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SpaceX Dragon As Mars Science Lander?

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the get-your-dragon-to-mars dept.

NASA 146

FleaPlus writes "Besides using the SpaceX Dragon capsule to deliver supplies to the ISS this year and astronauts in following years, the company wants to use Dragon as a platform for propulsively landing science payloads on Mars and other planets. Combined with their upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket, 'a single Dragon mission could land with more payload than has been delivered to Mars cumulatively in history.' According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX is working with NASA's Ames Research Center on a mission design concept that could launch in as early as 5-6 years."

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SpaceX, Tesla (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775712)

...The only two companies in the US worth watching today. Probably the two that will save the nation.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775738)

...The only two companies in the US worth watching today. Probably the two that will save the nation.

Seriously. Elon Musk for President?

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775984)

Anybody else bored to death about the 60-year-old technology that somehow keeps making the news?

How about unveiling some of the classified craft from Skunkworks and showing us what _they_ can do. You know, the ones often mistaken for alien spacecraft...

Remember that even the stealth bomber was a classified secret for some 30 years. Until it was de-classified, anybody who reported seeing it was told the usual weather balloon/swamp gas/planet Venus nonsense and discredited. Sound like a familiar pattern?

NASA is so boring because NASA is for public consumption.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776038)

What? Wait... What? Do you even SKIM the summary or comments before you reply?

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

MJMullinII (1232636) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776378)

Yes! I'm tired of hearing from "scientists" -- I want to see what the magicians are doing!!!

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778272)

"Technology without science is magic" My quote, though I don't know if it's original. It is somewhat a re-phrasing of Clarke's Third Law, "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from matic." My assertion is that "sufficiently advanced" brakes the links that science forged to get there, and that even today's technology is magic to someone who has eschewed science.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779712)

Your comment is even worse than the AC's. He's talking about extremely advanced technology. You're talking about unicorn and pixie dust.

Of the two posts, yours should have been anonymous.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776318)

Seriously. Elon Musk for President?

Hell, no. I want Musk right where he is: building spaceships and ensuring the future of the species. He's got too much talent and capital to waste it on some drama contest like the Presidency.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36777054)

...The only two companies in the US worth watching today. Probably the two that will save the nation.

Seriously. Elon Musk for President?

You do know Musk wasn't born in the U.S., don't you? See Article II, Section 1, U.S. Constitution.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777518)

Well, you're gonna have to change that anyway, you know. Otherwise Ahnold won't be able to become president.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

sdguero (1112795) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777208)

Seriously. Elon Musk for President?

From what I've read, that would be a waste of the man's talents. He's an engineer first, CEO second. A good president need only inspire, otherwise they are mostly just a puppet.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777476)

I could certainly think of worse. *cough* W., *cough* Palin *cough* *cough* *cough*

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (-1, Troll)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775804)

Tesla has decided to stop selling its Roadster, and many speculate it is the end of that company.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (3, Informative)

Afforess (1310263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775898)

Speculate being the key word. If you had in fact, read the article, you'd know that the Roadster was primarly a proof-of-concept and they are gearing up production for newer cars, using the technology behind the roadster and the knowledge they gained from building it.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (3, Insightful)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776050)

And not just their own cars, the Model S, either. Tesla's business plan from the beginning was to develop the drive train technology and sell it to big-brand manufacturers. The Roadster -- i.e. the development of this technology -- was the first step. We've now seen the second step with the all-electric RAV4 from Toyota, which uses a Tesla drive train.

Tesla is far from folding, my friend.

Aikon-

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775912)

I heard Intel stopped selling the Pentium, and many speculate it is the end of that company.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775914)

Except for the part where that's not even close to correct. The Tesla Roadster is being discontinued as it was intended as a sort of "break-even proof-of-concept." They are discontinuing it to focus on their new Model S sedan, and their lucrative partnerships with Toyota to build electric Rav4's and with Daimler to build electric ForTwo's.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (3, Informative)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775936)

They can no longer get chassis from Lotus because Lotus updated their design and Tesla isn't going to redesign and recertify such a low volume car when their resources can better be used on the S and providing engineering resources to their OEM customers. The company is not going to fold because they are no longer producing a small number of fairly low profit cars. The roadster was always meant to be a technology demonstration and engineering research platform that just happened to bring in some revenue.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777662)

The roadster wasn't low profit, it was negative profit.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778158)

Per unit or per line? I have no doubt that as a line it was a bust due to the huge R&D cost and small run, but I doubt they lost money on each unit sold.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (2)

Piata (927858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776044)

Bullshit. They are halting production of the Roadster just like they planned so they can focus on Model S production: http://www.technologyblogged.com/technology-news/tesla-halting-roadster-production-focuses-on-model-s [technologyblogged.com]

Why would a company that's doing exactly what they said they would do be shutting down?

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776464)

This is just moderator abuse, plain and simple. Parent is most emphatically NOT a "troll", he's repeating what was a front-page story here on Slashdot within the last two weeks.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776626)

You do realize that a significant number of /. stories [slashdot.org] are trolls themselves right?

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778858)

You do realize that a significant number of /. stories are trolls themselves right?

All Slashdot stories are trolls, for they all bait for comments and pageviews.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776724)

That article is a well known troll.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776936)

Yep, and that story was just as much a troll, if you read the story and the comments you'd know no such thing is happening. Tesla stock short sellers have been banging that drum for over a year when the Tesla contract with Lotus ran out, they said it was the end for sure. Then Tesla renewed the Lotus deal with a bridge contract for some more chassis and opened up a few more stores. Then they developed an electric Rav4 for Toyota, they are selling their battery packs and electronic controls technology to more people than just Daimler and Toyota. But now that the Lotus deal is finally over the story comes back again.

Tesla has a lot going on right now getting its Sedan out, refitting its factory and fulfilling it partner obligations. They certainly have enough cash left to get from now to the Model S launch next year.

Tekfactory

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775900)

Save it from what? Human space flight using chemical rockets will never be anything other than a novelty and one of the largest investors in Tesla is one of the big Japanese automakers (so if Tesla 'saves' the US it will only be by handing part of it over to Toyota).

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776192)

If that is what it takes it sounds fine by me. Better than buying a made in Mexico American car brand.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779186)

Surely your kidding, That Toyota on the dealer lot very likely has more US made parts and sub-assemblies going into the assembly line in Flatrock MI, than any car on the planet except Tesla and Aptera.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776286)

Both heavily funded with tax dollars.

We should just sell both to the Chinese and give everyone a tax cut.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

imric (6240) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779584)

Because everything accomplished by the US or US companies have been funded by tax cuts.

Something?

Anything?

Well, at least with your suggestion I'd be able to afford an extra happy meal every month!

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

holmstar (1388267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779754)

[sarcasm] Yeah, why make anything in the US. We don't want to be a leader in anything anyway. [/sarcasm]

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777000)

I know I've likened fans of private space programs as cult-like, but you're taking it to a whole 'nother level!

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778704)

Lawerenceville plasma physics too. You should see their progress with dense plasma focus.

Re:SpaceX, Tesla (1)

Paracelcus (151056) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779820)

Didn't Tesla stop making the roadster? Not that I could ever have afforded one, nonetheless a very exciting product.

I've got a dragon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775716)

In my pants.

Re:I've got a dragon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775844)

Great idea, since you probably weren't keeping anything useful there.

Re:I've got a dragon (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776770)

Not the first thing I would think of if I felt a burning sensation down there. You might want to go see a doctor.

5-6 years (3, Interesting)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775788)

Sounds like only business issues [xkcd.com] are left then, right?

Re:5-6 years (1)

impaledsunset (1337701) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775932)

These figures should be multiplied by the factor of seriousness of the researches in the field. And this is space exploration we're talking about. That factor is huge.

Re:5-6 years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776146)

Impressive! You've actually managed to out-snark XKCD! Not at his best, perhaps, but you've definitely made an impressive achievement. Bravo!

Re:5-6 years (1)

cabjf (710106) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776236)

Don't forget to take into account that this came from the mouth of Elon Musk.

From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36775822)

"But because the Dragon has a propulsion-based landing system and a much more capable heatshield than the shuttle's, it can land anywhere in the solar system with a solid surface — as long as you can throw it there."

"If the shuttle's level of reliability was acceptable, we could fly astronauts this year."

Ok. Mars, how much?
Will you take a check?

Re:From TFA (1)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775876)

It's been a long time since I inquired about it, but I don't think the shuttle was even capable of getting to the moon, much less Mars.

Re:From TFA (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775970)

The shuttle couldn't really get beyond LEO, let alone anywhere *near* the moon.

Re:From TFA (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776088)

Try "If NASA is willing to take the same risks with SpaceX that it routinely took with the Shuttle..."

The comparison in the article is a little strange, but the AC isn't worried about the comparison, they are talking about a trip to Mars justifying that risk.

Re:From TFA (3, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776114)

The shuttle had the life support endurance capabilities to get into orbit around the moon. What it didn't have was sufficient fuel to do so. Even if it did, it couldn't land there. However, there was probably enough room in the cargo bay to carry a lander and the extra propellant needed for a "flags and footsteps" mission. It would mean modifications to the tanks in the Orbital Maneuvering System (The bulges on either side of the tail fin).

The shuttle does not have the endurance capabilities to get to Mars, nor could it land there if it did.

Re:From TFA (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779400)

NASA did make a study [nasa.gov] of the idea of sending a shuttle to the moon. It was shown to be impractical for many reasons, not the least of which is that the thermal protection system (the heat tiles) couldn't stand the stress levels of a lunar re-entry.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776180)

Fun fact: Back when the shuttle was being designed by committee, it was planned to have lunar and possibly Martian orbit. While the design was never finalized, it would likely have involved 4 SRBs for greater launch weight, plus on-orbit mating with a pre-launched ET; a lander and extended crew habitat would occupy the cargo bay.

Of course, this was later deemed too expensive to pursue, like most of the cool "requirements" of the Shuttle program, so we wound up with a vehicle way more expensive than if we had redesigned it around the capabilities it wound up with.

with a unmaned ship you can get away with a lot mo (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776064)

with a unmaned ship you can get away with a lot more then a maned one.

And the lack of water, food, life support, and other stuff gives you more room for cargo.

Re:with a unmaned ship you can get away with a lot (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776552)

Dragons traditionally don't have manes, although some are sometimes depicted with whiskers.

Re:with a unmaned ship you can get away with a lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776584)

Same AC here. NASA is working on hydroponics [inhabitat.com] . I can't find the link I remember, but there was something the size of a double-wide trailer created over 15 years ago that could support 80% of the nutrients necessary for a crew of three.

Here's detail on a recent ISS experiment [nasa.gov] for validating one type of growing technology (Lada-VPU-P3R). It looks like they've grown barley [sciencephoto.com] . What's next? Space beer?

Re:From TFA (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776994)

"But because the Dragon has a propulsion-based landing system and a much more capable heatshield than the shuttle's, it can land anywhere in the solar system with a solid surface — as long as you can throw it there."

"If the shuttle's level of reliability was acceptable, we could fly astronauts this year."

Ok. Mars, how much? Will you take a check?

PayPal only. Sorry.

Sweet (2)

deadhammer (576762) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775872)

Now this might actually be some good news, after all. With NASA out of the whole "space exploration" game (or at least it will be if the U.S. Congress has anything to say about it) maybe the fantasies about the private sector coming to save us all aren't all libertarian tripe. Looking at pics of the capsule from the article, it looks like they're abandoning the whole over-engineered spaceplane concept and sticking with an Apollo capsule/Soyuz style can filled with electronics. Cheap to build, probably easy to fix and refit for the next flight, and disposable if need be (you wouldn't get it back from Mars, for example). Maybe now that the Shuttle (expensive porkbarrel boondoggle that it was) is out of the picture, NASA can get back to engineering and R&D instead of propping up the same micromanaged bureaucrat-interfered ship for decades on a stretch. Assuming that Congress ever lets them do anything again, ever, of course.

Re:Sweet (1)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776016)

The shuttle had to carry a lot of extra baggage that was only used to get it back to earth. The idea was for a re-usable ship, and the shuttle was re-usable. However it took a lot of re-fitting after each flight. The engines had to be replaced after several uses, the heat shield tiles wore out after a few flights and needed to be replaced, plus other stuff that you'd expect (tires, oil, etc). The Dragon capsule costs a lot less than the shuttle, can be re-usable, and can lift more weight to space per lb of fuel.

Re:Sweet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776230)

Different vehicles for different jobs. The shuttle had a huge payload bay for a manned craft and was good for delivering ISS modules, supplies, deploying and maintaining satellites like Hubble, etc.

It was never meant to be an exploration craft. For that NASA does what makes sense... send a little robot on a big ass rocket. And they're quite good at it.

They're brilliant people and know what they're doing... they just have to be selective about missions and make due with what they have. "Have people walk around on Mars", most unfortunately, just isn't at the top of the list.

But hopefully with the cost effective falcon heavy lift platform and Dragon capsule from SpaceX, they can make it happen in addition to all the other science they do.

Re:Sweet (1)

brim4brim (2343300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776572)

What people forget about NASA is that Space Shuttle and missions to Mars are to keep the public interest to ensure they don't forget about NASA and to ensure it doesn't just get axed completely in the next round of budget cuts. Private sector involvement is nice and all but there is plenty of worthwhile missions that won't fly under a private company.

Re:Sweet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776706)

The shuttle was mis-designed by order of the Air Force to be able to launch spy satellites. Which completely screwed the whole program and caused each launch to cost 10x what it should have.

Re:Sweet (1)

wjsteele (255130) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777816)

It wasn't for spy satellites... when you have people on board, why not use them! It was designed as a launch platform for nukes... which is why the Russians copied it with the Buran. They realized that you could launch that thing and it could drop an array of undetectable nukes anywhere on the planet. Some argue that they could simply track it... but that was impossible at the time because the Shuttle can alter it's own orbit.

Re:Sweet (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778426)

Every time manned spaceflight comes up on /. there's a contingent of people claiming robots can do all of that even better. Personally I like the concept of manned spaceflight, even if I also like that the robots have done.

But your suggested mission for the shuttle could clearly be done better by robots. Yeah, the shuttle can alter its own orbit, but there's no reason a robot craft couldn't do that, too. Plus the shuttle has the 2nd biggest radar (or visible light) cross-section in LEO, only behind the ISS. It's not going anywhere in secret. (The radar cross-section statement is my supposition, but I strongly doubt it's wrong.)

Sooooo (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 3 years ago | (#36775976)

Does this mean they have room for me [slashdot.org] ?

Late news from the Council (2)

xkuehn (2202854) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776172)

The Council of Elders has declared with enthuisiasm our intention to obliterate the creatures from the blue planet in person.

"For to long have these pathetic monsters hidden in the safety of their hellish atmosphere, while their mechanical agents attacked our world," announced K'breel, speaker for the Council. "We shall have revenge for the unprovoked attacks of the past twenty-two years. Most of all we shall have revenge for the Life Day transmission."

When a junior intelligence officer declined to comment, K'breel had him nailed to a yeast-tree by his gelsacs for being a smartass.

(I'm no good, but I do it for the sake of tradition!)

Re:Late news from the Council (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778026)

I, for one, applaud your efforts.

Re:Late news from the Council (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778516)

Too bad their cunning plan failed because they had no immunity to our pathogens - as documented by the Wells Brothers. (Herbert George and Orson)

Re:Late news from the Council (1)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778664)

Well, at least that's better than arriving having grossly misjudging scale just to have the entire battle fleet swallowed by a small dog.

Not just mars (2)

Blackjax (98754) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776092)

One of the things that is really interesting about this is that it can land on pretty nearly any solid surface in the solar system. So while a Mars mission is possible, so are moon landings, scientific payloads to Titan or other Saturnian/Jovian moons, Ceres, etc. Science missions would cost less because they would need to design/test less of the infrastructure for the mission and could instead focus simply on the science equipment itself.

Two questions? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776104)

Dragon can land with a 6,000 lb+ payload on Earth.
So with Mars much thinner atmosphere and slightly lower gravity can the dragon land the same payload? It may need a larger parachute and or carry a lighter payload.
And what did the Vikings weigh? I remember them being a bit large.

Re:Two questions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776220)

It is propulsion landing, not atmosphere drag... am I missing something?

And based on NASA's, the unfueled weight of the Viking Lander is 576kg.

MyLongNickName

Re:Two questions? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776392)

The article didn't have anything about using retros at all. Even if it does I will bet you that they also use a parachute and They will without out a doubt use atmospheric drag. You can not land on a planet with any atmosphere without atmospheric drag in part. Well unless you are using magic or a teleport device which is at this point also magic. Over all the linked article was very short on details.

Re:Two questions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776612)

I believe the article did talk about retro rockets

"But because the Dragon has a propulsion-based landing system and a much more capable heatshield than the shuttle's, it can land anywhere in the solar system with a solid surface — as long as you can throw it there. The Falcon Heavy can throw it pretty much anywhere in the solar system."

-- MyLongNickname

Re:Two questions? (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776772)

You can land on a planet without atmosphere, only needs another way to slow down from cruise speed to orbit and after de-orbit to surface. Parachutes and drag are the actual cheapest choice (in fuel terms), but is not the only one. As example, if you can carry enought fuel you can use powered landing all the way from orbit.

Re:Two questions? (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776792)

SpaceX Dragon page [spacex.com] : "6,000 kg (13,228 lbs) payload up-mass to LEO; 3,000 kg (6,614 lbs) payload down-mass ". Less than that to the Martian surface, I'd expect.

Also interesting is that even being launched on the Falcon 9 rather than the Falcon Heavy, it could have gone a lot higher,: "After separation of the Dragon spacecraft, the second stage Merlin engine restarted, carrying the second stage to an altitude of 11,000 km (6,800 mi)."(SpaceX Updates [spacex.com] Dec. 15, 2010) Of course the only payload of the first Dragon launch was a top-secret wheel of cheese [spacex.com] . Still, the Falcon 9 could just about get the Dragon plus an astronaut or two to geosynchronous transfer orbit (maybe not back again, though.) The Falcon Heavy can lift over five times as much.

Physics (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776134)

How do you get a spacex dragon to Mars orbit in the first place?

Are we expecting the Centauri to show up to give us jumpgate technology

Re:Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776164)

How do you get a spacex dragon to Mars orbit in the first place?

Can't the Falcon 9 Heavy launch it there? The LEO payload would seem large enough to either send it directly to Mars or launch it with a suitable upper stage.

Re:Physics (2)

PeterBrett (780946) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776196)

How do you get a spacex dragon to Mars orbit in the first place?

Using the (collosal) SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. I know that R'ing TFM is not fashionable here, but seriously...

Re:Physics (1)

Blackjax (98754) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776210)

The same way we've gotten every other science payload to Mars. The only difference here would be that the Falcon Heavy would be far cheaper on a per pound delivered basis than the launchers used previously.

Re:Physics (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776574)

Point it there. Means less payload then going to GTO.

This is rocket science, so it is slightly more complicated than that, but for some value of works, it works.

Private Development (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776308)

Elon Musk FTFA:

Personally, my view is that space transport overall should be much more of a private-public partnership, and that applies to heavy lift as well.

This. Commercial spaceflight hasn't really taken off because there hasn't been a financial reason for it to. On the other hand, NASA has a massive budget that only requires a scientific, not financial, return on investment.

The advantage is competition. With NASA having massive government resources and doing its development in-house, it ends up with inefficient designs like the shuttle, since there isn't the private sector's focus on results, or at least not since the moon landing. Its no coincidence that the Apollo missions made great strides in short time: by having a set goal that NASA was being pushed towards, they were forced to innovate. Since then, however, there has been very little drive to advance spaceflight. Hence, we were still using 40+ year old, and very expensive, tech.

Once you introduce private sector development, NASA can shop around for the best deal. This means that SpaceX is competing against Russia, etc, so they are forced to keep their development costs low while maintaining high safety records. If they didn't, NASA would simply go elsewhere. This kind of competition is highly effective for developing technology. Witness what happened to Intel after AMD released the Athlon 64: massive gains in speed and technology withing just a few years. Hopefully, something similar happens here too. This shouldn't be the end of the American space program, it should be the beginning of the effective American space program.

Compared to the Saturn V... (2)

Entropius (188861) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776320)

Per TFA, the Falcon Heavy has half the payload capacity (to the Moon) of a Saturn V.

So it's a lot better than what we have now, but not as good as what we had 45 years ago. Got it.

How does the cost of one of these things compare with a Saturn V (were one to be built today), I wonder?

Re:Compared to the Saturn V... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776370)

How does the cost of one of these things compare with a Saturn V (were one to be built today), I wonder?

If I remember correctly, the Falcon 9 Heavy is expected to be sub-$200,000,000 while the Saturn V would be about $2,000,000,000.

Re:Compared to the Saturn V... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36776450)

Falcon X and XX -- http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=space&id=news/asd/2010/08/05/07.xml&headline=SpaceX%20Unveils%20Heavy-Lift%20Vehicle%20Plan

If they keep with their $/kg LEO goals... better bang for the buck than SV

Re:Compared to the Saturn V... (3, Insightful)

Karrde45 (772180) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777838)

According to Wikipedia: "In 1969, the cost of a Saturn V including launch was US $ 185 million (inflation adjusted US$ 1.11 billion in 2011)." According to SpaceX (projections, since obviously FH hasn't flown yet): "With Falcon Heavy priced at $80-125M per launch SpaceX has the potential to provide the US government significant value" So 1/2 the performance at 1/10th the cost.

Re:Compared to the Saturn V... (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778230)

Well, the tools and technology to build a Saturn V are long gone (some with good riddance), but a similar vehicle in terms of lift capacity, the ARES V, was going to cost about $35 billion. A Falcon Heavy is expected to cost about $100 million. Granted that's per launch cost and not total development cost, but that's Elon's headache. Is the cost of developing your own heavy lift worth the 350 launches you could do if you bought Falcon Heavies? It has been estimated that it would cost $350 million to launch an ARES V. For that, you get three launches of a Falcon Heavy. If these estimates turn out to be close, it doesn't make sense economically for NASA to build its own. heavy launch vehicle.

Re:Compared to the Saturn V... (1)

Blackjax (98754) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779172)

Actually, $350 million is the optimistic side of the possible range and the issue of how the per flight costs would have played out is highly contentious. At the pessimistic end it was as high as 1.5 billion *per flight*. Nobody really knows what would have happened. Part of the problem is that there are high fixed costs that are amortized across the total number of flights. If you fly 6 times a year your per flight costs are much more moderate than if you fly once. This is part of the reason the shuttle remained so expensive to fly. Pessimists assume that Ares V would have only flown once or twice a year, optimists assumed much higher flight rates and NASA funding levels which could have supported that. As we are seeing happen now in the budget wrangling, the evidence does seem to favor the pessimists. Unfortunately a zombie resurrection of Ares V in the form of the SLS is stumbling around NASA trying to feed on any healthy viable programs it comes across.

Design Reuse (1)

jpvlsmv (583001) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776542)

If there's one thing that bugs me about NASA, it's their reluctance to reuse successful designs, in favor of starting a new (unproven) platform. I know they build "on the shoulders of the men who went before", but it seems like there's a lot of NIH in their projects.

We've had 2 rovers on Mars that exceeded their design lifespan by an order of magnatude, and have provided a lot of useful science. Why not spend the small amount of money to manufacture a dozen more on the same design, and drop them onto mars? Heck, how would that same design function on the moon? Or on Europa?

Instead, a lot more money is spent on designing the "next generation" rover platform that won't be ready to launch for 8 years.

Why not build a 2nd hubble telescope while the JWST is still being designed? Why did we spend 30 years not building reusable orbital craft (aka space shuttles) when all it would take is to follow an existing blueprint? (Not to mention abandoning the Apollo/Saturn platform for manned spaceflight)

Of course, I am not a rocket scientist, and I'm not a political administrator trying to justify NASA's budget, but wouldn't it make sense to keep doing what has worked?

--Joe

Re:Design Reuse (1)

notsoanonymouscoward (102492) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776842)

The next generation rover Curiosity is launching around the end of November 2011. It makes the existing rovers look like rc cars. Having said that, I agree that along with bigger / better Curiosity, they should have considered a half dozen Spirit clones with different science packages. Though the issue isn't the cost of the rover, but delivering it. Its not cheap. I'd rather see the funding after Curiosity put towards a sample return mission.

Re:Design Reuse (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776858)

Because congress forbids it. NASA has little control over its own budget. It probably would've cost less and worked out better if they could have manufactured a few dozen identical Spirit/Opportunity rovers with a few changes to the instrument packages and drop them all in different spots around the Martian globe. But congress authorized only two. Subsequent rovers get carved up in committee. Congressman A will vote for it, but only if a favored software company in their district gets to write the control software, Congresswoman B will vote for it, but only if the solar panels are manufactured in her district, etc. The end result is NASA only winds up being an efficient means for the distribution of pork to various congresscritter's preferred contractors, and can seldom reuse designs.

Re:Design Reuse (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776896)

Heck, how would that same design function on the moon?

Poorly. Lunar dust is a real bastard to deal with... for example, the Apollo astronauts had to keep cleaning it off the Lunar Rover so that it wouldn't overheat.

Or on Europa?

Not at all. There's nowhere near enough sunlight at that distance so you'd need an RTG or much larger panels.

Why not build a 2nd hubble telescope while the JWST is still being designed?

Presumably because someone might notice that building an entire new telescope cost less than a shuttle servicing mission?

Not to mention abandoning the Apollo/Saturn platform for manned spaceflight)

Saturn V was abandoned because it cost $2,000,000,000 a flight and NASA couldn't afford that. The shuttle, of course, ended up costing $2,000,000,000 a flight with a third of the payload.

Of course, I am not a rocket scientist, and I'm not a political administrator trying to justify NASA's budget, but wouldn't it make sense to keep doing what has worked?

The problem is that there aren't many things that have worked well, and many of them -- like the Mars Rovers -- work well in one environment but would work badly or not at all in a different environment.

Re:Design Reuse (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776964)

But NASA is following your suggestion on thenew Mars Science Laboratory, but not exactly making a copy. As an example, their idea of using an RTG is better than using solar panels (to be independent of sunlight to energy) and certainly they thought about it based on experience with the Spirit.

Re:Design Reuse (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779844)

You miss the GP's point. MSL is a totally different beast to the MER rovers, there's no hardware or design overlap whatsoever. And it requires a totally new, totally unique landing system because of the weight. Consequently, it's over-budget, behind schedule, and after JWST gets cancelled, it may be next on the chopping block. And they are only building one of it, not even a pair like Spirit/Opportunity. So if it does work, they'll have thrown away all that work, and all that money, on a single rover.

(And that's the biggest lesson from MER, always have a spare. Spirit had problems (stuck wheel, then got bogged, then froze), but because Opportunity rolled on, so the program as a whole continued successfully. Compared to the Phoenix lander, which had problems from the beginning, diminishing the whole program.)

Likewise Hubble. They had a design that worked (eventually). The cost of Hubble was about $1b. The cost of the JWST has blown out to $6.5b. If you could get the cost of Hubble clones down to $500m apiece, you could have a pair doing long baseline optical interferometry (the only new, and therefore risky, technology being the interferometer) in an ISS-friendly orbit for a $1b. You could even have one attached to the ISS (the only risky tech being the attachment, and vibration dampening) for half a $b. You could have tested the Webb's flower-petal thing five years ago by attaching one to a Hubble-clone (the only risk being the flower-petal thing. And if you prove it, you can then standardise it and upgrade all the other Hubbles with it.)

NASA used to know this stuff. Surveyors, Mariners, Pioneers. Vikings, Voyagers. Mercury/Gemini/Apollo.

Incremental development and improvement. Learn your craft, then take one more risk, solve that, then one more...

Re:Design Reuse (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777796)

Three reasons:
1) NASA gets paid to do *new* things. Regardless of the science gains, sending another copy of the same rover to Mars is hard to sell to Congress. Especially since congresscritters don't understand that Olympus Mons and Hellas Basin are different places.

2) The cost of launch vehicles is so high that there's less economy of scale gained by mass-producing space probes. Other space resources, like deep-space communications dishes and plutonium fuel, are also very limited, which forces an emphasis on quality over quantity.

3) Many spacecraft *do* reuse components, concepts, and software, even if the overall spacecraft is "new".

Hard problems often need new technology (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779202)

If there's one thing that bugs me about NASA, it's their reluctance to reuse successful designs, in favor of starting a new (unproven) platform.

You have a valid point but in their defense a lot of what NASA does involves things that push the frontiers of engineering and science. Often there is no successful design to work from. There is a lot of talk about the James Webb telescope in the news right now. That program pushes the boundaries of our engineering capabilities. Off the shelf isn't really an option. A lot of the value of NASA comes directly from them inventing new things. Numerous multi-billion dollar industries have come from technology developed at NASA. Part of the reason the shuttle program was such a boondoggle was specifically because it took away much of the reason for NASA to think hard about solving new problems.

Not that TFA actually says that... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36776934)

Well, the summary claims it - but nowhere in the article is propulsive landing on Mars mentioned.
 
Not that I believe it probable. The problem with landing heavy payloads to date has been that Mars' atmosphere is too thin to land ballistically/aerodynamically, and it's gravity too high to land propulsively. I don't see offhand that the Dragon's payload is sufficient to overcome this.

Re:Not that TFA actually says that... (1)

Blackjax (98754) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779262)

Elon has publicly directly stated that it can and produced a video showing it happening, what more proof do you want?

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2011/05/03/nasa-send-dragon-mars/ [parabolicarc.com]

http://weirdthings.com/2011/04/did-space-x-just-show-its-secret-plans-for-a-mission-to-mars/ [weirdthings.com]

Why not the moon! (1)

stacybro (757940) | more than 3 years ago | (#36777912)

I don't get it. Why mars? How much more science could you do in 6 short hops to the moon vs. 1 monster hop to mars? Then once moon trips become commonplace you start to build manufacturing facilities and build your big components there. Just haul out of this big gravity pit that is the earth the things you cannot get or build easily there like electronics, some raw materials and mostly people. Once you are building things there you don't have to worry about escaping earth's gravity and I would think things could get lots more efficient. I think that it kinda sucks that once we got there we didn't stay there.

Landing on Mars (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778260)

Does anyone know if SpaceX has published a plan for how they intend to actually land the capsule on Mars?

Landing such a large mass on a planet with such a thin atmosphere is not a trivial engineering problem. There is not a hell of a lot of gas to brake against upon atmospheric entry, air bags become more complicated for such large masses, and get-ups similar to the sky-crane and retro-rockets tend to be expensive and complex. Has anyone heard SpaceX's idea on solving this particular problem?

If so, could you provide a linky?

Re:Landing on Mars (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778582)

From the SpaceX updates page:

SpaceX has proposed an integrated launch abort system design, which has several advantages over the tractor tower approaches
used by all prior vehicles:
Provides escape capability all the way to orbit versus a tractor system, which is so heavy it must be dumped about four minutes after liftoff.
Improves crew safety, as it does not require a separation event, whereas any non-integral system (tractor or pusher), must be dumped on every mission for the astronauts to survive.
Reduces cost since the escape system returns with the spacecraft.
Enables superior landing capabilities since the escape engines can potentially be used for a precise land landing of Dragon under rocket power. (An emergency chute will always be retained as a backup system for maximum safety.)

So basically, since they have to design a rocket system to propel the capsule anyways, they figure they might as well go ahead and make it flyable. Eventually, they would like to be able to land it on a pad instead of splashing down in the ocean.

Re:Landing on Mars (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778606)

See also this video they produced:

http://spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=58 [spacex.com]

Re:Landing on Mars (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779452)

Thank you.

Best Quote From the Article (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778296)

Straight from the mouth of Elon Musk himself:

But the absolute goal of SpaceX is to develop the technologies to make life multiplanetary, which means being able to transport huge volumes of people and cargo to Mars.

Who said the U.S. doesn't have any vision for space anymore? What country is Mr. Musk developing his business in?

:D

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