Another launch with supplies for ISS with unmanned DRAGON spaceship from launch site SLC-40 in Cape Canaveral utilizing Falcon-9 1.2V rocket.
ISS supply missions are good example of growing contribution of commercial vehicles in government programs. Since ISS program was started in 1998, about eighty unmanned cargo vehicles docked to ISS. Adding another eighty for manned missions it will give over one hundred sixty missions with average number of nine missions per year. It should therefore not surprise that commercial companies are interested to participate in this program. Significant event took place in 2003 after Columbia space shuttle crashed after reentry in Earth atmosphere. This event and fact that space shuttle fleet was closing to end of its operational life pushed NASA to announce in 2005 commercial ISS resupply cargo vehicle contest. SpaceX with Dragon spacecraft was awarded with contract. Another milestone was announcement of Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contest in 2006 which was primarily won by Kistler Company. Unfortunately Kistler failed to meet NASA demands – it’s contract was terminated and given to Orbital Sciences with Cygnus spacecraft. On 22nd May 2012, after successful docking in ISS, commercial contribution in most expensive international space program became fact. To remind, Dragon is able to supply ISS with cargo of 3310 kg and take back to Earth about 3310 kg unpressurized cargo or 2250 kg in pressurized conditions with cost per launch at $61.2 milion. Space shuttle is able to lift 16050 kg with launch cost between $450 milion to $1.5 bilion.
This mission brings us closer to the point where we will forget about Falcon-9 1.1V. SpaceX is going to put trust in their redesigned construction, Falcon-9 1.2V. If reengineered propulsion will meet demands, 2016 year will be marked with strengthening of the SpaceX position as one of the most competitive launch service provider on the market. It is known that more powerful propulsion will be helpful on heavy cargo GTO missions (in low cargo LEO mission most of the fuel would not be used and stay in tanks). It was partially confirmed by founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, Elon Musk on Twitter:
“Upgrades in the works to allow landing for geo missions: thrust +15%, deep cryo oxygen, upper stage tank vol +10%”
Success of Falcon-9 1.2V is important for other SpaceX projects. Falcon’s core is planned as booster for Falcon Heavy rocket. Upgraded Falcon-9 and planned (due the previous delay) maiden launch of Falcon Heavy will make 2016 significant for SpaceX. Another delay in Falcon Heavy development will not serve well SpaceX first contract with Department of Defense signed in 2012; It arranges that first launch with Falcon Heavy (Space Test Program 2 with Green Propellant Infusion Mission ) should take place precisely in 2016.
Upgrades in the works to allow landing for geo missions: thrust +15%, deep cryo oxygen, upper stage tank vol +10%
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 2, 2015