No announcement yet.

SpaceX: Dragon sooner

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • SpaceX: Dragon sooner

    Manned configuration (left: 3 passengers on the lower deck and 4 on the upper deck) and the qualification Dragon that goes up first (right: under construction) Note that Apollo carried 3 passengers and NASA's very expensive, and heavy, orbital version of Orion will carry 4 because of their more sharply angled sides. Dragon's more vertical sides provide much more internal volume in a smaller diameter spacecraft.

    Aviation Week has put up an article about SpaceX accelerating the Dragon spacecraft launch schedule. Instead of carrying just a dummy payload the first Falcon 9 will carry a Dragon.

    Presumably they want to accelerate the program because of the likely US decision to use commercial manned spacecraft for ISS missions after the shuttle program ends next year. Their agreement with NASA is to provide 3 "COTS" demo flights with the first being scheduled for Q1 of next year. I'd be willing to bet that if this flight meets the COTS 1 goals they'll use it to accelerate the schedule, and if not no big deal - they have nothing to lose since it was a test flight anyhow and they can call the qualification vehicle a mass simulator. The requirements for COTS 1 are pretty basic:

    Launch and separate from Falcon 9, orbit Earth, transmit telemetry, receive commands, demonstrate orbital maneuvering and thermal control, re-enter atmosphere, and recover Dragon capsule.
    While SpaceX already as a full schedule of cargo missions to ISS the "COTS-D" and "CCDev" manned capability has only recently become a priority. That and the imminence of the Bigelow space stations and other projects. CCDev being a shortcut way for NASA to help SpaceX and others get money to develop a COTS-D capability sooner.

    Bottom line: moving people and cargo to ISS and elsewhere is limited by the high cost of Russian Soyuz flights ($50 million a seat!) and the extremely low production rates and high costs of the ESA ATV and Japans HTV cargo modules.

    The article also talks about Orbital Science's Cygnus cargo vehicle getting a manned module. This exists now only as a PowerPoint; no cut metal (Dragon's in production now) and it also depends on Russian engines, which to me isn't that good long term given the small number in the US and the possibility of their production/resupply getting cut off because of political pique.

    Dragon can also do the cargo missions at a small fraction of the cost and at a much higher flight rate since it's reusable, meaning it also provides a down-cargo capability. ATV, HTV, Progress and cargo Cygnus fry on reentry.


    Signaling growing ambitions in commercial human spaceflight, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will test its Dragon spacecraft earlier than expected on the first flight of its Falcon 9 launcher, while fellow NASA commercial partner Orbital Sciences begins studies of a human-rated version of its Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft.

    “The first four Falcon 9 launches will likely have Dragon on top,” says SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “The original plan was to fly only with the 5-meter fairing, but now we’re exploring flying the qualification vehicle on the first demonstration flight.” Following the initial demonstration flight, and three planned demonstration missions for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, the large fairing will be used to cover a commercial payload planned for the next flight. The first of 12 contracted SpaceX COTS flights will follow in 2011.
    Preparations for launch of the first Falcon 9 are progressing toward a late December target date.
    CCDev is “intended to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to job growth in engineering, analysis, design and research, and to economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created,” NASA says, but it is not considered part of the projected human-rated COTS-D element. “We don’t see it that way at all, but it shortens the path to commercial human spaceflight capabilities,” says Johnson Space Center’s commercial crew and cargo program deputy manager, Valin Thorn.

    As part of the ongoing drive toward opening the ISS to a wider variety of potential users and commercial operators, NASA is defining the “delta” (COTS-D) crew interface requirements “so they will be available to industry,” says ISS Program Transportation Integration Office Manager Kathryn Lueders. “We need to develop a docking standard for a common docking interface for both international partners and future U.S. vehicles, and we’re using [U.S. federal] stimulus funds to accelerate that,” she says.

    “COTS is a crucial part of the station effort for us, and the priority now is to fully implement the station and do the science we have to do now,” adds Lueders. “So it is critical we have safe and reliable transportation.”

    COTS implementation remains crucial because the “bridge” contracts in place to support the ISS after the space shuttles retire are limited, says Lueders. These include contracts for vehicles from Russia’s Roscomos through 2011, and with the European Space Agency’s ATV and Japan’s HTV transfer vehicles. “But the numbers are limited and set, and we won’t get any more of them,” says Lueders.
    Last edited by Dr Mordrid; 21 September 2009, 01:10.
    Dr. Mordrid
    An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.

    I carry a gun because I can't throw a rock 1,250 fps

  • #2
    A few images from the production floor

    Dragon pressure hull. Aluminum-Lithium alloy. Very light, very strong.

    Dragon inside (the top opening is a Common Berthing Mechanism like ISS - 50" across)
    Secondary hatch to right and window barely visible at the bottom. Not completed.

    Dragon heat shields in differing stages of completion. Engineering model Dragon in rear
    The material is PICA-X, SpaceX's version of NASA's Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator
    Good to almost 29,000 mph re-entries, which is vastly over-designed for low Earth orbit

    Falcon 9 interstage (carbon composite spacer between 1st and 2nd stages)
    Provides clearance for the 2nd stage engines large nozzle needed on vacuum engines
    Last edited by Dr Mordrid; 21 September 2009, 10:47.
    Dr. Mordrid
    An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.

    I carry a gun because I can't throw a rock 1,250 fps


    • #3
      Woot !!

      Anything that gets us off this planet and exploring the "Great Outdoors" is good news.

      Is it a competition thing between SpaceX and Bigelow, or would they be partners in their work ? Ie, Do they aim for the same goals, or do they compliment each other ?
      PC-1 Fractal Design Arc Mini R2, 3800X, Asus B450M-PRO mATX, 2x8GB B-die@3800C16, AMD Vega64, Seasonic 850W Gold, Black Ice Nemesis/Laing DDC/EKWB 240 Loop (VRM>CPU>GPU), Noctua Fans.
      Nas : i3/itx/2x4GB/8x4TB BTRFS/Raid6 (7 + Hotspare) Xpenology
      +++ : FSP Nano 800VA (Pi's+switch) + 1600VA (PC-1+Nas)


      • #4
        Pretty much complementary.

        Bigelow's main focus is habitats and space stations and SpaceX's is building rockets and space ships. Later Bigelow will want to build lunar/Mars bases and habitats for long duration manned missions.

        A joint mission with SpaceX would be a natural - perhaps a mission around the moon just to shake everyone up at NASA and Roscosmos

        One thing about Bigelow though: he's an old-time businessman who doesn't like putting all his eggs in one basket.

        To that end he's buying pressure hulls from Lockheed Martin, the same ones the NASA Orion is using, to build his own capsule; Orion-Lite 'til it gets a proper name. O-Lite will have the same external mold line as NASA's Orion but will leaner and meaner.

        His logic is sound: if a Dragon isn't available his capsule will be ready and will be launch-able on either SpaceX's Falcon 9 or the ULA Atlas V.

        Either way he has a taxi to his space stations.

        One has to wonder; with two 7-8 passenger commercial spacecraft available for LEO who really needs the orbital version of NASA's Orion? It can only carry 4 people, and then at a mission cost 10x that of either the Dragon or Orion-Lite.

        Another problem is that Orion's very heavy and its Ares I rocket is in deep trouble design wise and may not fly. Without Ares I Orion would need a Delta IV Heavy to even get it off the ground, and it's our heaviest launcher (23mT to LEO) until SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy and Falcon 9 Heavy H arrive.

        Both of those make the D-IVH look tame - 30mT and ~45-50mT to LEO respectively and the Earth will shake 50+ miles away when they fire up: 27 engines each on the first stage.

        These commercial space guys aren't kidding, and they're extremely serious about getting us off this rock and making a jailbreak out of LEO.


        Orion-Lite cabin
        Last edited by Dr Mordrid; 21 September 2009, 11:39.
        Dr. Mordrid
        An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.

        I carry a gun because I can't throw a rock 1,250 fps