SpaceX issued a release on January 23 heralding the Year of the Dragon – both on the Chinese calendar and in their own bay. However, one week after announcing an indefinite delay in Dragon’s launch to ISS, SpaceX has yet to set a new launch date, only indicating it will not occur earlier than late March.
“Space travel is one of the most difficult of all human endeavors, and success is never a guarantee,” said SpaceX in their release. “This flight introduces a series of new challenges and new magnitudes of complexity; if even the smallest thing goes wrong, we will be forced to abort the mission.”
Whenever the launch of the Dragon capsule – slated to become the first commercial cargo ship to supply ISS – it will likely be too late for some of the current ISS crew to enjoy the experience from on the spot. Current station commander Dan Burbank who had previously registered his excitement at witnessing the Dragon docking, is due to return to Earth in mid-March. “If that’s not to be during our mission, then that’s OK,” Burbank told the The Associated Press. “We’ve got plenty of other things to occupy us … but they’ll fly when they’re ready and they’ll fly when they need to.” Astronaut Don Pettit may be luckier, with most of his 5 month mission still ahead of him. “This will be one step in the long road to human expansion off of the planet into low-Earth orbit and beyond,” said Pettit in an interview.
If qualified for cargo delivery, the Dragon capsule will provide relief from reliance on Russian Progress and Japanese HTV vessels. The Dragon provides one capability these do not: it can return cargo to Earth. Both the Progress and HTV are single use capsules that burn up on atmospheric reentry.
The video below shows the first – and so far only – test flight of the Dragon capsule when it perform two Earth orbits in December 2010.