciences’ pro­gram is on hold, af­ter one of its rock­ets ex­ploded on the launch­pad last year and de­stroyed its fully loaded Cygnus cargo car­rier.

Rus­sia’s sup­ply pro­gram also suf­fered a set­back in April when it lost con­trol of its Progress cargo ship and the un­manned capsule burned up on re-en­try to Earth’s at­mos­phere a cou­ple of weeks later.

The Dragon’s cargo in­cludes the first of two In­ter­na­tional Dock­ing Adap­tors, which are es­sen­tially park­ing spots that are meant to make it eas­ier for a va­ri­ety of com­mer­cial sup­ply ships to latch onto the or­bit­ing lab in years to come.

Two ex­per­i­ments among the dozens on board aim to help astro­nauts cul­ti­vate their own food in space, a skill that would be key to sus­tain­ing a crew dur­ing a deep space mis­sion to Mars.

One experiment is a type of green­house that will en­able astro­nauts to grow let­tuce in space.

Astro­nauts have pre­vi­ously grown red ro­maine let­tuce, which was tested back on Earth for signs of dan­ger­ous space bugs, said ISS pro­gram sci­en­tist Julie Robin­son. No dan­gers were found, she said.

This time, astro­nauts may get to sam­ple the Tokyo Bekana cab­bage — a bit­ter leafy green — that they grow.

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