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ISS Space

ISS Captures SpaceX Dragon Capsule 217

Today at 9:56AM EDT (13:56 GMT) the robotic arm on the International Space Station successfully captured SpaceX's Dragon capsule. It's the first time a commercial craft has connected with the ISS, and the first time a spacecraft made in the U.S. has gone to the station since the retirement of the shuttle. The approach was delayed temporarily as engineers worked out bad sensor readings due to light reflected off the ISS's Kibo laboratory. "To work around the problem, SpaceX narrowed the field of view for the laser sensor so that it wouldn't pick up light from the offending reflector. Dragon then returned to the 30-meter checkpoint and moved in for the final approach." If all goes well today, the capsule will most likely be opened tomorrow. Video of the operation is being broadcast live on NASA TV.
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ISS Captures SpaceX Dragon Capsule

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  • After half a century of unsustainable government space endeavors, we may finally see some progress toward receiving actual benefits from space flight, now that the profit motive of the private sector has been (at least partially) restored. The strive for profit will necessarily lead to advancements in space tech, as they have in all other industries where long-term profitability is the primary incentive (Silicon Valley being the prime modern example).
  • Re:Hooray. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <VortexCortex AT ... trograde DOT com> on Friday May 25, 2012 @11:36AM (#40109421)

    I will be mourning the death of publicly-funded space travel. Now, we hand it over to the pirates, slave-traders and privateers of our own era.

    Uhm... I think you got that wrong. If anything it's the death of "publicly-unfunded" space travel... Because your precious PUBLIC funding is instead funnelling trillions into fighting unwinnable wars on intangible ideas, and trying to spend as little as they can get away with on space travel. It costs more to air-condition our troops than NASA's whole budget. Every time I hear about NASA funding being cut back, or some congress critters mandating purchasing & building around dated rocket tech to keep their lobbyist friends' business afloat I died a little. Now there seems to be a light flickering on at the end of the tunnel.

    OPTIONS are good, people. It's not the death of anything in all actuality. NASA's not decommissioned, it's not like they've even stopped rocket research; It's just that we have MORE OPTIONS other than a bureaucracy driven platform held back by the opinions of the ignorant masses...

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday May 25, 2012 @11:47AM (#40109529) Journal

    Is using the robotic arm the only way the Dragon spacecraft will be allowed to dock with the ISS? It seems to be cumbersome and to take a long time.

    Or is this only being done now for safety reasons and, with more experience, a direct approach and docking will be allowed?

  • Mixed blessings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday May 25, 2012 @11:57AM (#40109593)

    (Disclaimer: I work in aerospace)

    Private sector space exploration is a mixed blessing without regulatory oversight.

    The FAA does wonders for ensuring consistent manufacturing and engineering policies, as do the various ISO industrial process certification programs for industrial centers.

    Government sponsored engineering tends to be a total money and resource sink, and what comes out tends to look like the engineers went out of their way to make things needlessly cryptic and arcane to justify their bills.

    Essentially, the equivalent of a 500 line "hello world!", which ignores normal OS window classes, allocates and frees its own memory, and has an integrated kernel runtime to make sure nobody is snooping on the secret sauce from outside of userspace.

    Private designs tend to shy away from uniqueness, and toward stringent use of the KISS principle, but may excessively use protected engineering documentation and practices. (Imagine somebody writing their own application API on top of the perfectly functional standard one for their target, and locking that bitch down so tight that its like watching a snuff film, then using it religiously to keep people from "copying" their ideas. Nevermind that all their competitors are also working from the KISS handbook on the actual engineering, and that the differences are all almost entirely process related. Fit form and function is conserved.)

    Oversight helps to keep these proprietary engineering toolbases under control, and helps ensure interoperability of critical systems, like runway boarding ramps on the aircraft's skin, type of fuel used, and standard cabin pressures.

    Without the unifying influence of such oversight, no airplane in the sky would follow any standards except internal OEM ones. An airbus and a boeing offering would not use the same cabin pressure (just to throw something out there), because one of them would get the brightt idea to lower it 5psi so they could fly a little higher and reduce skin stresses as a competative edge.

    Space vehicles, being radically new to private industry, would be especially vulnerable to marketing and PR drones dictating on the engineering so that the vehicle stands out from the crowd, even though that is a terrible thing for interoperability.

    So, while I like the leaner design implementations that come out of private companies, I strongly advocate oversight and regulatory compliance for safety and interoperability reasons.

    Otherwise the specs on a private spaceship will be a countless mess of cross-referencing NDA laden proprietary internal standards docs, and as an engineer for a company that does outsourced work from the big boys, I only have so much goddam space on my desk for binders full of proprietary specifications so I can read somebody's engineering properly. "Torque bolts to LES####" is fine and dandy if you work for learjet. For the rest of us, I'm happy to get an AME or NAS number that I can look up instead of calling your support line, talking with a string of bobbleheads behind desks who are more concerned over weather or not I might discuss what's in a spec for tightening bolts with "unauthorized" people, and if I am indeed authorized to know the secret of the bolt tightening in the first place. I'm an engineer. Just give me the damn spec, your corporate crap smells up my day.

    Regulatory oversight makes things magically simpler, because it forces LES#### to be compliant with a standard AMS#### or similar regulatory body that I don't have to suck a dick to get my hands on.

    I'm thrilled that the dragon heavy lifter works. It opens all sorts of doors for much cheaper orbital deployments, and the soyouz capsules were starting to have unreliable failure rates from excessive use and improper maintenance downtimes. This will work wonders.

    But for FSM's sake, institute some damned industry regulations!

  • Re:Tractor Beam (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday May 25, 2012 @11:58AM (#40109599)

    The problem is Sci-Fi in some regards had made the impossible/impractical come seem like the norm... This is why we put way too much time and money into the shuttle program, We wanted a "reusable" spacecraft like we see in Sci-Fi. Even though it is cheaper per flight to make disposable space craft. But we spent decades on the idea of the Reusable Space craft. I wonder how much further ahead we would be if we focused on the disposable craft.
    For one every launch there will be improvements to the craft, because they can. Second you would get a new fresh group of people making crafts all the time so the knowledge and experience is passed to each generation. Third we would have crafts specialized for each mission, the shuttle is a general purpose device... Thus not really fit for any mission.

  • by tukang ( 1209392 ) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:05PM (#40109661)

    There have been articles on how space travel is now sustainable but the sole customer here is the government and this is no more sustainable than all those solar companies that were making billions just a few years ago but are now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy now that gov't subsidies have evaporated (First Solar for example has gone from being a $15B+ to being a $1B+ company in 1 year).

    I think this is a great achievement but let's not fool ourselves, this is not a private venture that's sustainable w/o taxpayer support.

  • Privately funded (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:07PM (#40109683)

    If the money that's paying for it is coming from taxes, its not commercial.

    You are correct in a sense. The current primary customer (NASA) happens to be a government agency and that agency does pay with tax dollars. Saying it is commercial is very much a short hand for a more complicated story. SpaceX also already has contracts with private sector companies as well. Furthermore its operations and R&D were funded privately initially to the tune of something like $400 million. Funding from NASA has come from progress payments on launch contracts. The fact that NASA is a government agency is somewhat incidental to the operations of SpaceX. Our company has had the government as a customer (we've sent products into space) in the past but that doesn't mean we aren't a private company or that what we do isn't commercial.

  • by rufty_tufty ( 888596 ) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:55PM (#40110145) Homepage

    the real test will - unfortunately - come the first time someone gets killed. I'm not sure the private sector could afford a Challenger inquiry.

    I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for spoiling my morning :-(
    Seriously how did we survive these things in the past, how did we react the first time an airplane killed someone or when the first time a gas light exploded. Why are we so different now?
    Are we different now because we can and should know better that these designs have flaws? Would the challenger disaster have been worse if the design had found to not be faulty, or would the public outcry have been worse if the collective result was "Nope we did the best we could, damnded if we know why that went wrong" instead of known flawed design + management overide + unfortunate conditions.
    Maybe they'll be lucky and it will live up to its projections of 1/1000 failures and it will take 3000 launches for the statistics to catch up with them. Maybe something as simple as luck in the nascent stages of space flight makes the differences between the civilisations that colonise their galaxies and those that don't. Maybe that;s another variable in the drake equation?

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