By AL SABAH EMMANUEL, Associated PressSpaceX is expected to begin testing an electromechanic device that will help it get the astronauts back safely from the International Space Station, after a series of failures on the way to the station led to concerns over the reliability of its hardware.
The rocket, SpaceX, which has received a $1.6 billion NASA contract to help launch astronauts to the space station, said the device will help improve its reliability during re-entry, where it must perform a series to ensure the astronauts will survive.
The company said the system would work with the spacecraft’s electrical systems and that it will operate on a single stage that would not require multiple launches.
The new system, called EMEN, would be the first of its kind in space.
The EMEN system is a new version of an electromembrane actuator, an electronic system that is used to control robotic systems that use electric currents to move objects.
In space, a crewmember will operate the device, which is attached to a robotic arm that has a rotating mechanism that moves the robotic arm forward.NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he hoped the new EMEN would help reduce the number of times a spacecraft is sent back to Earth and would allow for faster returns to the ISS.
The spacecraft would use the new actuator to get the crew to the International Spaceport Drone Ship, or ISDS, on Thursday, where the robotic arms will be attached.
The astronauts will be transported to the drone ship at an altitude of about 1,300 feet.
The ISS is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the drone ships location.
The ISDS will help shuttle astronauts to and from the station.
The ISDS is being built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Louisville, Ky., and is the largest of its type in space, weighing 1,800 tons.
SpaceX has been preparing for the return of astronauts to space by using the same type of actuator used on the International Geophysical Yearly Meeting in the Netherlands.
In March, NASA and SpaceX signed a memorandum of understanding that included the use of the EMEN device, with the two companies working together to develop a prototype.
The two companies also agreed to share information about the new system and to share their development progress, according to a statement from SpaceX.
The new EMENG is expected not to be ready for use until 2017, at which point SpaceX will start testing it in space on an experimental basis, said Mark Sirangelo, the company’s chief technology officer.
The agreement with NASA and Lockheed Martin is an example of the cooperation that has taken place between NASA and the private spaceflight company SpaceX, said Rob Blevins, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who has been studying the EMENG.
Blevins said the agreement with SpaceX is a positive sign for NASA because it will help ensure the future of the ISS, and also for SpaceX, because of its relationship with NASA.
The goal of the deal with NASA is to ensure that the EMEngine is developed and tested before being used in space for the first time, Blevans said.
Bolden said SpaceX and NASA would continue to work together to advance the EMEM engine, which will likely be used in the 2020s to replace the aging International Spacecraft Program’s propulsion system.
The astronauts will fly to the ISDS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which carries supplies for the International Human Spaceflight Program.
The flight will take place in late 2017.
SpaceX said the ISS station will be the largest in space when it opens in 2024.