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ISS NASA Space Science

Dragon Capsule Could Be 1st Private Craft To Dock With ISS 178

thomst writes "Space News reports that NASA has given tentative approval for SpaceX to combine the two remaining flights designed to prove the Hawthorne, Calif., company can deliver cargo to the international space station, according to William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, although formal approval for the mission is still pending. If NASA does approve the plan, SpaceX's Dragon capsule would be the first civilian spacecraft actually to dock with the International Space Station. According to NASA spokesman Joshua Buck, the current plan calls for SpaceX to launch a Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Nov. 30, which would then rendezvous and dock with the space station on Dec. 7 — a day that would live in spaceflight history."
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Dragon Capsule Could Be 1st Private Craft To Dock With ISS

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  • Unmanned I assume (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @08:07AM (#36881936) Homepage Journal

    Dragon is a few years away from being man rated.

    • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @08:11AM (#36881952)

      Doesn't matter

      If it can be used for cargo, NASA will gladly pay the money

      Of course, the more it can be used to send humans the better.

    • NASA's man-rating program is just bureaucracy. If a man wearing a shirt and pants were to sit down in the Dragon during the first demonstration launch, he'd have had a pleasant flight.
      • Only for the first minutes. Since Dragon is unmanned it hasn't vital support.
        • by Amouth ( 879122 )

          so put the guy in a suit and launch..

        • It's unmanned, but fully pressurised. Even without additional oxygen, there'd be more than enough air for a single person to last the few orbits demo flight #1 completed before re-entering and landing safely.
          • by arth1 ( 260657 )

            And the G forces during flight are always acceptable to humans?
            There are facilities for dealing with human wastes, and medical emergencies? There's communications equipment?
            Or would the human basically be a Laika?

    • There is no rush to send humans before developing much more effective remote-manned and robotic systems.

      Human interaction with everything outside their "bubble" in the utterly hostile off-Earth environment requires a complete infrastructure of automatons to support the tourists.

      It would be perfectly reasonable to spend a hundred years focusing on immediately useful robot systems. The only thing humans can do in space is operate machines. Build the machines.

      • There is no rush to send humans before developing much more effective remote-manned and robotic systems.

        Speak for yourself. There are a number of us working in the space industry who are eager to take part in human exploration of space because being trapped on this single rock for the rest of our lives is just plain boring.

    • Yes, unmanned. Flying multiple ISS rendevous missions for cargo only (unmanned) will help build up a flight history of the Dragon that SpaceX can point to and say, "See, we haven't blown anything up yet! Let us put humans on it too!"

      Of course, if SpaceX does start blowing stuff up, that will have some effects on how they are percieved by the public, NASA, and Congress (who already mostly hates them).
  • Hmmm ... (Score:2, Funny)

    by KSobby ( 833882 )
    So would the rescue craft be chasing the dragon?
  • When SpaceX and Bigelow meet in orbit, that will be an important date in spaceflight. Two wholly private ventures meeting in orbit. Now if someone could just throw enough coin at both of them to undertake a Mars mission...
    • I, too, am looking forward to the first time SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft penetrates Bigelow's orbital shelter. For us space nerds, the geek porn doesn't get much better than that.
  • Surely NASA is a "civilian" space agency, and the shuttle therefore a civilian craft?

    Perhaps the correct term should be "non-governmental"...

    • NASA is a civilian agency as much as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, etc, are civilian agencies.
      • ...Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics are commercial enterprises, which happen to have lots of contracts with both military and civilian agencies of the USA and other governments.

        Last time I looked, NASA was one of those civilian USA government agencies...

        Put it this way - when was the last time you could buy shares in NASA (paying taxes doesn't count)?

        • So perhaps being a governmental object doesn't make one not a civilian, but it's still not civilian in the sense that you or I (probably) are.

    • ... or civilian-owned. NASA is owned by the Federal government. And the citizens do not "own" the government these days.
      • Ha! But based on news of hacking break-ins at various agencies, it seems that the citizens instead "pwn" the government these days. :)

    • Yes, the shuttle was such a civilian space craft that it received much of its re-design mandates directly from the US Air Force.

      The shuttle was a military craft, re-designed to satisfy military objectives. The fact that it was administrated by a combination of civilian and DoD authorities, hardly qualifies it as a civilian craft.

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:27AM (#36882556)

      Surely NASA is a "civilian" space agency, and the shuttle therefore a civilian craft?

      No, numerous design decisions early on in the program were made strictly to appease the defense dept. Most of them revolved around the mission requirement of launching, grabbing a russian spy sat and placing it in the cargo bay, and landing on next orbit. This requires a ridiculous cross-range capability as the launching site rotates with the earth about 2000 miles east during an orbit. Also the DoD mandated some weird on orbit maneuvering capability which I don't remember (probably some classified anti-asat maneuverability, or maybe it was something to do with the RCS system being stable enough to stick a telescope in the cargo bay for military observational purposes?)

      There was also a long cross range capability for military purposes... If a civilian is worried about landing short, just aim at the center of the USA and you're all good. Insane as it sounds, if you want to land at a military base in Japan or Israel, and its a no-go for weather or whatever, you need crossrange to ... somewhere freaking far away. What, Korea or Australia as alternates for Japan, or maybe... diego garcia as an alternate for israel? Unlike F-16s etc we never sold any shuttles to Israel or even landed ours in Japan. But the DoD made us design the vehicle to possibly do it.

      The point wasn't to actually steal russian sats, which would be quite the diplomatic incident. The point was to scare them into a higher orbit out of SS range. Same sat higher up means lower resolution and less consumables means its got less lifetime and/or costs more. You only have to scare them once, during design phase, and their sats are crippled until the next generation. Presumably we wouldn't steal our own sats, and they were not going to make a clone of our SS (although turns out they did anyway) so in true cold war deterrence fashion, the end result of building the SS to DoD specs means the russians inherently end up with crappier spy sats than we do.

      Well, we never did a mission like that, never even flew a super long cross range landing, for most of the active flying SS program the USSR no longer existed, it got really popular to put a giant sat with giant optics and long lifetime in geosync instead of little ones in low orbit that deorbit relatively rapidly. So it was all kind of pointless.

      • I concur that the design was compromised by military requirements, and that they flew some military/secret missions.

        This doesn't change the fact that the orbiters were owned & operated by NASA.

        By your argument, you might as well claim that due to the involvement of von Braun and others, the Saturn 5 was a Nazi rocket ('s_law [] )

  • Currently, getting something in orbit costs between 3000 and 10000 dollar per kilogram...
    This link shows estimated costs for all current launch systems, ranging from smallest to the biggest. []

    I wonder what SpaceX are aiming at. Is the privatization really going to be cheaper? If so, I wonder where they will be able to cut costs.

    • I wonder what SpaceX are aiming at. Is the privatization really going to be cheaper?

      From their website, SpaceX is planning on selling Falcon9 Heavy launches for $80-125 million per. Since the Falcon9 Heavy has a payload of 53000 kg to LEO, sounds like they'll be charging less than $2400/kg

      Yep, looks cheaper than $3K-$10K per kg.

      • Also throw in the fact that SpaceX is NOT incorporating reusability into their price points (from what I have seen, the boosters are designed to be recoverable but the cost structure isn't built around that being an expectation for each launch)...and now all of a sudden the price point becomes lower. Musk said recently the propellent costs for a Falcon 9 launch were around $150k. If he can get a 50% reuse rate of of his boosters, that's a hell of a cost savings AND drives the cost to orbit down much lower.
        • If reusability is reliable, it saves costs.

          I got the idea that the reusability of the Space Shuttle was a matter of taking the entire thing apart, checking every component, and assembling it again. That's not reusability... that's recycling.

          • Ite is the SME(Shuttle main egines) that cause the bulk of the work. They have to be pulled torn down inspection and tested for every flight.
            Yes the rest of it gets inspected too. But you dont rebuild your car engine every 30k miles either.

            Russian buran didnt use SME just bigger boosters.

            Now if some one can just make a 1 newton ion engine for space manuvering we will be all set.

            • If you listen to the MIT Open courseware series where they had lots of presenters talk about the designing and building the shuttle, one of the engineers talks about the fact the Shuttle was designed without autocad, just blueprints. He also mentioned that if diagnostics wiring had been included in the main engines they could be tested without removing them from the shuttle.

    • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:30AM (#36882602)

      I wonder where they will be able to cut costs.

      To put it bluntly: everyfuckingwhere. They got one thing very, very right: distaste for subcontractors. They figure they can control quality and leadtimes better if they do things in-house, and they don't have to support other companies' profits. It's simple, but it works wonders. There are plenty of simple business strategies that work very well out there, it seems.

  • by tp1024 ( 2409684 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @09:30AM (#36882604)
    Proving reliability will be the main task of cargo delivery. 13 unmanned flights of the Dragon would be enough to do that. For perspective: that's twice as many unmanned test flights as the Shuttle, Apollo and Gemini had among them. However, first SpaceX must deliver. (That doesn't mean that none of those flights must fail. But they better come up with some very good analysis if one does. Especially, whether the crew could have bailed out or not.)
    Reuse is a non-issue both in terms of cost and material. First of all: The Dragon is as reusable as the Shuttle. But: it requires a much smaller (probably non-reusable) rocket to get into space. What you see under the bottom line is not what you reused, but what you didn't.

    Launching an 80t Space Shuttle (plus fuel and payload) wastes 2x90t in solid rocket boosters (plus fuel). Those could in theory be reused 20 times, but weren't (it's too costly to do). But even if those numbers had been reached, it would amount to 9t per flight. (In practice, it's on the order of 40t per flight). Then, you have to account for the external tank - 26.5t. The empty Falcon 9 weighs on the order of 30t - including tanks and engines to launch a 3t (or so) Dragon (plus fuel and payload).
    So yes, the reuse quota is worse - but the amount of waste is less.

    The shuttle also wasn't exactly maintenance free. Especially the SSME (main engines) had its turbo pumps replaced regularly and the engines themselves as well. 46 SSME were produced for 135 flights at a cost of $45mio per engine or $15mio per flight (plus cost for spare parts, disassembly, reassembly, check-ups of the engines after each flight etc. - no idea how much that cost, but given the labor-intensity of those tasks, it must have been millions for each flight). Add to that the cost of the solid rocket boosters, handcrafted tiles to replace the old ones etc ...

    But worst of all: The shuttle weighs 100t (with max payload) and carries only minuscule amounts of fuel itself. It can't reach higher orbits. In fact, the orbit that the Shuttle can reach is so low that the friction of the atmosphere necessitated regular lifting maneuvers that can now finally be reduced by 70-80% (fuel comprised a large part of the payload that the ISS has required so far) - by lifting the whole station into a 100km higher orbit (which is a trivial orbit to reach for any spacecraft, except for the Shuttle).
    It's even worse for Hubble. It's in such a low orbit, that observations with it have been described by astronomers as akin to riding a bicycle over a cobble-stone road while trying to hold a telescope steady. And that's before you consider that it regularly has to deal with a huge planet getting into its field of view during observations. It could never reach its full potential (and you've seen what it did despite that!) And that wasn't at all necessary. The KH-11 spy satellites that have very similar dimensions and exactly the same optics as Hubble were flown into space using a Titan IIIE missle - which could have brought the telescope into a much higher and reasonable orbit.

    For any regular rocket reaching a somewhat higher orbit is no problem because you get rid of the 2nd stage when you're in orbit. You can even replace the payload by a 3rd stage(*) - but the Shuttle itself is the second stage (minus the external tank, weighing about 1/3 of the shuttle) and has a hard time getting rid of itself.

    (*) Yes, you can do that with the shuttle, but the results are laughable compared to the insanely huge rocket you're launching to do that. What's the point of launching a 2600t Shuttle in order to place the same amount of payload into a geostationary orbit as a 300t Soyuz rocket? Most of all: what's the point of risking the lives of 7 people to do what is regularly done with unmanned rockets?
    • So yes, the reuse quota is worse - but the amount of waste is less.

      But what your tortured numerology [] obscures is that while the 'waste' is less - much less is accomplished. The Shuttle could deliver 34klbs to the ISS, while Dragon delivers only 13klbs. Nor can Dragon provide crew exchange while delivering cargo. Nor can Dragon deliver modules. Nor can Dragon deliver experiment racks... (Shuttle can do all of this in a single flight!)

      Seriously, the doublethink here on Slashdot and elsewhere the

  • The ISS is run by an international partnership, under various Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs). Any bets that the Russians won't submit lots and Lots and LOTS of "safety concerns" documents, to maximize the time they are the sole means of access to the ISS?

  • Economically and technically, this combination of tests is a win-win. The longer flight required to accomplish both phases of testing (rendezvous and docking) will be a much more significant test of the Dragon's capabilities and endurance. The test regimen will still proceed through all required testing steps, likely with a pause for analysis between the two phases. It also saves the money required for a separate launch and may well accelerate the first operational flight of an unmanned Dragon supply veh
  • ...I C Weiner? Ah, crud."

    SpaceX Delivery Technician Philip J Fry

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson