SpaceX to Launch First Private Craft to Space Station

Party Rooster

Unleash The Beast
Apr 27, 2005
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#1
Guess we're going to be docking with unclipped Russians now...

SpaceX to Launch First Private Craft to Space Station—Next Stop: Mars?

Firm's spacecraft being designed with deep space in mind, founder says.


SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carries the Dragon capsule during a test launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December 2010.
Photograph by Scott Audette, Reuters

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
Published April 16, 2012

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is almost ready to become the first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station (ISS), NASA and SpaceX officials announced today.

Following what's known as a flight-readiness review, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, aka SpaceX, is so far on course to launch the reusable Dragon aboard the firm's Falcon 9 rocket later this month, NASA said at a Monday press briefing.

(See a picture of the Falcon 9 during an orbital test flight.)

But SpaceX founder Elon Musk already has his eyes on a bigger prize: putting people on Mars as quickly as possible.

According to Musk, all SpaceX ventures—including the Dragon mission—are being designed to advance this ambitious larger goal.

"I'm a big believer in humanity becoming a multiplanetary species," Musk said.

"At SpaceX our goal is to keep pushing innovations in rocketry and scaling things up to get to a point where we can allow people to basically move to Mars."

Musk envisions human colonies on Mars within the next 30 years or so, and he's said he'd like to retire there. (Musk isn't alone: See "Why Did 400 People Volunteer For a One-Way Trip to Mars?")

"People are really excited about the idea of Mars, but it's got to be done without blowing the national budget," Musk said. "So the thing that's really key for rockets is full and rapid reusability.

"Imagine a plane you could only use once a month or a plane where you had to replace the wings after every flight—they wouldn't be very useful.

"Designing more efficient reusable [space] equipment—which can withstand the forces of reentry and be quickly pressed back into service—is the breakthrough.

"At SpaceX we're going to try to solve this problem, but it's superhard. In the past when people have tried, it hasn't worked out. There are a lot of people who just don't think it's possible, including much of the space industry."

(Related: "Astronauts Could Ride Asteroids to Mars, Study Says.")

SpaceX Rockets to Be Mars Ready?

Dragon is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on April 30. The unmanned test flight will deliver some 1,150 pounds (521 kilograms) of cargo to astronauts aboard the space station and then will carry some cargo back to Earth.

The mission could prove to be a milestone in the new space race to commercialize U.S. space travel now that NASA's space shuttle program has ended.

Since last year NASA has paid to use Russian vehicles to deliver cargo and astronauts aloft. The space agency has also partially funded some private ventures, including SpaceX.

(Also see "After Space Shuttle, Does U.S. Have a Future in Space?")

In April 2011, for instance, NASA awarded SpaceX a contract to develop a crewed version of the Dragon capsule, which is being designed to carry up to seven astronauts and their gear to low-Earth orbit.

Musk knows that many setbacks await. He places the odds at total success for Dragon's upcoming mission, including successful docking with the ISS, at perhaps 60 percent.

"We just hope to make steady progress and try to get as far as we possibly can and make sure that rocket technology keeps getting better," Musk said.

In addition, the company's Falcon Heavy rocket—which builds off the Falcon 9—is being designed to become the world's most powerful currently operating rocket by a factor of two, second only to the Apollo missions' Saturn V among all rockets yet built.

(Related: Explore high-resolution, zoomable pictures of spacecraft.)

Like other SpaceX ventures, the Falcon Heavy is being built for nearer-term objectives and being made Mars ready at the same time, said SpaceX spokesperson Kirstin Grantham.

"We're talking about a vehicle that would allow us to carry heavier payloads for commercial customers," she explained.

"But it would also make possible unmanned scientific missions to Mars, which would be a good precursor to manned missions, and we've already talked with NASA Ames Research Center about [partnering] on that kind of mission."

For Mars Missions, Have to Do It Smart

Robert Zubrin, president of the nonprofit Mars Society, believes that SpaceX is already showing that such Mars missions are feasible from the critical big-picture perspectives of cost and scheduling.

"It's a huge step for an entrepreneurial company to begin operations to supply the space station, and frankly they've built a system that is good enough to transport crew, with regulatory approval the only thing standing in the way," he said.

"And they've done this for a tiny fraction of the money, something like one-twentieth of what NASA proposed to spend developing their own Orion or other multiple-purpose vehicle.

"This shows that things of this sort can be developed for hundreds of millions of dollars, not tens of billions of dollars, and that is a profound difference."

(Also see pictures: "Mock Mars Mission 'Returns' to Earth.")

Zubrin also noted that SpaceX's rapid progress suggests crewed Mars missions could become a reality within years, not decades.

"They've been at this cargo thing for only three years or so, and now they are flying it," he said. "NASA started working on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle circa 2002, and it still hasn't flown.

"We can afford to send humans to Mars," Zubrin continued. "Musk has shown us that we can do it, provided that we do it smart."

Partners Needed for Human Spaceflight?

Scott Pace, director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, is also hoping to see a successful launch of Dragon, which he called important for the ISS program.

But Pace doesn't see much relation at all between this flight and any future Mars mission.

"Going to Mars is orders and orders of magnitude [more challenging] in terms of expense and in terms of technology."

Although he's an advocate of manned Mars missions, Pace added that after NASA's Mars Science Laboratory—aka Curiosity—lands on the red planet in August 2012, future Mars plans are very uncertain for space programs around the world.

"The strategy for Mars exploration is just not defined right now," he said. "A realistic look at the budget and the politics involved is such that I don't think anyone believes that we'll have a human mission beyond low-Earth orbit that's not an international mission."

Considering the likely partners in such a venture—countries such as Japan, China, and India—Pace says the moon is a more likely near-term target for human missions. (See "China's First Space Walk Mission a Step Toward the Moon?")

A lunar landing would be "very challenging for many countries, but it's also doable. A Mars mission or an asteroid mission is really far out for them, and I don't think we're going to go someplace where you don't have partners."

NASA officials would likely agree: "NASA's focus has been, in terms of private spacecraft, to get cargo to low-Earth orbit and then to get people to low-Earth orbit," said agency spokesperson Michael Braukus.

"In terms of our focus on deeper space, the President has laid out the first target for us as an asteroid landing by 2025, so we really haven't been focusing on Mars."

Becoming a Spacefaring Species

The Mars Society's Zubrin strongly advocates that the red planet be made a far more immediate priority for three reasons: the science, the challenge, and the future.

"We're going to find out by going to Mars whether another planet in our solar system developed life, and that will give us a better idea of how prevalent life might be elsewhere as well," he explained. (See "Life on Mars Found by NASA's Viking Mission?")

"And the challenge, I think, will encourage millions to enter the fields of science and engineering—just as Apollo did—but this time to an even greater extent, because those fields are far more open to women than they once were."

Finally, Zubrin said, humans should visit Mars for the future of the species.

"Mars is the closest planet that has the resources on it to support life and a civilization," he said.

"If we can establish a foothold on another world, then 200 years from now there will be a new branch of human civilization on Mars, and humanity will become a spacefaring species with the entire universe open to it."

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/...ragon-launch-readiness-space-station-science/
 

Dikbag

Registered User
Dec 11, 2004
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#3
At SpaceX we're going to try to solve this problem, but it's superhard.
I don't get this technical space jargon
 

THE FEZ MAN

as a matter of fact i dont have 5$
Aug 23, 2002
43,025
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#4
good, make it profitable and we wont be able to keep up with the launches, there booo hoooo assholes that wanted to squash the space program seem to forget all the great aerospace jobs that were around in the 60's and 70's, hell alot of my friends parents worked for boeing and lockheed back then, and they were the rich kids.
 

LiddyRules

I'm Gonna Be The Bestest Pilot In The Whole Galaxy
Jun 1, 2005
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#6
http://lightyears.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/25/spacex-orbital-mission-just-the-beginning/

SpaceX Dragon triumph: Only the beginning

SpaceX made history Friday as the first private company to successfully reach an orbiting space station - but its competitors aren't far behind.

Blue Origin, the commercial space outfit founded by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, has been wind-tunnel testing its Space Vehicle capsule, which is designed to carry up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station, much like SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

Another company, Sierra Nevada, is preparing to dangle a test version of its shuttle-like Dream Chaser from helicopters later this year to find out how well it slips through the air. The sleek spacecraft - which could lift off as soon as 2016 or 2017 - is designed to launch atop a powerful Atlas V rocket and then use its wings to fly back to Earth for a runway landing.

And a fourth private firm called Orbital Sciences Corp. is planning its first launch later in the year.

SpaceX's achievement crosses an important threshold in America's shift toward a commercially led space industry. The door is opening to cheaper, more efficient and easier access to orbit, say experts, at a time when American astronauts must hitch rides aboard Russian spacecraft.

Related: SpaceX mission includes 'Trek' actor's ashes

Blue Origin tested its capsule last month in Dallas, confirming its ability to descend correctly through the atmosphere and to change its flight path, according to a Blue Origin statement.

A Blue Origin illustration of its capsule during wind tunnel tests.

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket system is designed for vertical takeoff and landing. The spacecraft's liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen rocket engine systems have been undergoing testing at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the company said.

It's been in business for only 12 years, and the company is already creating museum pieces - in this case an unmanned test vehicle called Charon.

Workers in Seattle moved the 9,500-pound machine into the Museum of Flight on Tuesday. Charon and its four powerful vertically set jet engines helped New Shepard engineers learn more about reusable booster rockets that blast off and land vertically.

"We've all seen cartoons of rockets landing vertically, and it really hasn't happened yet," museum President Douglas King said. "Figuring out how to do that in a way that's controllable and replicable is what this is all about."

Workers moved Charon into the museum Tuesday.

Flying Charon by remote control "felt like trying to balance something on top of a ball," King was told. "That's what Blue Origin is trying to learn to do: to fly a rocket booster back to the pad and then land it gently."

Sitting in the museum's Space Gallery, about 20 feet to the right of Charon, is a Russian Soyuz rocket capsule that flew to the space station in 2009.

"You think about this little tiny capsule as being all that returned from a big three-part spacecraft, and you get an idea how expensive spaceflight is and how we need to make access to space reasonable for a lot more people," King said. "You've got to make it reliable and affordable to do that."

The Dragon mission is beginning to demonstrate the exciting moment in history we're living in, he said.

"Things that used to only be accessible to a few carefully selected highly qualified right-stuff government employees are finally coming within reach of researchers, businesspeople and explorers," King said. "SpaceX deserves a lot of credit. That's an incredible achievement out there today - done only by governments before - and a lot of other people are going to follow."
 

Bobobie

Registered User
Oct 1, 2005
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#7
They make a shitload of promises and only deliver on half of them. That's my prediction for SpaceX. The stages and capsules landing in powered flight isn't going to happen. At least sending rockets is cheaper than the bloated shuttle program. On a positive note, even every rocket and capsule as a throw-away is cheaper than the bloated shuttle program.
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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#8
This isn't private. It's a private company according to the legal definition, but by a scientific (economic) definition, a private company is funded by its owners and operates for commercial profit. This is funded by taxes and operates to satisfy only one, not private, consumer.

SpaceX's achievement crosses an important threshold in America's shift toward a commercially led space industry.
Blatant misuse of the word commercial. The word means that you operate by putting out products onto a market, and consumers buy them. This isn't what's going on. They are funded by and working for the government. The only difference between it and NASA is the legalities.

And of course that, when it fails to deliver on impossible expectations, dolts can point at the "free market" for the failure.
 

MayrMeninoCrash

Liberal Psycopath
Dec 9, 2004
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#9
This isn't private. It's a private company
:rolleyes:

Besides NASA contracts, SpaceX has signed contracts with private sector companies, non-American government agencies and the American military for its launch services. It has already launched, for a paying customer, a low earth orbiting satellite with its Falcon 1 booster in 2009.[4] The company plans to launch its first commercial geostationary satellite in 2013 from a Falcon 9.
Wikipedia hates Norm
 

VMS

Victim of high standards and low personal skills.
Apr 26, 2006
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#10
Eh.

SpaceX is a largely a government contractor, yes. That doesn't mean they're not a private company, but they're clearly in that category of private companies that are more interested in more government for the sake of their contracts. A "gray" area for hard-core libertarian types, if hard-core libertarians recognized that gray existed in the first place.

It's still privatizing space. As SpaceX and their competitors in their industry develop the hardware and the procedures, they'll lower the costs of going into space so more and more private companies can pay them to launch communications satellites and the like.

The truth is that a lot of the payloads in space launches are already private. It's making the transport, the haulage private that's the big trick.
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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#11
Eh.

SpaceX is a largely a government contractor, yes. That doesn't mean they're not a private company, but they're clearly in that category of private companies that are more interested in more government for the sake of their contracts. A "gray" area for hard-core libertarian types, if hard-core libertarians recognized that gray existed in the first place.
If by "not recognizing that gray exists" you mean that I think it's a stupid metaphor that doesn't apply in Economics (or any other exact science), then yeah, you got me. I guess I'm a hardcore libertarian type who doesn't like evasive language.
 

VMS

Victim of high standards and low personal skills.
Apr 26, 2006
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#12
If by "not recognizing that gray exists" you mean that I think it's a stupid metaphor that doesn't apply in Economics (or any other exact science), then yeah, you got me. I guess I'm a hardcore libertarian type who doesn't like evasive language.
Then you're just being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. Which is why Libertarians are failures, regardless of how theoretically effective their philosophies are.

You're puling little bitches who live in your mom's basements, pretending to be philosophical supermen of a John Galt variety. Fuck off.
 

Lord Zero

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Aug 25, 2008
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#14
Then you're just being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. Which is why Libertarians are failures, regardless of how theoretically effective their philosophies are.

You're puling little bitches who live in your mom's basements, pretending to be philosophical supermen of a John Galt variety. Fuck off.
No we're not. We just hate the government involving itself (with taxpayer money) in areas they have no business being in, especially in this economy.
 

MayrMeninoCrash

Liberal Psycopath
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#15
It's pretty funny that this discussion about potential new frontiers in space exploration has turned into a Libertarian circle-jerk.
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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#16
Then you're just being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. Which is why Libertarians are failures, regardless of how theoretically effective their philosophies are.

You're puling little bitches who live in your mom's basements, pretending to be philosophical supermen of a John Galt variety. Fuck off.
I guess you're done being subtle about avoiding intelligent discussions.

Actually, I like this approach better. At least it's honest. That idiotic "hardcore libertarian types don't recognize grey" observation is much worse, because it has the same exact value as straight up name-calling, but disguised as an attempt at an intelligent point.
If Economics were an exact science we'd have been rid of Keynesian assholes 70 years ago. Unfortunately, like all social sciences, it's not exact. No study of human behavior can ever be exact.
Exactness refers to the methods used to study something. It has nothing to do with the subject of the study. You can use exact methods to study inexact subjects just fine.

Every science has shitty practitioners. Doesn't make the science inherently flawed. Economic activity is an important subject, and it should be studied using the same scientific method we study everything else with. That method is very much objective, logical and exact. There is nothing "gray" about it. Whenever someone uses the metaphor "grey" to refer to science, he is distorting the scientific method, not being "realistic".
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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#17
It's pretty funny that this discussion about potential new frontiers in space exploration has turned into a Libertarian circle-jerk.
What new frontiers? They're launching shit into orbit. That's impressive, but not innovative. The big innovation is supposed to be that it's "private", and "commercially motivated". Except that it's neither of those things. It's taxpayer funded and politically motivated.
 

MayrMeninoCrash

Liberal Psycopath
Dec 9, 2004
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#18
What new frontiers? They're launching shit into orbit. That's impressive, but not innovative. The big innovation is supposed to be that it's "private", and "commercially motivated". Except that it's neither of those things. It's taxpayer funded and politically motivated.
It's the next step in aviation. Simple as that. Who knows what this will lead to. Maybe back to the Moon? Visit an asteroid? Go to Mars? I suppose if you were around in 1957 you'd be poo-pooing the launch of Explorer 1 as well.....
 

Party Rooster

Unleash The Beast
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#19
If by "not recognizing that gray exists" you mean that I think it's a stupid metaphor that doesn't apply in Economics (or any other exact science), then yeah, you got me. I guess I'm a hardcore libertarian type who doesn't like evasive language.
That's all well and good but, how do you explain the fact that you said they only had one government customer, when in fact they also have private customers?
 

Lord Zero

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Aug 25, 2008
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#20
It's the next step in aviation. Simple as that. Who knows what this will lead to. Maybe back to the Moon? Visit an asteroid? Go to Mars? I suppose if you were around in 1957 you'd be poo-pooing the launch of Explorer 1 as well.....
Emotionalism does nothing beneficial for the taxpayer or the economy. We all agree that space travel is fucking awesome, but in the year 2012 with the economy we have it no longer makes sense for the taxpayer to fund it. (That public funding has been senseless and needless for decades.) Besides, NASA would run much more efficiently it it were a completely privatized entity.
 

MayrMeninoCrash

Liberal Psycopath
Dec 9, 2004
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#21
Emotionalism does nothing beneficial for the taxpayer or the economy. We all agree that space travel is fucking awesome, but in the year 2012 with the economy we have it no longer makes sense for the taxpayer to fund it. (That public funding has been senseless and needless for decades.) Besides, NASA would run much more efficiently it it were a completely privatized entity.
I don't see how you can go from NASA to a completely privatized entity for space exploration without an intermediate step such as Space-X. First of all, the infrastructure is already in place for launches, and will remain government property as long as the Air Force is needing to send up payloads. Second, the venture capital to create a space transport company probably doesn't exist when there's other entities (Russians, Chinese, EU) with the infrastructure available and ability to handle loads for the right price. Lastly, we seem comfortable for now, but things could go to shit in a hurry with any of the foreign entities and we'd be stuck with little or no transport capability and a dire need to access space. Space-X's government funding assures that this will be available if the need arises.
 

Lord Zero

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Aug 25, 2008
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#22
I don't see how you can go from NASA to a completely privatized entity for space exploration without an intermediate step such as Space-X. First of all, the infrastructure is already in place for launches, and will remain government property as long as the Air Force is needing to send up payloads.
The Air Force should have it's own space division. Maybe the Fed can keep NASA for strictly government purposes, but the days of subsidized pure science need to end. That's all I'm saying.
 

MayrMeninoCrash

Liberal Psycopath
Dec 9, 2004
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#23
The Air Force should have it's own space division. Maybe the Fed can keep NASA for strictly government purposes, but the days of subsidized pure science need to end. That's all I'm saying.
The Air Force does have it's own space division, but most of its payloads are of the megaton yield variety.
 

Bobobie

Registered User
Oct 1, 2005
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#24
I don't see how you can go from NASA to a completely privatized entity for space exploration without an intermediate step such as Space-X.
In truth, it isn't that big of step. Very little of the shuttle program employed any NASA people. Almost everything was outsourced to either the big aerospace firms or small engineering outfits. Other than some department heads and a few scientists, everyone else worked for the private sector.
 

Creasy Bear

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#25
You can slap "private" and "commercial" on manned, or manned-related space missions all you want, but it still boils down to our tax dollars being shot up into space, and down the proverbial shitter.