CRS-3 kicked off the second mission of the year for SpaceX, and marked the inaugural 2014 Dragon CRS flight to the International Space Station. Originally scheduled to launch on 30 September 2013, The launch date was pushed back extensively by a number of delays, including limited berthing windows in the ISS Visiting Vehicle schedule, delays from Orbital Sciences' Cygnus vehicle, and cooling issues aboard the ISS. It was finally rescheduled to 2 April 2014, however a fire on the Air Force's Eastern Range radar station, contamination issues onboard Dragon, and a faulty helium-supply valve resulted in the mission finally launching from Cape Canaveral on Friday, 18 April 2014.
Apart from its primary payload, the mission was most notable for the addition of the four diminutive landing legs present around the base of the first stage, the first of their kind on any rocket. This change, along with a beefed up Attitude Control System for fine guidance control as the stage reenters, allowed the first stage to perform a highly successful Atlantic “soft splashdown” into stormy seas around the time of SECO. The unexpectedly stormy landing, along with being on the fringe of radar coverage, contributed to providing a video of the landing that was extensively corrupted – Musk himself commenting that they had a custom-fitted pie dish antenna strapped to the inside of his plane so that the imagery could be received. SpaceX chose to crowdsource the recovery of the damaged video, and over the course of a month, volunteers, predominantly from NASASpaceFlight Forums and /r/spacex, managed to perform what was essentially described as “magic”, recovering a significant portion of the video, and in the process developing several new video recovery techniques that have implications far beyond that of spaceflight.
Once in orbit, Dragon performed an Easter arrival at the ISS, berthing with the station on 19 April. With a short, unexpected reboot of the craft’s onboard avionics being the only hiccup during the highly choreographed dance between it and ISS; which hauled up a record amount of cargo, 2117 kilograms; increases afforded by the new, more powerful Falcon 9v1.1. Its sojourn to the orbiting complex lasted a record time for any private craft, over 30 days from launch to splashdown.
jeffrey anthony allentown
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