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SpaceX Completes Dragon Parachute Test

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the here-be-drougeans dept.

Space 83

mattclar writes "SpaceX just released footage and pictures of last week's Dragon parachute drop test. Using an Erickson Air-Crane, the Dragon capsule was carried to 14,000 feet, then released. After a few seconds of freefall, the drouge chutes appeared, followed by the main chutes. The test concluded with a gentle touchdown within the target area to conclude a test described by SpaceX as '100% successful.'"

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Nice... (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322000)

Very nice. Now, about that 'getting people up to space in the first place for less than $10k/lb' part...

Seriously though, it's good to see things coming along.

Re:Nice... (1, Flamebait)

Senes (928228) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322056)

That's just it; this specific technology is entirely concerned with the trip home from space - it doesn't appear to have any bearing on the cost of getting into space. The lifting technology is what will make it easier for us to build fancy stuff in orbit and beyond.

As a matter of fact I feel hard pressed to understand just what about this is actually a new development, but if people are working hard to overcome the obstacles then all the flashy bits that look good on the television are a lower priority.

Re:Nice... (3, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322178)

Getting people home safely is part of the cost of getting them into space, unless you're planning for strictly one-way trips.

No it isn't (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323204)

Getting people home safely is part of getting repeat business for your trip into space business. But nobody EVER claimed anywhere that an astronaut has to survive his trip for it to count as a journey into space.

Or are you saying that if I die on my trip to Australia (and may god have mercy on my soul) I have never visited Australia? Would make the entry into heaven a bit easier but somehow I think it will still be held against me.

Re:No it isn't (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325996)

That's a poor analogy. A better one is this: if your plane takes off for Australia, but they haven't figured out how to land it yet and they just crash on landing, killing you and everyone else on board, does this really count as a successful flight?

Re:No it isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33327500)

You must be autistic.

Re:Nice... (3, Insightful)

Arlet (29997) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322222)

There's not much that you can do to improve fundamental technology to go into space, but they can still try to make things as cheap and low-weight as possible. Every kilogram that you take off the re-entry system is another kilogram of useful payload that you can take up.

Re:Nice... (-1, Offtopic)

herryones (1882778) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325328)

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Re:Nice... (1)

shnull (1359843) | more than 4 years ago | (#33330172)

i don't know. IF at all possible the elevator might make it pretty cheap if combined with a huge orbital docking station where ships can actually be built. Eliminating the cost of liftoff and escaping the biggest part of the gravity well of earth might make a significant difference. But, since we still have to go and impose our morals all over the world i'm afraid by the time we get out of the elevator we'll be welcomed by a nice young lady going 'ni hao' :)

Re:Nice... (3, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323034)

As if SpaceX is having a problem with getting stuff into space. If they were having some serious problems with getting that task accomplished, I would agree that this test would be a relatively non-issue...

But the vehicle for getting into space has already flown that this capsule is going to be sitting on top of. I should note here too that SpaceX has also announced with this test what the flight profile is going to be like for the next Falcon 9 flight:

During the Dragon's orbital shakedown later this year, the ship will cruise around Earth between one and three times, fire its Draco maneuvering thrusters and fall into the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the coast of Los Angeles near the Channel Islands.

The flight could last from less than two hours to five hours, depending on SpaceX's final decision on its duration.

--- Spaceflight Now []

This drop test was mainly to test the parachute system and to establish the recovery procedures for when this next flight is going to happen that will make it to orbit. Rather than using an entire Air Carrier task force from the U.S. Navy (how the Apollo and Gemini capsules were recovered), SpaceX is using a fleet of three boats that are all about the size of the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan's Island. That is a huge deal and I hope the cost savings for that difference in the recovery fleet should be glaringly obvious.

The point here too is that SpaceX is very close to having a full fledged spacecraft that can go up into space, maneuver around while up there, and safely bring cargo back down from orbit. Besides the Soyuz, Space Shuttle, and Shenzhou spacecraft, the Dragon will be the only one currently capable of doing that sort of mission profile. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle next year, the Dragon will be the only American spacecraft to be capable of doing this and it will also be only the second vehicle that you can put money onto the table to simply purchase a flight into space (after the Soyuz). Given the reluctance of the Russians to permit that kind of flight and the demand they have for at least two Russian cosmonauts to be involved, the Dragon offers an even more unique perspective for being able to bring stuff back home or to go up into space if you need a pressurized cargo capacity.

Yes, both Orbital Science and Boeing are in the process of building orbital spacecraft that will be capable of returning back to the Earth.... but at what stage in the development of those vehicles are they at? What is NASA working on for their own space-capable vehicle? Please don't tell me that the Ares I with the Orion capsule is going to be oh so much better.... if that is even going to be built at all.

Re:Nice... (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325380)

Does anyone remember the first similar test on Orion actually ended smashing the capsule to the ground due to failed parachutes? And the pig farmers in Congress still want to get some pork....

Re:Nice... (2, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33327360)

I think this is the test you were talking about: []

The picture in that test is a bit ugly too, and I'd be glad that my life didn't depend upon the parachutes working. For those posters on this story that assert this was a "useless" test that didn't really prove anything, I hope that at least some of those would be pointed to this story to see what happens when a test of this nature goes wrong. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a capsule if the kind of damage in the photograph happened to me. Landing in the water at those speeds has nearly the same kind of impact damage as hitting land too, but you get to drown if you somehow survive.

And the advocates for Ares/Orion continue to assert theirs is a better program... with "the best minds on the planet" helping to design that vehicle? The best lobbyists in Washington D.C. perhaps...

Re:Nice... (4, Informative)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322876)

If my goal was to build the worlds fastest car would you be pissed at me building a car seat? It isn't exciting as a new engine or anything like that but they have to make one.

Also, their launch costs (listed on their site) to LEO are $2.3k/lb for cargo ($5.5k/lb to GTO). They aren't sending people up yet since their spacecraft isn't ready yet. And coincidentally this story is about them currently working on the dragon spacecraft (which is what they are sending people up in). So they ARE working on exactly what you want.....

Re:Nice... (3, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324498)

Also, their launch costs (listed on their site) to LEO are $2.3k/lb for cargo ($5.5k/lb to GTO).

It's also worth noting that this is their launch price, not their cost. They actually expect to make a decent profit at this price, and Elon has stated that he plans on lowering the price further as he gets into mass production and successful reuse of rocket components.

neat (1)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322008)

One wit(l/n)ess said "The chute was a pretty shade of rogue, and it slowed down like a sports car hitting the breaks!"

Re:neat (3, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322040)

like a sports car hitting the breaks!

I prefer my nice reliable Toyota van. It has brakes.

Re:neat (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322106)

"The chute was a pretty shade of rogue, and it slowed down like a sports car hitting the breaks!"

I prefer my nice reliable Toyota van. It has brakes.

You wouldn't prefer a Nissan Rogue?

Re:neat (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322210)

"The chute was a pretty shade of rogue, and it slowed down like a sports car hitting the breaks!"

I prefer my nice reliable Toyota van. It has brakes.

You wouldn't prefer a Nissan Rogue?

No I prefer my cars to be either white or black.

Re:neat (1)

Scott Kevill (1080991) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322180)

Whoooosh! (And you also missed the other intentional misspelling.)

Re:neat (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322214)



(its my first one this week).

Exciting (2)

EnsilZah (575600) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322024)

As someone who wasn't alive during the Apollo years, it's pretty exciting for me to see a company that might actually make travel to space sustainable.
I may follow Elon in retiring to Mars yet.

Re:Exciting (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322194)

I was alive during that time (well, technically - I was born less than 24 hours before Apollo 11 launched), and yeah, it is exciting. After the whole political bullshit from the post-Apollo years, it's good to see something actually moving forward again, even if it took folks other than NASA to do it.

Re:Exciting (-1, Flamebait)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322290)

Then you'll agree with me that the "space elevator" is a fucking retarded and irrational idea perpetuated by professional trolls and clueless rubes.

Man, that "space elevator" idea is fucking stupid on so many fundamental levels.

Re:Exciting (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325608)

"Retarded" is unquantifiable, but assuming suitable materials were found, the physics for a space elevator turn out to be rather easy to work out. Most of the work that's pushing towards space elevators right now is in materials development, something everyone benefits from. Exactly what is so bad about all of this?

Yes, again! *sigh* I'm getting older than dirt... (2, Insightful)

rts008 (812749) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322324)

As someone who wasn't alive during the Apollo years, it's pretty exciting for me to see a company that might actually make travel to space sustainable.

As someone who was alive during the Apollo years[and the Mercury and Gemini years], I agree wholeheartedly; it was, and still is exciting. [] [I got the same goosebumps on launch, and was amazed at the vid quality and abundance!]

And you youngsters get added bonuses:
1. Better and higher quality coverage of the 'into space' events[see linked video in TFS]. Almost/or real time!
2. The internet.[see above]
3. Competition to drive 'Rocket Scientists®' to innovate again. 'Back then', it was USA astronauts vs. USSR holds barred. Now, it is similar, again no holds barred.
4. Maybe your favorite astronaut has a facebook page, or a twitter tweet? ;-)
5. Almost obligatory:
      'And you get to get off my lawn!' ;-)
6. Did I mention the internet?

Re:Yes, again! *sigh* I'm getting older than dirt. (1)

CptNerd (455084) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322738)

I remember when they invented dirt...

When I was a kid I followed every launch from Glenn onward, and I have to say it was kind of nostalgic to see a capsule hanging down from three chutes like that. I hope I can make it long enough to see Bigelow get his hotels started (I have no illusions of ever being able to go into space like I wanted to when I was a kid).

Re:Yes, again! *sigh* I'm getting older than dirt. (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#33329862)

I hope I can make it long enough to see Bigelow get his hotels started

Speaking of which, how are his Genesis test modules holding up?

Re:Yes, again! *sigh* I'm getting older than dirt. (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323226)

One thing that is certainly going to be different is the ability to have the miniature cameras in odd places that didn't exist before. I certainly liked the camera placed on the outside of the Dragon spacecraft that showed the whole splashdown from the perspective of a fly sitting on the outside of the capsule. Such a view perspective wasn't even possible during the Apollo era, where instead if they were lucky there was a U.S. Navy helicopter that had the one ton television camera in an otherwise stripped down aircraft that produced a grainy video feed.... presuming that the helicopter could even find the spacecraft as it was coming down.

In terms of internet coverage, you don't have to worry about some network executive deciding if a major league baseball game or some sitcom is going to get better ratings than a rocket launch... you just have to punch in the URL of some website like SpaceVidcast [] and you with several 10's of thousands of other people get to watch that launch live.... with or without commentary if you want. Rather than waiting for some public relations official telling you the weather forecast for KSC, you can simply go straight to the NOAA weather station and look up the latest weather radar scan and make your own forecast if you want.

Yeah, the internet has changed things, as has the miniaturization of electronic components. An iPhone has the computing power of all of NASA combined from 1969. Let's just say that the guidance computer is put into the Dragon spacecraft based on what the needs of the pilot are for a visual display and not due to considerations such as weight or power consumption of that computer. Its physical location is more of an afterthought. The largest and most power hungry device is going to be the flat-screen plasma panel for that display, not the computer itself.

Re:Exciting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33323142)

Travel to space "sustainable"? Is that some sort of green eco-jargon that the kids use these days? Look, even if it cost 10 cents to go to space, so what?

1) There's nothing there. It's empty. It's a vacuum.
2) Humans are not meant to be in space. We fall apart, literally. Our muscles and bones start to waste immediately in free fall.
3) What can you bring back that's even worth the 10 cents it took to get there? How can it be "sustainable"?

Except as a stunt for rich countries and rich people, space is dead. It's never made sense, and never will.

If you're so enchanted by frontiers and harsh environments, why not colonize Siberia?

Re:Exciting (2, Funny)

M1FCJ (586251) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325478)

So right! If FSM wanted us to fly, she would have given us wings! And don't get me started on those squatters []

Re:Exciting (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#33349466)

As someone who wasn't alive during the Apollo years, it's pretty exciting for me to see a company that might actually make travel to space sustainable.

Since 'sustainable' is an utterly meaningless buzzword - I fail to see your point.

Re:Exciting (1)

EnsilZah (575600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33359806)

I guess self-sustaining would be clearer.

Re:Exciting (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33360884)

Replacing one buzzword with another does not clarify anything.

Not level (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322052)

It seems designed to hit feet first, a bit like gemini, rather than slapping directly into the water with the heat shield completely level. With the parachutes attached on the side of the hatch, heads would presumably be towards the hatch.

Re:Not level (4, Informative)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322102)

This ties in with the overall design of the Dragon capsule, which is designed to re-enter with a non-perpendicular angle of attack: presumably to provide some lift to allow some cross-range maneuvering, though it might also help the ergonomics inside the capsule. The heat shield and everything else is designed asymmetrically: presumably the parachutes are set up the same way. [] []

Re:Not level (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323004)

You don't need much lift to reduce the ballistic deceleration from about 10g to 3g.

Re:Not level (1, Offtopic)

CoolGopher (142933) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322298)

I voted [60] Stephen Conroy.

As did I. Here's hoping a few more did!

Re:Not level (0, Offtopic)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322360)

I voted [60] Stephen Conroy.

As did I. Here's hoping a few more did!

I don't think we get the senate vote tonight unfortunately. I actually stuffed up voting below the line. I reached the end minus 1 (saving the last for Conroy) at 57, and found that I had voted 10 and 11 twice. 10 is easy to turn into 58, 11 becomes 59.

I am actually just a few K outside the seat of Melbourne. There is no hope, unfortunately, of Wills going to the greens.

Re:Not level (1)

CoolGopher (142933) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322652)

I admit I stuffed up my first senate sheet too - it's too damn wide to fit into those cramped booths, and I missed an entire column due to it folding over onto itself. Had to get a fresh sheet and start over, which was a bit embarrassing.

Re:Not level (2, Interesting)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322332)

SpaceX eventually wants to land this sucker on the ground instead of splashing down to save recovery costs. They will need retrorockets and landing gears to do this. I think the landing angle is designed to accommodate a future landing gear.

Re:Not level (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322370)

They should try a Rogallo wing [] . You can flare it close to the ground and get a (fairly) soft landing. A wing similar to modern parasails would give similar results.

Re:Not level (4, Insightful)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322434)

Mercury: big round parachute. Gemini: big round parachute. Apollo: 3 big round parachutes. Soyuz: big round parachute. Viking, Pathfinder, Spirit/Opportunity: big round parachutes.

Self-deploying Rogallo wing: a couple of grainy Apollo-era NASA development photos, a few small-scale models built by enthusiasts, never actually used in a mission-critical application.

Given that SpaceX's goal is to get into space reliably and cheaply, not to spend billions reinventing the parachute, which would you pick?

Parasails are more feasible, but 3 big round parachutes have one clear advantage: if one fails, you can land on the other two. You can't deploy multiple parasails from the same vehicle.

Re:Not level (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322528)

I take your point, but engineering businesses like SpaceX need to make the right technical decisions to be a commercial success. The best way to land a capsule on Earth may actually be a fully powered descent. You can save a lot of mass in the escape system by doing that.

Re:Not level (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322704)

Fully powered descent (without relying on aerobraking at all) is impossible. You need to double your delta-V to around 16 km/sec, which is impossible with chemical engines.

Partial aerobrake with retro-rockets for the final touchdown are possible, but then you don't save anything.

Re:Not level (2, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322930)

Partial aerobrake with retro-rockets for the final touchdown are possible, but then you don't save anything.

Thats what I mean. What you save is the mass of a heavy launch escape system. The Apollo LES was huge because it had to lift the CM high enough for the parachutes to work. If you build in thrusters which can land the vehicle then they function as an LES as well as a landing system. It gives you more control over your landing site too.

Re:Not level (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323162)

Not sure it's a win. The weight of a launch escape system doesn't impact total system weight much since it is jettisoned shortly after launch. Thrusters and their fuel would be carried all the way to orbit, so their mass would come out of the payload.

You also want the launch escape system to carry you far out of the exploding fireball that may be a failed launch.

Re:Not level (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323266)

Not sure it's a win. The weight of a launch escape system doesn't impact total system weight much since it is jettisoned shortly after launch.

As an example, Apollo jettisoned its escape tower after Saturn V second-stage burnout. Which translates to nearly LEO, since most of the deltaV from the third stage was used for injection into the transfer orbit to the moon.

Since you pretty much have to dump the escape tower when none of the boosters are boosting, and Falcon 9 is only a two-stage rocket, you're going to be spending a lot of fuel carrying that thing first till stage separation (or to LEO, if you wait till second stage separation).

Re:Not level (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324278)

The S-V launch escape system was jettisoned 30 seconds into second stage ignition; the second stage burned for 367 seconds.

Re:Not level (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324034)

The SpaceX Dragon is going to carry its LES all of the way to orbit, although I think SpaceX is planning on using the propellant mass + rocket nozzles for maneuvering in orbit rather than as something for landing on the ground. Basically it gives them an extra safety margin for whatever it is that they plan on doing in space.

I'm not so sure how that is going to work, where the thrusters also can act as an emergency escape system too as the requirements seem to be a bit different, but that seems to be the current plan. It does make sense so far as if the LES is activated during launch that pesky details like worrying about station keeping and fuel needed to dock with the ISS aren't really needed or relevant in the situation. Why not dump all of that fuel which may be used in those situations for an emergency escape? And if the emergency situation doesn't happen, you have a huge reserve of fuel for other important tasks once you "get up there".

That is also one of the reasons why SpaceX is taking their sweet time in getting this vehicle put together, as they are trying to make sure that the Draco thrusters that they are using on the Dragon are going to be functioning properly if needed. Thrusters that have the delta-v necessary for an LES are also pretty dang impressive in their own right too.

Drouge? (3, Informative)

Red_Chaos1 (95148) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322124)

What is a Drouge [] ? Perhaps that should say drogue [] instead? $lt;/Grammar nazi$gt;

Re:Drouge? NO, DROOG!!! (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322232)

Droog, [] , Nadsat [] slang for 'friend' from the Antony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange [] made into a film by Stanly Kubrick []

Re:Drouge? NO, DROOG!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33322368)

That's Stanley, with an 'e'

Re:Drouge? (1)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323446)

no doubt caused by the same congenital defect that makes RPGers spell rogue as rouge.

Re:Drouge? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325650)

I was about to mention rouge drones. They appear in certain computer games all the time so surely, we should start seeing them in real life as well.

Re:Drouge? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#33344816)

$lt;/Grammar nazi$gt;

HTML-nazi says, "bad grammar nazi - use ampersands to start your entities."

I expected dragons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33322128)

I did not see dragons painted on the parachute.

I am not amused.

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It's SO GREAT! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33322514)

it's so great that they've successfully reinvented the wheel, i mean the capsule landing. capsules were great in the apollo days when you didn't have much cargo to bring back down. we really need to be reinventing the shuttles as they are reusable, sustainable, and have much more cargo space. safety was the only issue and i'm guessing that was mostly related to age. surely we could overcome that with 2010 tech vs. 1970-80 tech.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

pe1rxq (141710) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322666)

Shuttle safety is not age related....
Its the fact that someone put the thing on the side of the rocket instead of on top.

A capsule is the most efficient way to get people back to earth. They are not reinventing the wheel... it never went away. The shuttle fanboys simply ignored the wheel for 40 years.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324940)

Shuttle safety is not age related....

Shuttle safety obviously IS age-related, both because the number of problems has magnified over time, and because materials technology has advanced since but the shuttle is still made out of the same old stuff.

A capsule is the most efficient way to get people back to earth. They are not reinventing the wheel... it never went away. The shuttle fanboys simply ignored the wheel for 40 years.

A reusable spaceplane whose main engines have to be rebuilt before every flight is not a reusable spaceplane, it's a reusable airframe. The Shuttle was and is a boondoggle.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322714)

Every time they reinvent the wheel, it turns out round. Sheesh!

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 4 years ago | (#33322874)

What kind of cargo are we bringing down ? Space is empty. Bringing back dead satellites has never caught on, even when we had the shuttle.

Also, there's no reason why this capsule wouldn't be reusable. Obviously, the heat shield needs to be replaced, but the rest of the capsule should still be okay.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323480)

What kinds of cargo need to be brought down from orbit? Besides passengers (where I hope the need to bring them back should be obvious) there are other kinds of space-based research that has tremendous usefulness if you can have a down link capability. Doing a biological experiment would be incredibly useful to bring it back to an Earth-based laboratory where you can poke and prod at whatever it is that you developed in space. Ditto for any metallurgy or materials science tests that you might be performing, where again having those materials and not having to haul up the entire lab just to do one or two tests on those materials would be very useful.

In addition, if there is any sort of space-based manufacturing that will go on, that ability to be able to bring back stuff is even more important.

The whole things boils down to the cost for access to space. With a typical Shuttle flight costing on the order of about a billion dollars per flight (let's not get into a fight over the exact numbers... but it is roughly that price when most costs are legitimately considered), there are very few if any vehicles that you would even consider returning back to the Earth for that price. That is over $40k/kilogram of cargo delivered. Perhaps the Hubble Telescope or some other incredibly expensive spacecraft would justify the expense, but at that price point it isn't worth sending the spacecraft up to retrieve anything.

I'd also say that another reason why dead satellite recovery hasn't happened more on the Space Shuttle is that NASA hasn't been willing to risk astronauts on such a dangerous task like recovering a satellite. Losing an astronaut in space merely to save a few bucks due to refurbishing a spacecraft isn't a valid justification for that kind of danger. I should note that the Dragon spacecraft is being designed to fly in an unmanned configuration, so the potential loss of human life doesn't even need to be figured into the equation for using a Dragon spacecraft for at least some tasks that may need to be done in space with this technology.

Drop the cost for access to space, and you will find that there will be many more applications for using space that will show up. Unfortunately if we had to rely upon NASA to get the job done it would end up costing even more to get into space, not less. The Ares/Orion spaceship system was going to end up costing even more per pound delivered to and/or retrieved from orbit than the Space Shuttle.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324460)

Sure, I agree that research of all kinds of low-gravity experiments would be useful to bring back to earth. However, that's something that can be done on a small capsule, like the one they are testing right now, possibly using an unmanned configuration. So, far what they are doing right now, the SpaceX design seems pretty good, even though it looks like a step back.

As far as large scale manufacturing in low-gravity environment, I think that'll have to wait until somebody invents a radically different way to get to and from orbit. Even with SpaceX's affordable rates, it's still very expensive.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324810)

Considering that the energy requirements for getting to orbit are actually a little bit easier than a flight from London to Sydney, I would say that there certainly is a whole bunch of room for engineers to come up with a more affordable way in terms of getting into space. Yes, I get that the airplane going to Australia from Europe can obtain "in-situ" oxidizer for the journey, but the capital layout costs for a 747 are certainly comparable to building a reusable spacecraft.

I do think that eventually you can put into space something like a small package that you drop off at your local FedEx or UPS store for roughly $1000 that can be flown into space, do its thing, and then return to some address listed on that package for whatever it is that you are doing. BTW, that is a business model that SpaceX is trying to develop as well and is interested in researchers right now that want to do that, even though the price is currently a bit more than $1k. It is a bit less than $5k/kilo in a pressurized environment right now, and if you have a small package that you want to send up into space, call up SpaceX today asking for details. You can fly it within a year or so on an already scheduled flight.

This puts space research in the hands of entrepreneurs and folks who want to try things out for themselves, including folks who don't necessarily want to let their "competition" know what they are up to. BTW, this is also what is different about the SpaceX approach. Until now, if you wanted to get into space you needed to get government permission for even the most mundane payload and essentially build your own rocket in order to get into space. SpaceX is the first company where you can simply throw money down on the table (cash, check, or electronic bank transfer) and simply purchase a flight into space where they take care of the paperwork.

Yes, there are some other commercial companies that will fly cargo into space for you like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, but they really are focused on government contracts and their pricing model shows that. It is also one of the reasons why even telecommunication satellite operators generally avoid American companies when going into space. There is also Ariainespace that will fly commercial cargo, but you are still need to go through a lengthy government procurement process to get a flight on those vehicles. It also isn't a pressurized vehicle that will return back to the ground.

Setting up a business model similar to the aviation and commercial oceanic shipping companies is really the new innovation here, not necessarily the vehicles themselves. Doing that in such a manner that you don't have to even be a rocket engineer in order to send up a payload is an even larger benefit that is going to reduce the barriers to getting businesses established in space that haven't been done before.

Presuming that "large scale manufacturing" needs vehicles much larger than a SpaceX Dragon or Boeing CST-100, I'm quite certain that the companies involved would more than oblige at providing such a vehicle if the market for something much larger was necessary. SpaceX already announced the plans for an "F1-class" rocket engine that could fly much larger vehicles than the Falcon 9-Heavy. One vehicle that was discussed, the Falcon XX, would have the same cargo capacity as a 747 and put that kind of cargo into orbit on a faring about as large as the interior space of a 747 too. I think it will be awhile before something larger and heavier than a railroad engine is going to need to be sent into space, or brought back home for that matter.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325232)

Considering that the energy requirements for getting to orbit are actually a little bit easier than a flight from London to Sydney

With a crucial difference that a flight from Londen to Sydney takes half a day, and a launch to LEO only a few minutes. This adds a bit of complexity to the systems. Also, the engineering margins on a rocket are going to be much smaller. Some materials are designed to be operated close to melting points, or breaking stresses. This is necessary, because something over-engineered will be too heavy to lift off. Running so close to the envelope requires much more careful design, testing, and manufacturing, which all adds to the cost.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33327688)

And you don't think that a trans-oceanic jet aircraft isn't flying at similar kinds of margins? Most of those passenger jets fly very close to the Coffin corner [] in terms of the altitude, airspeed, and wing properties that requires an automated flight system to keep the pilot from killing everybody on board. Modern aviation pulls a whole bunch from rocket science including engines that also have to push the envelope in terms of temperatures and weight. If anything, I would argue that airliners have to be more complex than a rocket engine, and the fact that the engines have to run much longer gives them much more time for failure.

The main thing that makes a rocket engine so complex is the pump used to cram fuel into the engine bell. This is what makes most "rocket scientists" mainly a bunch of glorified plumbers, and the gem of any quality rocket motor is this pump. Otherwise, the basic mechanics of getting into space is pretty straight forward. While acceleration is a factor, many aircraft are rated for g-forces that are at least on the order of what you would find in most rockets... so again I don't think it is as big of a deal as is made.

The big thing is the oxidizer, which must be carried up with the rocket unlike an airplane. If a 747 had to carry the oxygen necessary for a trip to Sydney, a fair bit of the cargo space would be eaten up with the oxygen tanks or whatever oxidizer would be used in that situation.

Another thing that makes rockets so stinking expensive is that they pretty much have to work the first time you light them up. It is in this area that I think rockets that don't necessarily have to push the envelope as hard on the bleeding edge of performance could significantly drop their costs, especially if you could get to the point where you "build a little, test a little, fly a little", and then take the results of that testing and make another iteration in the engine design. That is not happening right now, where rocket motors are so much on that bleeding edge of development trying to squeeze out that last bit of ISP performance that they destroy the engines after every use.... sort of like what happens when you run a drag racing engine. What is needed is an engine like found in a Chevy Truck: cheap, simple to fix, and reliable. I do believe that rocket engines could be built with a similar kind of performance objective. The Merlin engine on the Falcon rocket family is an attempt to use this basic kind of philosophy in rocket engine design... and SpaceX is hardly the only company trying to do that either or from my perspective necessarily the best at it. But SpaceX has finished the engine and has gone into orbital spaceflight already. My hat is off to them for that fact.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (3, Insightful)

tsotha (720379) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323080)

"It's ooooooold" is relevant to fashion, but not so much to engineering. The shuttle was a blind alley that set us back thirty years and untold billions. It's time to get the space program back on track, and that means capsules.

Re:It's SO GREAT! (1)

BraksDad (963908) | more than 4 years ago | (#33329444)

yeah but... the shuttle is COOL. It still draws a crowd on launch day.

The reason why people keep reinventing wheels (2, Insightful)

voss (52565) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323122)

Wheels are simple and they work. Cheap and good enough beats state of the art everytime.
What SpaceX is trying to do is move away from expensive overly complicated launchers to
simpler more reliable less expensive ones.


Re:It's SO GREAT! (2, Interesting)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | more than 4 years ago | (#33324528)

we really need to be reinventing the shuttles as they are reusable, sustainable, and have much more cargo space.

Wrong on nearly all counts: yes, shuttles are (sort of) reusable, but they have a finite lifetime (a few dozen launches) and they require so much refurbishing that they might as well be rebuilt from scratch. Not quite sure how you measure sustainable, but refurbishing a shuttle costs more than building a Saturn V from scratch, so that's not exactly a win. And finally, a Saturn V can put over 100 tons into orbit; the shuttle can only put 19 tons in orbit.

Congrats, repeating what was done 41 years ago.. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33322706)

by the Apollo missions in 1969. I suppose we're going to repeat going back to the moon next as a grand finale.

Re:Congrats, repeating what was done 41 years ago. (5, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33323326)

I suppose we're going to repeat going back to the moon next as a grand finale.

The problem with Apollo 17 was the fact that it was a finale. NASA took some amazing hardware that could go places, and then simply threw it away like yesterday's garbage. There were a number of projects developed with the Apollo Applications Program [] that I believe could have been flown at a sustainable rate with the funds that ended up going to the Space Shuttle.

Admittedly this is with 20/20 hindsight, but for the cost that NASA dumped into the Shuttle program, they could have flown more astronauts, put more tonnage into space (including the construction of something the size of the ISS) and perhaps even reduced the cost of access to space considerably had they simply stuck with the Apollo family of spacecraft over the past 40 years. Even now, all these years later, the Apollo hardware is looking very good and a very elegant design solution to a very tough engineering problem. Compared to the Soyuz spacecraft it still looks sleek, shiny, and modern.... but the Soyuz spacecraft are still flying and the Apollo spacecraft aren't.

The reason why a "splashdown" in the Pacific is being redone here is because it works. If the goal is to get into space and come home safely.... how else do you propose to get the job done? Are you sure that will be cheaper and be ready to fly by next year?

SpaceX is a drag on employment (3, Funny)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 4 years ago | (#33325022)

Clearly NASA could have done the same thing for a billion dollars, thereby creating much-needed high tech jobs for H-1b guest workers looking for a better life here in the US. I don't understand how anyone could celebrate this economic and humanitarian travesty.

Re:SpaceX is a drag on employment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33325948)

i am just happy to see an African-American like Elon come here and make something of himself. An inspiration to all.

Re:SpaceX is a drag on employment (1)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 4 years ago | (#33328718)

Colonialist pig should have stayed in South Africa to be hung upside down, tenderized and bled to death. Its only justice.

Pics! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33325222)

Wow, an article with pics! So it did happen! We're getting a bit more sophisticated than formatted text files now, so HTML is finally getting some use!

Too good to be true? (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 4 years ago | (#33327618)

Question for those in the know: is SpaceX leading a charmed life, or are they just incredibly good at managing their press lately? To hear the press release, this sounds like another home run for SpaceX.

Re:Too good to be true? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#33328934)

SpaceX has been having a string of successes lately. Admittedly they've put in a great deal of effort to get to this point and SpaceX has had its share of failures too.... so don't presume that this string of successes is inevitable either.

One thing I will be saying about SpaceX is that their engineers have been doing their homework and trying desperately not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. If there has been a rocketry related accident report or for that matter any post-mortem report about a launch that is in the public, I'm quite certain that a SpaceX engineer has read that report at some point or another. There also seems to be some very good communication going on between the engineers, which also helps to avoid problems that might fester if they aren't addressed.

In other words, they seem to have the right environment to do some really tough engineering and do it well.

There was certainly some growing pains with the Falcon 1 team, which it should be pointed out was a much smaller company that involved more young engineers with a lack of experience. They still have many of those young engineers, but SpaceX now also has a few "seasoned veterans" sprinkled in to give caution where it is needed.

Hopefully SpaceX doesn't become an ossified engineering shop that gets smug on itself thinking that other groups don't have any good ideas. Unfortunately most of the traditional aerospace companies have done just that.

So where's the progress? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33327970)

Wow, what an amazing use of 50 year old technology.....Not.

misspelling of DROGUE (1)

billdale (1095237) | more than 4 years ago | (#33330488)

"After a few seconds of freefall, the drouge chutes appeared..." It's DROGUE, not DROUGE, for anyone trying to look up the definition. Good info, otherwise.

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