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CRS-13 Pre-Launch Presser

CRS-13 Pre-Launch Presser

2017-12-11

Moderator:

  • Cheryl Warner, NASA Communications Office

Participants:

  • Kirk Shireman, ISS Program Manager
  • Jessica Jensen, SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management
  • Kirt Costello, ISS Program Science Office Deputy Chief Scientist.
  • Lt. David Myers, 45th Weather Squadron Launch Weather Officer.

Cheryl Warner: Good morning. Thank you for joining us live from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I'm Cheryl Warner, from the Office of Communications. Today, NASA's commercial cargo provider, SpaceX, is here to discuss its 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Launch is targeted for no earlier than December 12th at 11:46AM. NASA is using the International Space Station to conduct cutting-edge research and technology development, to help prepare our astronauts to take the next giant leap in human exploration. Packed with more than 4,800 lbs of research and hardware, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Here to discuss today's launch are Program Manager Kirk Shireman, joining us live from NASA's Johnson Space Center, Jessica Jensen, Director, Dragon Mission Management at SpaceX, Kirt Costello, Deputy Chief Scientist, ISS Program Science Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and Lt. David Myers, Launch Weather Officer, 45th Weather Squadron.

Each of our participants will provide brief remarks before we take questions. We'll begin with questions in the room. For those on the phone line, if you'd like to submit a question, please enter the queue at any time by using "star one" on your phone. And we'll also take questions online using the hashtag, #AskNASA. Kirk, we'll begin with remarks from you.

Kirk Shireman: Alright, good morning, thank you, it's a pleasure to be here. I look very much forward to the launch of SpaceX-13 tomorrow, and really this is the initiation of a busy week on board the International Space Stations, so I wanted to give you a few highlights. So tomorrow we launch SpaceX-13, but it's actually not the first activity on orbit this week. So the first activity will actually be the undocking and de-orbit of the 51st Soyuz on Thursday the 14th. So we're looking forward to a safe return of the Soyuz on Thursday. And in fact our teams are on the ground, our Russian and U.S. teams are on the ground in Kazakhstan right now as we speak, and preparing to execute the landing operations there on the ground. On the 15th, on Friday the 15th we expect the Dragon to berth to ISS. So we'll take a breather, and then on Sunday, we'll have the 53 Soyuz launch with Tingle, Kanai, and Shkaplerov out of Kazakhstan, out of Baikonur Cosmodrome. And the docking will be two days later on the 19th. We cap off the year the very next day with a high solar beta period which will extend to the 25th. In a high solar beta or a high solar angle regime, basically the ISS doesn't see a sunset or a sunrise. It's basically one long, long day. And it puts a lot of thermal constraints on the vehicle, so we try to avoid critical operations, dynamic operations like spacewalks and vehicle dockings and undockings during this high solar beta. So we're looking forward to a busy week, followed by maybe a little breather during the high solar beta period. One other activity that's going to go on on orbit is we're going to de..., well, the ISS crew, we've already unberthed and let go of the Cygnus vehicle, but actually it will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere on Friday. So a lot of space station activities this week. So in 2018, a busy year. I'll just touch a few highlights for that. Of course research will be ongoing, hot and heavy, with the SpaceX-13 Dragon mission. We have two spacewalks planned for January, really to position ourselves for the replacing of a Latching End Effector that's anomalous on the ISS. And we'll conduct those and be ready to return that Latching End Effector later on in the year on a future Dragon flight. We have three Progresses, four Soyuzes. We have a number of SpaceX Dragon and Cygnus flights. And in addition we'll be preparing on orbit for the commercial crew flights that year. So really, 2018, a very pivotal year. A very busy year. And we'll look forward to talking to you more about that as the year progresses. But for right now, we're all focused on SpaceX-13, on Dragon and Falcon 9, and we're looking forward to a successful launch and mission, starting tomorrow. With that I'll hand it back to you, Cheryl.

Cheryl Warner: Thank you, Kirk. And now we'll hear from Jessica.

Jessica Jensen: Good morning, everyone. So first I want to give a huge thanks to NASA, the Air Force, and the FAA. Particularly NASA, as our customer, they have provided us a tremendous amount of support, hard work, and flexibility. Especially as Kirk said, launching in this very busy time. NASA's been our partner through activation of Launch Complex 40, as well as for the re-flown booster, and the re-flown Dragon that'll be flying on this mission, it's the first time we're going to be doing the two of those together. So NASA's been a great partner in helping us with qualifying that hardware, as well as, we've been provided a ton of guidance from the FAA and the Air Force as well. So I really just want to thank all three of them, because without them, this mission wouldn't be possible tomorrow.

So I think people covered some of the basic facts. Launch tomorrow at 11:46AM. We will be berthing very early Friday morning. This is the 13th of 20 missions on the current cargo resupply services contract. After that, SpaceX has been selected to do continued cargo resupply into 2024, so we're looking forward to a very long time of sending supplies to and from the International Space Station.

So, this is going to be the first launch out of Space Launch Complex 40 since 2016. And instead of just rebuilding the pad as it was, we wanted to modernize it. Basically, we wanted to take a ten-year-old pad and make it high-tech. So, one example is ten years ago, I was at SpaceX. I was a vibration engineer, and I was actually doing some of the electrical wiring for the vibration sensors on the Transporter/Erector. And I'm pretty sure there are people who are much better at that now, we have much better systems to do that, so that's part of the modernization effort. One of the biggest things we want to do is increase the amount of automation on the launch pad. So we have a significant amount more of sensors than we had from ten years ago, and a lot more computer control of the systems on the launch pad. And what that means is we have a launch pad that can do launch to launch in a faster turnaround time, as well as a much more reliable pad for safer missions. So we're excited for the pad 40 upgrades and seeing them in action tomorrow.

So tomorrow, after stage separation, the first stage is going to head back to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. And if it's successful, this will be the 20th recovery of a Falcon booster, and it's going to be the 14th this year. So we're very excited for that.

As I mentioned we are going to be re-flying the booster from CRS-11. So this booster supported the CRS-11 mission in June of this year, and this Dragon capsule supported the CRS-6 mission back in 2015. So we have those coming together now to bring you the SpaceX-13 mission. This is going to be the fourth time that we are re-flying a booster for one of our customers, and the second time that we are re-flying a Dragon. And really, what this is, this is the beginning of rapid and reliable reusability. Basically, even though we're spending a lot of time now doing additional testing on hardware, additional inspections, working very closely with NASA, in the long run, reusability is going to significantly reduce the cost of access to space. That's what is going to be required to send future generations to explore the universe. You know, we want to be able to send thousands of people into space, not just tens. And so reusability is a very key part of that, and we're excited because tomorrow's just one step closer to that.

With that, thanks again to all of our partners.

Cheryl Warner: Thank you Jessica. And now we'll hear about some of the science from Kirk.

Kirt Costello: Thank you Cheryl. It's great to be here today. SpaceX-13, the CRS mission, is bringing science to the space station that is going to access the unique capabilities of this one-of-a-kind laboratory that we have on orbit. In orbit, we have microgravity conditions that allow us to investigate the impacts on biological life and fluid flows. We also have exposure to space radiation and access to unique views of the Earth, both down on the Earth and into space. The experiments flying on SpaceX/CRS-13 will be joining some of the 329 experiments during Increment 53/54. Bringing us, to date, up to 2,465 experiments, and over 1,300 publications, that have come from space station research.

SpaceX-13 is big on biology, and let me explain that. Plant growth, one of the areas that we do research into on space station, has eight investigations flying on the SpaceX Dragon. And they spread out over multiple different facilities we have on orbit. In the Tango Lab CubeLabs, we have investigations looking at a microclover and an Arabidopsis. In the BRIC (Biologic Research in Canisters), we're flying a new LED unit to increase plant growth results in that facility. We're also flying the first-of-its-kind research in the EMCS: plant gravity perception. This investigation is advanced in the way that its going to look at plant responses to partial gravity loading. So how plants may develop on Earth, on the moon, in zero gravity, and maybe even on Mars.

When we move over to cell science, we also have new facilities coming online. The bio-culture system, or the BIOS facility, is going to be growing two different cell types as pathfinders and validation testing, for a system that will allow us to bring cells and small tissues to orbit, and grow them on orbit. We also have the STaARS bioscience facility going up. This facility is going to be growing thyroid carcinoma cells, and also Staphylococcus Aureus, in an opportunity to see how these organisms adapt to the microgravity environment. Beyond cell science, we have amoebas, bacteria, and mice (oh my). More organisms than you could think are stacking in the Dragon right now, awaiting launch.

On the physical sciences side, we also have a number of investigations going on in the realm of physical sciences and tech demos. Made In Space is flying their space fiber optics facility, which will be looking at the creation of ZBLAN fiber optics in space. We have protein crystal growth experiments from both JAXA and the United States, where we'll be looking at using the microgravity environment to develop more slowly and larger and better crystals, for use in pharmaceutical therapies on Earth. In the area of colloids research, we'll be doing self-assembly, as we'll be taking advantage of the fact that things don't settle out on orbit in microgravity. That slow progression allows us to study forces like self-assembly and understand how we can use that in chemical and product development here on the Earth. And finally, we'll be looking at implantable medical devices, for a number of things. Both for drug delivery systems, and for sensor systems, for being able to monitor glucose in patients here on Earth.

And then finally, we have an external trunk on Dragon, and we have two major payloads going up. TSIS (the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor) and Space Debris Sensor. TSIS will be looking at the overall energy output of the sun and using that input to feed models for environmental controls here on Earth, environmental monitoring here on Earth. And to understand the energy balance, whether or not we're taking in as much energy as we're putting out, or what that difference leads us to. The Space Debris System (SDS) is looking at the space debris environment in Low Earth Orbit. We know very little about smaller debris fields. We can map down to about 5cm, but smaller than that it gets difficult to map. So, looking at the direction, the mass, and the velocity of all of the space debris hits on the SDS will help us better characterize that environment, hopefully so that the commercial market can operate more safely in that arena.

So with that, I'd like to roll over to our national lab video. We have a video that details a few more of the investigations that we have going on.

[video begins]

Video Package: Hi, I'm Patrick O'Neill, and we're here at Made In Space, the innovative company that is responsible for having the 3D printers on board the space station. Now the startup is focused on bringing fiber optic technology to the space station. In validating this new form of technology on the ISS, we can open channels into exciting endeavors, like on orbit manufacturing in Low Earth Orbit. Here are some of the other major payloads launching to the ISS national lab on this mission.

A startup company, Biorasis, seeks to use the microgravity environment of the space station to improve the accuracy of wireless, medically implantable glucose bio-sensors for day-to-day diabetes management. Budweiser will be sending two separate experiments, in hopes of looking at gene expression and germination in barley. Studying barley in microgravity may reveal new information on the germination process. The Houston Methodist Research Institute is partnering with pharmaceutical leader Novartis on a rodent research investigation to evaluate the efficacy of an implantable drug delivery system that could assist those with muscle atrophy on Earth.

Launchpad Medical will send a synthetic bone material, capable of adhering bone to metal within minutes to accelerate repair. This is an ideal environment to evaluate a healing response and development of effective treatments for patients needing bone repair.

This launch brings a culmination to an incredible year of research onboard the ISS national laboratory in 2017, and we thank our partners at NASA, SpaceX, and Orbital ATK. I cannot wait to see what happens on the space station in 2018, and beyond.

[video ends]

Kirt Costello: Thank you.

Cheryl Warner: Thank you, Kirt. And now we'll hear from a weather update from Lt. Myers.

Lt. David Myers: Thank you, Cheryl. For our weather, we're expecting generally clear conditions. Winds will be a little bit high, but they've been high since that front went through this past Saturday. We are going to see a trough swing through on Tuesday, really into Tuesday early afternoon, and that trough could increase our winds, and it's also going to increase winds on Wednesday, the backup opportunity. If I could go to my first slide please?

So for our main forecast here, our winds are going to be 15 to 19 knots at about 200ft. Temperature will be about 65 degrees right there at about T-0. Concerns are liftoff winds, and our probability of violation is only 10% right now.

For our backup opportunity. Expecting winds to be about the same, overnight they'll increase, and then drop as well go into the morning hours on Wednesday. So 15 to 19 knots, again, at about 200ft. Temperature is going to be about 58 degrees, so a little bit cooler on Wednesday, and our concerns are still going to be those liftoff winds, with a probability of violation of 20%. Now, another thing I'd like to point out, if we could go to my next slide, please. As that trough dips down, the chart you're seeing there is a jet stream chart. So that's at about 40,000ft. And those colors are indicating increased winds. So that deep purple are winds over 130 knots. So what we're seeing is that dropping down with our trough. And that is going to increase those upper-level winds. That is a concern for Falcon 9 launches, but it is not something that Weather Squadron will actively evaluate on launch day. Our weather balloons will send that data to the customer, and they make their decisions from there. Thank you.

Cheryl Warner: Thank you Lt. Myers. With that, we will open it up for questions. Again, we'll begin with questions in the room. If you're on the phone line, please press "star one" to enter the queue. And if you have questions online, please use the hashtag #AskNASA. Our first question please, from Marcia Dunn. Yes.

Marcia Dunn: Marcia Dunn, Associated Press. For Kirk, if I might. Do you expect your anxiety level to be slightly higher tomorrow, given that this is a reused rocket that you'll be reusing for the first time at NASA? And also am I safe to presume there will be Christmas presents onboard?

Kirk Shireman: Well, let's see. I cannot confirm nor deny, the presence of Christmas presents [laughter] (I guess I can say that) onboard the Dragon. Seriously, I don't know. There are crew care packages, and as Program Manager I don't have to go inspect all those. So it wouldn't surprise me, but I can't say for certain. As for the anxiety level, I've been in this business for a long time. Every time we launch a rocket, I'm anxious. It's still a dangerous business, so I will be anxious tomorrow. I can tell you a number of things. First off, reusability. The shuttle was reused, we reused the boosters, we reused the main engines. And so the notion of reusability is not new. We did an extensive review, and by we I mean the entire agency. We engaged rocket experts from around the agency, to define, first off, what NASA would like to see in terms of data, and analysis, and testing, and even inspection in between the flights. And then we met with SpaceX and reviewed what they did. And we're very comfortable that the risk posture is not significantly greater than a new booster. The way we look at it, we've retired some risks, some risks are actually less on a re-flown booster, and some risks are actually a little greater, and the net result is about equivalent risk. So we think of it as equivalent risk. Which is not to say zero risk. So we'll be anxious, but I wouldn't say a higher level of anxiety for this reflown booster than a new booster.

Cheryl Warner: Thank you. Next question from Bill Harwood.

Bill Harwood: Bill Harwood, CBS News. For Jessica, I think. Just to kind of follow that up, give us a sense of what you guys do to a used booster to get it ready for flight. Does it still have the same nine engines on board, have you swapped out engines, what do you have to swap out, what do you do in general, or different than you do for a new booster?

Jessica Jensen: Sure thing. So, the biggest thing is insuring that all the hardware is qualified for multiple flights. And basically we do that with test units that are built to the same specification as the flight hardware, and make sure those can go through multiple life cycles. So for example, we will take one of our engines and fire it in Texas over and over and over again to simulate multiple flights. In between flights, the goal is to not swap out hardware. Basically, every piece of hardware has a service lifetime, based on that testing I just talked about, and if it's still within its service lifetime, we verify that all of the environments on the previous flight were good, then you can just continue to reuse it. We do, in between flights, do very thorough inspections, to make sure that something off-nominal didn't happen on the previous flight. So we go through, we look at critical areas, we inspect welds, but we do not, generally, replace engines. If we need to, we can do that, but in general, we do not do that. So, it's mostly just inspecting everything and making sure we're good to go. One of the other things we do, as you know, our stages go to Texas prior to each mission, where we do a stage firing. And after that we do a series of pressure tests and all kinds of avionics checkouts on the vehicle afterwards. We do that same set of tests now after each flight. And what that is, it gives us high confidence moving into the mission, like Kirk said, we're basically at an equivalent level of risk as we were on the first flight.

Cheryl Warner: Next question from Irene, please.

Irene Klotz: Irene Klotz, with Aviation Week. For Jessica. Are there any plans to re-fly any of the current first stages or Dragon capsules more than twice? Or will that wait for the Block V, and then Dragon 2? And do you have an approximation of when Block V will be flown for the first time?

Jessica Jensen: So, to answer the first part of your question, like I said, everything has a service lifetime. So, Dragons and Falcons, depending on where they are and what the service life is for that specific unit, can fly more than twice. So we do have plans to fly more than twice in the future. And the first Block V flight is targeted for early next year.

Cheryl Warner: Question from Ken, please.

Ken Kremer: Ken Kremer, Universe Today. For Jessica, thank you. You went through the Falcon 9 refurbishment, can you go through the Dragon refurbishments? And, are you going to build any new Dragons? And for the lieutenant, can you describe, what are the wind constraints on the ground, as well as the upper level winds that you expressed concern about? Thanks.

Jessica Jensen: Yep, so the re-flight process for a Dragon is very similar to Falcon, in that you have to qualify each component for multiple flights, and then when Dragon comes back we do a very thorough inspection of it. So one of the things we have to do is the Thermal Protection System on the outside, we call it the TPS, all those tiles you see on the heatshield, that does have to currently be replaced each mission, but most of the hardware inside goes through an inspection, and it's usually good for the next flight, provided that all of its thermal and vibration environments were within specification. So that's basically the process for the Dragon vehicle. For the remainder of the current CRS contract, we are planning to continue to reuse refurbished Dragons. We have enough in our fleet to continue to use refurbished Dragons for the rest of the current CRS contract.

Cheryl Warner: We'll have the next question from James, please

Lt. David Myers: He asked a second question on the winds.

Cheryl Warner: Oh, sorry.

Lt. David Myers: So for the winds, I can't specifically tell you what the specific constraint is. They are dependent on direction and the structure. It is a user constraint, so something that SpaceX has asked us to monitor and alert them if they exceed those constraints, and we'll do that all the way through the count.

Cheryl Warner: Now a question from James.

James Dean: James Dean, Florida Today. For Kirk Shireman. Could you clarify how many launch attempts do you expect to have with the cutout and Soyuz activity coming up? And regarding reuse, do you also see this as important to the future of spaceflight, reducing costs, the things Jessica mentioned earlier? Or are you really just doing it because SpaceX wants to and you verified that their data looks good?

Kirk Shireman: [audio begins abruptly] -aunch attempt, I expect to launch on that attempt. However, having been in this business a long time, I understand things can happen, so we have a launch attempt on the 12th, we have another launch attempt capability from an ISS perspective on the 13th, and then our final one prior to this Beta cutout is on the 15th. So really, from an ISS perspective, we have three launch attempts before the high solar Beta region I was talking about. And then the next attempt in terms of ballistics picks up around the 25th of December. So we are looking at that, because we thrive on being ahead of the game, but we're optimistic that we'll get off on the 12th or the 13th, and we'll see how things play out. As for reuse, I think there's no question that reusability, especially reusability without a tremendous amount of hardware replacement, can change the economics of launch, and the reality is that the business of space is dominated by launch costs. Certainly in the human space flight world it's dominated by launch costs. So getting the costs down is important for everyone. It's important for NASA. It's important for the future of human spaceflight. It's important for commerce in space, and so it's certainly a positive thing. So we're very much supportive of this activity. What we need to be careful about is, from a NASA perspective, that we understand the risk. So we get to decide the risk level that we will accept, and we are doing that. SpaceX has been very cooperative with us in answering all of our questions and sharing data with us. We've even had people participate in some of the testing. So I think the effort going on between NASA and SpaceX is excellent with respect to reuse, and we certainly see that as an avenue for reduced costs in the future.

Cheryl Warner: Okay, additional questions in the room in the front row, please.

Chris Gebhardt: Chris Gebhardt with NasaSpaceFlight. I'm wondering, for Kirk and maybe Jessica, if you could talk a little bit more about the decision for the flight-proven booster? When was that decision made? It was only confirmed last week, so I'm wondering, was there a contingency plan to use a new core if NASA had decided to not to use the re-flown booster? And also what's the precise launch time tomorrow down to the second?

Jessica Jensen: So I guess I can start with that one. So we've been working with NASA since January of this year on the process for insuring that a flight-proven booster is of equivalent risk to a new booster. And so like Kirk mentioned, we've been having technical meetings with NASA for each different group. So for example, dynamics on the vehicle, propulsion, avionics, each of those different groups have been meeting with their NASA counterparts for several months. So we've been working at this for many, many months. And as we get closer to the launch date, the way it works, as you know we can have turnaround times of roughly two weeks. So about two weeks before launch is the absolute, drop dead of when a decision needs to be made to not impact the launch date. I forget, what was the second question you asked?

Chris Gebhardt: Precise launch time.

Jessica Jensen: Argh. 11:46AM. Hmm. I'm going to guess 13 seconds. But that's a total guess.

Cheryl Warner: We can follow up with you Chris and get you that.

Kirk Shireman: I wanted to add to that, if I could. By the way, I'm not going to add the 13 seconds. It is important, but I don't know the number. But in terms of reusability, absolutely, we have. What I described earlier, NASA went off on their own and said hey, if we were going to fly a Falcon 9, reuse a Falcon 9, what would we like to see in terms of analysis, testing, inspection between the flights and so on. And so we did that. We laid it out ourselves, independently. We then met with SpaceX and went through their data and their certification package. We put on some constraints, by the way, I didn't mention earlier. We agreed to a single re-flight, and at this point we've agreed to a single re-flight of a booster that's flown to a benign mission, like ours. Like a CRS-1 flight. So we only agreed to a single re-flight, and a Low Earth Orbit mission for the first launch. The reason the decision was made so finely is, like we said, there's the general certification. And then there's the actual inspection of the booster. And then finally there's a review conducted by SpaceX, a Re-flight Readiness Review. Think of it as a Flight Readiness Review for that particular booster. And so NASA was part of the generic certification. NASA reviewed the inspection plan in between the flights. And we were waiting for that Re-flight Readiness Review to be complete, to go over all the issues, and make sure at that point we were still comfortable with the risk level for this flight. And that's why the actual official decision. The letter, we sent a contract letter to SpaceX here, I think a week and a half ago, two Wednesdays ago, if I'm not mistaken, I can look that up if you need it, but very, very recently. At some point in time, we knew that there would be a change. We told SpaceX that we were heading down this path, but we weren't ready to commit until that final Re-flight Readiness Review was conducted, and that we understood that if we changed position, if we changed paths and used a new booster, it might affect the launch date. SpaceX understood, and we were partnering all along. And so we were waiting for that final decision, that final Re-flight Readiness Review, and then NASA decided and sent the letter.

Cheryl Warner: And a question from the back of the room, please.

Stephen Clark: Stephen Clark from SpaceFlightNow. One for Jessica. Specifically for this booster, do you know if all nine engines, I'm curious, on this booster were from the CRS-11 mission. Or did you swap any out? And for Kirk Shireman, in your preview of 2018, you mentioned commercial crew perhaps arriving at the station late next year. Can you give me an idea of your confidence in that schedule right now, and are you looking at going off and buying more Soyuz seats from Russia for 2019 as a hedge against that? Can you update me on that contracting situation with Russia and your confidence in commercial crew arriving next year? Thanks.

Jessica Jensen: So all nine engines on this booster did fly on the CRS-11 mission. We did not have to replace any of them.

Kirk Shireman: Wow, I wish my answer was that easy. So, the fact is flying into space is very difficult. Flying humans into space is even more difficult. And so as we've seen the dates for SpaceX and for Boeing have slipped to the right. It's not unexpected. We knew that this was likely to occur. And we have dates now, and we are planning for those dates to slip, or certainly being prepared for those dates to slip, I would say it that way. They'll fly when they're ready, and while we want them to be ready as soon as possible, we also don't want them to fly until they are ready. And so we are trying to build flexibility into the International Space Station program, so that we can allow the Commercial Crew Program the time that they need to fly successfully. We are not in discussions with Russia today, with respect to additional flights. As you know, in January of this year we signed a deal with The Boeing Corporation, but it actually involved Soyuz flights. It allowed us to fly Joe Acaba, who's on orbit today. It'll allow us to fly Ricky Arnold in March of next year. And it also allowed us an option to fly three U.S. astronauts in the first half on 2019. In October of this year we exercised that option, and so we have seats to fly U.S. astronauts on Soyuz vehicles through the first half of '19, which means they'll land in the second half of 2019. We are still thinking about ways to buy additional margin if we have to. There's a whole spectrum of options we are considering. But our confidence in the launch dates for SpaceX and for Boeing in the commercial crew vehicles is increasing as well. I'll say we're going to look for options until the first rotation flight. Because that's our job, to be prepared for contingencies. But I think we are absolutely progressing, and I look forward to demo flights in 2018.

Cheryl Warner: And it looks like we have a couple questions online, so we'll take a question from Jason.

[Jason Townsend, NASA Acting Social Media Manager]: The first question comes from twitter user Edna who asks, "How many experiments on the Dragon cargo craft are going to be delivered to space station?"

Kirt Costello: I guess that's for me. Totally number, I'd have to check into. Literally dozens of experiments are going up. They add to the total for the Increment, which is 329. And 75 of those experiments are new for the Increment. We rely on SpaceX to provide for a lot of our biological research capability. Not only because we get the investigations up, but we can get those back down as well. So it's an incredibly important mission for us.

Jason Townsend: And twitter user [Mermal?] asks, "When you bring and take stuff to and from the space station, does an addition or reduction of mass affect the orbit of the station?"

Kirk Shireman: I'll take that one. So, actually, from a physics standpoint, the answer is yes. But at this point in time, the space station weighs close to a million pounds. And so the change in mass is not a huge difference, so we typically do not see a drastic change in the orbit of the space station from vehicles coming and leaving. We monitor it all the time, and of course we have ballistics people who plan these things. It's incredibly complex, by the way, to even intercept the ISS. So when the Dragon launches tomorrow, it starts from a velocity of zero. By the time it gets into the orbit, in the ISS orbit, it's traveling 17,500mph. And it has to catch another vehicle that's traveling 17,500mph. And that's no small feat, either. So anyway, the ballistics team plans for these things, and because we plan for it, it's not a very significant effect at all.

Cheryl Warner: Thank you. And we'll take a few more questions from the room. Right here up front.

Derrol Nail: Derrol Nail with Fox35 in Orlando. Question for Jessica. Can you back to when the launchpad was destroyed. How significantly was it destroyed. What made it through? And in the rebuilding of it, you mentioned it's more high-tech. Can you kind of go into some details of what's different about this pad, and when people watch it tomorrow, will they see any discernable differences between it and the one that you rebuilt? What were the big challenges in rebuilding this pad?

Jessica Jensen: Yeah, so one of the things you'll see that is now similar to what we have at Pad 39A is right before liftoff, the strongback is going to quickly throw back, just as it does on 39A. So that's one of the upgrades we made. As for the remaining details of everything we had to rebuild, John Muratore gave a talk a couple of days ago to the press, so you can get a bunch of additional information from that, or follow up with our communications team. I'm primarily focused on the Dragon mission and the Falcon mission, but they can give you a lot more information as the launch pad director gave a bunch of information the other day on that.

Cheryl Warner: Alright. Next question.

Bill Jelen: Bill Jelen from We Report Space. If the launch slips one day, to Wednesday, what will the change in launch time be? Is it four minutes?

Jessica Jensen: About twenty minutes earlier.

Bill Jelen: Twenty minutes earlier. And then, the short throwback, how long before ignition does the throwback actually start? Do you know that?

Jessica Jensen: On 39A, I think it's the same, we would come back a little bit, about a few minutes before, and then it's just seconds before that it throws back all the way.

Cheryl Warner: On the right side.

Jim Siegel: Jim Siegel, SpaceFlight Insider. I'm particularly interested in the issue of looking at space debris. So I understand that the space station has some sort of shielding that protects it to some extent from small particles, or whatever. I'm wondering if you could talk about that. And also, I understand that the space station has the capability of moving out of the way of larger pieces that might come in proximity to the space station. I'm wondering how many times that's been done since the space station has been up. Thank you.

Kirk Shireman: Okay, I'll take that one. The space station, because it lives it's life in Low Earth Orbit, and if you're interested in the debris environment in Low Earth Orbit, we can point you to some resources there, but the debris environment in Low Earth Orbit is quite significant. So we designed with the requirement to live in that environment. And basically, it has shielding. It's really very clever shielding. And the shielding on the International Space Station can handle everything less than 2, 2.5cm particles. So any debris that's less than 2.5cm, the shielding will take care of. Anything greater than 10cm is actually tracked. So things that are larger than that, the sensors that are here on the Earth will track it, and the guys who operate those sensors will tell us, and we'll try to maneuver the space station away from that debris. So that's the kind of environment, and if you can picture the teeny tiny, think of grains of sand, the largest number of particles are about that size. Paint flecks, those kinds of things. The larger debris is much, much smaller, in fact it's an exponential curve. So the good news is -- we are vulnerable, the risk that we take every day, every minute, every second on board ISS is the difference between a 2.5cm particle and a 10cm particle. That risk is in a regime where there aren't that many pieces of space debris out there. The ones that are larger, we track and get out of the way of, and the ones that are smaller, the shielding protects us. In terms of the number of debris avoidance maneuvers we've executed over the years, I don't have that number. [off-screen: "Twenty three"]. Twenty-three. Okay. I phoned a friend. So that's actually not that bad, twenty-three over... the first piece was launched November 20th, 1998. So in nineteen years, twenty-three maneuvers. I can tell you though, we get notifications. It's not just that the particle is that size, what we're doing is predicting it into the future. So these things are going really, really fast around the Earth, and even our knowledge of the orbits these things are in is uncertain. I'll say there's some error bars around it. And so we get notifications when something's going to come close. So we actually plan a larger number of that. I would say we plan on the order of six to twelve a year. What we call debris avoidance alerts. So we'll start planning those, but before we actually have to execute them, the predictions firm up and we don't have to execute them. So space debris is a significant issue, it'll continue to be a significant issue. And this experiment we're flying on this mission is a really important experiment. It'll help us gather some additional data and be smarter not just for ISS, but for future human spaceflight, and for even commercial spaceflight into Low Earth Orbit.

Cheryl Warner: Question here.

Elsa Conesa: Elsa Conesa for the French paper Les Échos. I was wondering if you could give us a rough idea of the cost of the mission, and how it compares to other launches.

Jessica Jensen: Unfortunately that's proprietary information so I'm unable to disclose that. There is some information about the total cost of the contract that you can find out in the public, but unfortunately I can't go into the details of the pricing of each mission.

Cheryl Warner: Here.

Rick Glasby: Rick Glasby with WFIT. You were describing some of the science that was flying, and some of that is for commercial companies like Budweiser and Made In Space. Are they charged to fly their science up or is it free?

Kirt Costello: So to talk about any of that I'd have to defer to the national laboratory that actually handles those contracts. In most cases, what the ISS provides is the transportation to and from the space station if its required. The agreement to fly and how that's funded, either through CASIS grants, or as other governmental agencies sponsoring research, for instance we've had National Institute of Health and NSF sponsor research in the past. Those types of grants can be involved as well. So for commercial entities, it is possible that they're paying their own way, and it's also possible that they're supported in part by grants, but that's a question that I'd have to refer you to CASIS and the national lab manager to go ahead and answer that.

Cheryl Warner: Left side here.

Jessica Golden: Hi, I'm Jessica from CNBC. My question is for Jessica. I'm wondering where Elon plans to watch the launch from.

Jessica Jensen: Ooohh, that is a great question. I'll have to follow up with our team. I don't exactly know where he'll be. [Looks past camera] Do you guys know? Hawthorne? Yeah. We don't think he's going to be in Florida, so he's probably going to be watching from our headquarters in Hawthorne. For every launch, we have a very large gathering where the whole company comes out and watches every single launch.

Cheryl Warner: Follow-up question from Irene.

Irene Klotz: Thanks. Irene Klotz with Aviation Week. For Jessica. Has SpaceX resolved the payload fairing data review issue to allow the Iridium launch later this month?

Jessica Jensen: Yes. So we have the Iridium launch, scheduled for no earlier than December 22nd. That will be launching out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. And we also have the Zuma mission launching in early January of this year. Or of next year.

Cheryl Warner: And a few follow-up questions for Marcia, please.

Marcia Dunn: Marcia Dunn, Associated Press. For Jessica. Over at pad 39A, how's it shaping up for the test firing of the Heavy, and do you have a date for that yet?

Jessica Jensen: So, progress is moving right along. We're getting it ready for the first Falcon Heavy static fire. The static fire is targeted to happen before the end of this year. And then the launch will happen about a few weeks after that.

Marcia Dunn: The delay for this launch, did that impact all that work?

Jessica Jensen: No. Well, we did have some shared resources, but final activation of the launch pad is a little bit different than the work we had to do for 39A to get it ready for the three boosters.

Marcia Dunn: If I could have one more follow-up. For Heavy, I was wondering if you could address any of the roadblocks, pun intended, that you may be dealing with to fly a Tesla into space?

Jessica Jensen: [laughter] So, I will just say that we are following all regulations. So they're still licensed launches, so we still follow all the rules that we need to follow launching out of Kennedy Space Center. We follow all FAA regulations, FCC, so we are following all regulations. Including for the Roadster.

Cheryl Warner: So we'll take a few more follow-up questions. So Chris, and then James.

Chris Gebhardt: Chris Gebhardt, with NasaSpaceFlight. Two real quick. So Jessica, you mentioned earlier the test firings of the booster stages out in Texas. Do all the re-flown boosters still go to Texas to be re-fired in between launches, or are those tests taken care of during their static fires for their re-flights. And I believe for Kirk, for the rendezvous plan, am I correct that launching Tuesday, berthing Friday is to de-conflict with the Soyuz undock on Thursday? And if we slip to Wednesday for the launch, is berthing still Friday or does it move to Saturday. Thank you.

Jessica Jensen: So I can start. What we do now, is when we get boosters back, and we start refurbishing them, we do not have to send them back to Texas for the test firing. We want to do that before an initial flight, to make sure that it's ready to go, but like I said, that's basically what's called an acceptance test, which is a workmanship test of the entire vehicle as it's built up, so once we verify that's all good, it goes for its first flight. Again, that really confirms that it has been built properly, so then when it comes back down, all we do is the static fire test at the launch pad before it flies again. I will tell you that one of the reasons for the three-day phasing is just orbital mechanics. The space station, where it's flying closest to Florida tomorrow is just a little bit further away than normal so it's going to take just about three days to get there.

Kirk Shireman: Jessica's right. The berthing date is driven by orbital mechanics. We did not defer the berthing date. In fact, I can say we tracked that, we're very concerned about berthing dates. We fly biological samples that have to be maintained at a specific temperature level, and really it's a race from the time we load those on to the vehicle, less than 24 hours before launch, before the crew can offload them on board the space station and put them in the right place. We track that time, and we plan for contingencies, so we're not deferring in anything to allow berthing days. We do prohibit launch on certain days, so in fact the reasons it's the 12th or the 13th and not the 11th is because of that. So the 12th and 13th, the 12th puts us berthing the day after the undock, so on the 15th. And on the 13th, I believe we are berthing on the 16th. And if you ask me, on the 15th, I think we berth on the 17th. So you can see the number of days between launch and berthing changes, and it really has to do with orbital mechanics, and in a circular orbit, where the ISS is relative to the Dragon when it's inserted into orbit. That distance, that angular distance is what drives those dates. And right now what we do is allow the vehicle to launch to avoid constraints as opposed to managing those once they're on orbit.

Cheryl Warner: Final question in the room, please.

Jim Siegel: Jim Siegel, SpaceFlight Insider again. I have a question for Jessica about the Dragon capsules. How many different Dragons are there? Have any been retired yet, for whatever reason? And when you retire one, do you just go out and build another one?

Jessica Jensen: Yeah, so I'm gonna have to think of how many we have. I think we have, oh jeez, about seven-ish, in our fleet? Some of the initial ones we flew, a lot of those components on those vehicles were only going to fly one time. One of the biggest things we did, starting on roughly the CRS-8 mission, is we significantly increased the water sealing capability of the vehicle. And that allowed for a much easier refurbishment process from flight to flight. So that was one of the big things we did. So yeah, I can't remember the exact number of how many vehicles we have, but we do have several of them. I'm sorry, what was the second part of your question?

Jim Siegel: When one is retired for whatever reason, do you just go out and build another one? And you do that internally, I believe, so...

Jessica Jensen: Right, right. So what we do, is each Dragon currently goes back to our McGregor test facility in Texas. And what we do is we can look at the vehicle as a whole and see if that whole vehicle can re-fly again. Again, based on the service environment it was qualified for, and all of the environments it was exposed to in that particular mission. Or we can also save the vehicles there, and we might be able to re-fly things such as the propellant tanks, the batteries, the flight computer. So certain missions may need spare hardware because it's reached the service life on a different mission. So we can either re-fly entire capsules, or we can re-fly hardware from previous vehicles.

Cheryl Warner: And we have one last question from online.

Jason Townsend: This question comes from twitter user Adrian who asks, "How close are we to seeing reusability of the second stage of the Falcon 9?"

Jessica Jensen: So, I would say that is not currently a priority right now. I would never throw that totally away, but I would just say that, yeah, that is not a priority right now.

Cheryl Warner: Alright, and with that we're going to wrap up today's pre-launch news conference. Kirt gave us a great overview of the science to come, but if you're able, please join us live on December 11th at 3:30PM Eastern for a broadcast of "What's On Board," our science overview. Thank you to all of our speakers, thank you to all of you for joining us today, and have a wonderful day.

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