NASA/GSFC Satellite Servicing Projects Division

Page 2 of the RRM3 Mission

Page 1 is here

Testing the Tools at JSC
Just like RRM1, RRM3 has robotically operated tools.  However, due to the size of the main FTM module, these tools are flown inside the cabin of the Dragon capsule and then brought outside via the Japanese airlock.  As a result, these tools are delivered to the Johnson Space Center.  Since the facility to test their compatibility to the ISS electronics is also at JSC, these tests are deferred until we deliver the tools.

The Power Lab at the Sonny Carter Training Facility.  This is where tests
of the transients on the Space Station power system are tested on the
new flight hardware.  In the foreground you see the 120V DC power
leads that is applied to our hardware.

The Power Lab has all kinds to simulators to replace or emulate the hardware items on-orbit.  This simulates the Solar Arrays.  There are also actual batteries in this
test bed that are contained in ovens to simulate the space temperature.

This hardware test facility is attached to the Neutral Bouyance Lab, where the astronauts train.

Summer Storage at KSC

As electrical lead on RRM3, my main work at this phase is to oversee the setup of the system at each location so that the cryogenic and operations team can go to work running it.  This setup involves coordinating with the operations team to move the ground system computers into place, checking the power system for safe-to-mate, and then hooking everything up at the new site.  Once the system is set up, I return home to Goddard to support from there.  The cryo and ops teams then take over.

The May 2018 Methane operations were very successful, and I returned to KSC on June 4 2018 to put the system into summer storage back at the cleanroom in the SSPF.  Here the hardware stayed until mid September 2018 (3 1/2 months).  

I enter into the Space Center complex via the south gate at the Air Force Station.
This is the "45th Space Wing Entrance".  There is usually a great sunrise as I
drive through the Cape Canaveral side.

I met the Class of 2018 ISS Flight Controllers and Astronauts at the SSPF
(September 2018).  I had already met them by coincidence at the
Johnson Space Center when I was testing the tools.  They remembered
me and came over to say hi and to see RRM3.
(L-R: Rebecca Wingfield, Allison Bolinger, Pooja Jesrani,
me, Adi Boulos, Marcos Flores, Paul Konyha).

This is us at work in the SSPF with the RRM3 in the background
(foreground hardware blurred).

We did another test at this time with the PRCU system which emulates the ISS
interfaces.  To mate to this system, I slid under the RRM3 to mate the
connectors (Sept 2018).

We moved out of the SSPF for the final time and transferred back into the FTB for one more round of Methane Fueling Tests and then the final fill for launch (Sept 2018).

The guys worked long hours to fully use the time in Florida.

Delivery to SpaceX

After years of development, we finally deliver RRM3 to the launch site at SpaceX on October 30, 2018.

Dragon Land
Instead of doing our prelaunch processing in the old VPF
facility, the new Area 59 facility was opened and which is where we did
our delivery to the launch vehicle.

Moving Day
Moving day.  Here I am handling the ground strap to prevent
static charge buildup during a move.  As you can see, we
are dressed in white canvas coveralls due to the
presence of the flammable Methane in RRM3.

The flight hardware is in the white truck and we are escorted by three KSC
security SUVs.

Some of the following images of the Dragon hardware were found on public domain sites.  They will be replaced by our actual photos once they are approved for release.

Loading Trunk
This is the Dragon Trunk into which we lower RRM3 and
it is then fastened into the FRAM latches.
You can see the Solar Arrays in the lower left.

Trunk Loaded
The finished Trunk.  In the lower part is GEDI, also a GSFC
payload.  It is a LatchX type payload destined for the GEM.
RRM3 is in the upper left. source

Trunk flipped half way
Once the Trunk has been loaded, it is flipped (rotated) upside-
down via the blue cradle to its launch orientation.
This photo is of our actual hardware.

Capsule Mate
Once the Trunk is flipped over (our payload is now upside down),
the Capsule is then lowered and mated to the Trunk.

Dragon complete
The complete Dragon vehicle.  Note that the Solar Arrays are now covered by
their own fairing.  source.
It turns out that this Dragon vehicle was the same one used to
carry my previous project Raven to space.  What a coincidence!

Capsule Loading
Here workers load the stacked Capsule with the pressurized cargo.
This cargo will be connected to the living crew quarters on ISS and
as a results has air in this section.  The Trunk (where RRM3 is located)
is at vacuum of space when launched. source

Selfie with Dragon Capsule
I took a covert selfie with the Dragon Capsule.  Note the oxygen
monitor on my collar.  Since the vehicle has dangerous fluids at
this stage, we need to wear one for constant monitoring
in the clean room.

headless falcon 9
Meanwhile, at the LC-40 launch pad, the Falcon 9 is test fired
to check its 9 Merlin engines.  This is done with the booster
alone, and is sometimes referred to as the 'headless' Falcon.
This was cleared for release by GSFC Communications.

Dragon Mate
Once test fire is complete, the rocket is brought back into the Hangar
at LC-40 and then the Dragon is mated to the Falcon 9 rocket.

source (December 2018).

Dragon Mate to Falcon
This is how the entire Falcon+Dragon stack looks in the Hangar
at the LC-40 Launch Pad (source).

Aruban flag at LC-40
The morning of the launch we visited the pad and saw the
rocket was upright with the Dragon vehicle on top
(12/5/2018).  RRM3 was taken to the ISS on
CRS-16 / SpaceX-16.

team at pad
The team at the Pad on the morning of the launch.

Launch was on a clear day in early December 2018, and we had the choice of viewing at OSBII (for VVIPs) or on the NASA Causeway.  Once I realized that this Falcon booster would be landing on land at the LZ-1 site, I decided to choose the latter.  The distance to the landing would be less than half at the Causeway.

We arrived two hours ahead of time, and there was a large crowd already.  Parking was very organized, and we had a good spot that was close to the road and up high.  We could see all but the very bottom most of the rocket.

CRS-16 launch

I have seen launches much closer than this one, so the sound and sight felt familiar, but one aspect that seemed very different was how vertical the trajectory was.  We are used to the rocket curving over the horizon, but this one disappeared overhead once MECO occurred. 

The major difference of course was the return of the booster.  Some in the crowd claimed to see parts of the separation, but I did not.  We finally caught sight of the booster when it relit a portion of its 9 engines, but surprisingly straight overhead.  Once this first burn was completed, it faded from view again.  Once it was a few thousand feet over the landing zone, it came into view again by firing its engines, and we heard an impressive double sonic boom.  The booster descended slowly behind a line of trees, and appeared to land successfully.  We did notice an impressive yaw of the booster.  We would later find out that the landing failed and ended up in the ocean.

Video of the launch (RRM3 can be seen when the Dragon is released at 8:05)

Two videos of the landing:

Next Page:

Page 3 - On-Orbit Operations

We go to work in space

facebook photos
More photos on this adventure on Facebook.


  • Wikipedia page on CRS-16.  As of March 2018, it still showed that the International Docking Adapter would be the main payload, but that has been changed to RRM3 and JEDI.  The IDA is an important addition to the ISS as it allows commercial crew vehicles to dock with Station.  The fact that they rescheduled it to accomodate us is a big confidence booster for us.
  • SSPD Home Page.
  • Facebook photo album on this adventure.
  • Story about RRM3 completing testing at GSFC and KSC on
  • Discussion on forum.
  • Article on phys.og.
  • Launch delay for December 4 due to moldy mouse food.
  • 3D models of the old launch pads.
  • Story on with my picture.

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