SpaceX’s next supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) had already been bumped from December 2013 to early 2014 to give Orbital’s end of year Cygnus mission a little more wiggle room. It looks like SpaceX could use the time anyhow, as an ongoing initiative to enhance their Dragon cargo vessel’s cold storage is taking a little longer than expected. As Aviation Week reports:
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is modifying its Dragon capsule to afford more payload capacity for NASA cargo runs to and from the International Space Station (ISS). But the improvements will push a planned December ISS mission into 2014, in which the company’s crowded launch manifest is pending the delayed debut of the revamped SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
President Gwynne Shotwell says NASA needs SpaceX to make the Dragon enhancements in order to increase the reusable cargo vessel’s cold-storage capacity for transporting research samples between Earth and the ISS.
“We’re developing a major upgrade to Dragon to triple the amount of science that we carry up and back,” Shotwell said Sept. 10 at the World Satellite Business Week conference here, adding that the capsule’s December mission is now scheduled for February.
Cold storage is a key capability for Dragon’s mission; it enables the vessel to return biological samples that have been stuck on ISS since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. It’s also been a bit of a challenge – the Glacier freezer unit on the first Dragon resupply mission suffered coolant pump failure compromising some samples when the temperature rose from -95 degrees Centigrade (C) up to -65 degrees C. At the time, ISS program manager Mike Suffredini indicated that cold storage might be limited due to the problem; the ongoing upgrades seem designed to bring Dragon’s sample capacity back to full capability.