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SpaceX Tries Out Its New SuperDraco Rocket Engine

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the smersh-approves dept.

Space 118

cylonlover writes "SpaceX, the California company that is developing the reusable Dragon spacecraft, recently test-fired its new SuperDraco engine. Presently, the Dragon capsule is equipped with less-advanced Draco engines, which are designed for maneuvering the spacecraft while in orbit and during reentry. The SuperDraco, however, is intended to allow the astronauts to escape if an emergency occurs during the launch."

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Impressive (4, Interesting)

Covalent (1001277) | about 2 years ago | (#38905049)

Seems like several times a year now we are hearing about SpaceX successes - and few if any failures. They are scheduled to begin testing and then delivering cargo to the Space Station within the next year. It will be able to launch cargo to the space station at about 1/10th the cost (around $50 million as opposed to nearly $500 million) as the space shuttle.

Perhaps all that talk of a moon base, trips to Mars, etc. aren't that far-fetched after all.

Re:Impressive (5, Informative)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#38905239)

Actually their first ISS rendezvous mission was scheduled for this month, but it recently got postponed to March. On this first mission they will only "berth" with ISS, rather than docking. (They'll fly up close enough so that the ISS manipulator arm can grapple the Dragon capsule and haul it in.) If that goes well, they'll be allowed to actually dock with ISS on the next flight.

And you're right, they are already underselling every other vendor on the launch market. Even the Chinese say they can't possibly beat SpaceX's price-per-pound to orbit.

Re:Impressive (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 2 years ago | (#38905451)

The Chinese will soon "learn" the secrets to mimic SpaceX's techniques. Supposedly there was a British company with a reusable launch vehicle that were claiming to have even lower costs than SpaceX's- but they were only in the feasibility stage with ESA last year. If they can actually get past that and to the launch stage we could have a real healthy battle going on. Although- knowing Britain- the unions will somehow get involved and tripple the costs- and then it will never get built- or the Germans will build it instead.

Several companies appear to be in the game now- will be interesting to see if SpaceX continue with the mammoth lead over the next decade.

Re:Impressive (4, Informative)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#38905539)

That would be Skylon, they've been at it for years on minuscule amounts of funding, trying to develop a revolutionary engine that can use atmospheric oxygen for the first part of the ascent. They can trace their roots back to HOTOL. What they need is a billionaire investor.

Re:Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38905865)

German manufacturing is also highly unionized.

Re:Impressive (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 2 years ago | (#38906939)

Maybe so, but somehow a large chunk of manufacturing companies that leave Britain (and stay in Western Europe) seem to relocate to Germany for one reason or another.

Re:Impressive (4, Insightful)

demachina (71715) | about 2 years ago | (#38906741)

SpaceX is specifically avoiding patenting any of their innovations because they are well aware the Chinese would just use the patents as a guide to copy and steal their technology. Assuming they can keep their networks secure and they don't have any rogue employees selling their secrets they have a reasonable chance of keeping their less obvious, more technical, innovations from the Chinese at least for a time. SpaceX's fairly compact operations and work force along with avoidance of third party suppliers also reduces somewhat the potential for secrets being stolen.

Never really understood why clueless western politicians let China in to the WTO when it was so obvious that IP theft was at the core of their plan to bury the west.

Re:Impressive (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 2 years ago | (#38908279)

Never really understood why clueless western politicians let China in to the WTO when it was so obvious that IP theft was at the core of their plan to bury the west.

They let China into the WTO so they had some way of at least partially controlling them. You think the Chinese are incapable of sifting through the US Patent Office's public online records without being WTO members?

Re:Impressive (2)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38911281)

They should have either not been allowed in to WTO if they were going to continue rampant IP theft since I'm pretty sure its frowned on under WTO protocols, or they should have been subjected to trade barriers preventing them from selling their products based on stolen IP in the West.

The West pretty much bent over for them, let them steal all their IP, removed all the trade barriers for goods coming out of China, while letting China retain massive barriers preventing western goods and companies from entering China or if they did it was with crippling restrictions (like Chinese partners with the controller interest of the joint venture).

It was a policy designed to insure the destruction of most western economies and thats pretty much exactly what it did, Germany being one of the few survivors. Makes you wonder whose side those politicians were on when the let China in to WTO.

Kind of a moot point now since China's stolen nearly everything worth stealing at this point outside of a few high tech bastions like CPU's, some software, aircraft and jet engines. China has pretty much made the great leap in many fields now and is starting to innovate domestically.

Re:Impressive (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913325)

And yet, China continues to cheat at everything that WTO stands for. Basically, giving them WTO, constrains the west, but China just flaunts it. And having given them perm. MFN is destroying America. At this point, America should implement scaled tariffs, esp. against China. [americanthinker.com] Interestingly, WTO not only makes it legal, but encourages it. Only fools, or those wanting to destroy either America or the west, would oppose it.

Re:Impressive (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#38908905)

Well spoken, Bruce.

From what I've seen online, I gather that SpaceX is very aware their IP risks, and take steps to minimize such leaks. I hope it works for them.

Re:Impressive (2)

GigaplexNZ (1233886) | about 2 years ago | (#38909339)

Hopefully SpaceX will eventually patent their technology so it isn't lost forever if/when the company goes out of business.

Re:Impressive (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913329)

And what makes you think that they will go out of business?
Also, iff they go out of business, then the tech would be sold off to pay off their debt.

Re:Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38910437)

"SpaceX is specifically avoiding patenting any of their innovations..."

"innovations" huh?
Care to share with some of us non-shills what these "innovation" might be? Not the blueprints necessarily, but just a summary?
Rockets haven't changed that much in 70 years.
I am heartened by the enterprising spirits of our best and brightest however, eschewing rewarding offers from the likes of NASA, JPL, Boeing, Lockheed,...and deciding to gamble with a failed electric car hack.

Re:Impressive (1)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38911241)

An innovation specifically referenced was a major advance in the PICA-X heat shield on Dragon which should allow hundreds of reentries without needing to be replaced. Good article here [airspacemag.com] where I read it.

Re:Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38912377)

Interesting article that really raised more questions about SpaceX's claims than answers them.

Off handed suggestion that the Saturn-V F-1 engine as somehow explosion prone, yet the Saturn rocket had a nearly spotless launch record, unlike the 60% failure rate of the SpaceX Falcon1/Merlin [wikipedia.org] .

PICA (phenolic impregnated carbon ablator) already exists. SpaceX claims to be able to make it for 10% of the cost. This sounds like basically carbon fiber, a fairly standard material. I simply don't buy their 90% cost reduction on this fairly standard material.
I wonder if SpaceX have also shaved 90% cost on chromoly-X, titanium-X, gold-X, ...

So far SpaceX has invented nothing. No wonder they haven't filed any patents for the Chinese to copy.

Elon Musk is portrayed as some kind of metallurgy/welding expert in the article.
I'm sorry, I've seen this guy talk, he simply don't come across as knows it "down to the gnat’s ass".
Talks too slow and stiff as if afraid to stray from the script.

I see SpaceX brought their shill in "former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern" on board.
If there is one guy who ought to know the nuts and bolts of rocketry it would be a "former NASA associate administrator".
I'd be surprised if this guy can change a flat tire.

Re:Impressive (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913533)

You make too big a deal out of their F1s. The 3 failures were caused due to corrosion (changed bolts), early end of second stage engine (added baffles to the tanks), and first stage colliding with 2'nd stage (changed some parameters in the software). All minor items.

If Musk can figure out a new way to mine minerals, then yes, it would be possible to lower their costs. Why do you call spaceX liars WRT pica-X?

Well, as for not inventing anything, then do not sweat it. There is NO reason for China or anybody else to want to look into their goods. Of course, actions speak MUCH louder than an AC's words.

As to your condemnation of both Musk, well, musk owns multiple companies that change the world. How many would a coward like yourself own? As to stern, well, he is just one of a number of ppl.

Re:Impressive (1)

turgid (580780) | about 2 years ago | (#38907307)

Although- knowing Britain- the unions will somehow get involved and tripple the costs- and then it will never get built- or the Germans will build it instead.

No, there will be a hostile take-over of the company by a greedy and corrupt competitor or venture capital firm that will asset-strip the company, pay the new board of directors vast salaries, bonuses and share issues, meanwhile radically cutting back the workforce and letting the company fail.

The bankrupt remains of the company will then be sold off to the Chinese.

Practically no one is in a union any more because they're too scared of being labelled as a Militant.

Re:Impressive (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 2 years ago | (#38908035)

Is that true? I thought unions were still quite powerful in the UK.

Re:Impressive (1)

turgid (580780) | about 2 years ago | (#38908485)

No, Maggie Thatcher routed them back in the 1980s.

Re:Impressive (4, Informative)

Mercano (826132) | about 2 years ago | (#38905475)

No, berthing is to be standard operating procedure for cargo flights; Common Berthing Mechanism [wikipedia.org] connectors, such as the one found on the nose of the Dragon, don't have any of the shock absorbers required for docking. As it also requires the Canada arm to unberth, CBM isn't well suited for manned flights, as in an evacuation scenario, there'd be no one left on the station to operate the arm, so crewed version of the Dragon will probably feature either APAS [wikipedia.org] or NDS/LIDS [wikipedia.org] docking connectors. CBM is preferred for cargo transfer, however, because it has a larger hatch, big enough to move fully assembled equipment racks through them. Japan's HTV cargo vehicles are also berthed via Canada Arm.

Re:Impressive (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#38905663)

Thanks for the clarification. I knew there was some distinction between this and future crewed flights, but apparently I got the details wrong.

Re:Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38905973)

Why did they not built the docking shock absorbers into the ISS? You put the mass up ONCE, not every flight.

Re:Impressive (4, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | about 2 years ago | (#38906275)

Usually they do this by adding a small module for docking. IIRC the space shuttle specifically had to carry along a docking module in the front of the cargo bay if they wanted to dock the shuttle. In that case the module was on the craft not the station. I suppose they could just make a little extension module for it.

But remember the current setup is an international standard that everyone is designing around. So your idea may just plain be suggested too late. Imagine the amount of testing that goes into such a critical system as a docking apparatus? It's probably one of the most difficult and critical things up there. Not only does a failure risk BOTH vessels and all the crew aboard both, but it has to be able to handle mechanical stress between two very large masses. So I bet they're not too enthusiastic about redesigning it once they've got something they're satisfied with.

Re:Impressive (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38907555)

Actually they did. It's just that the design puts absorbers on both halves.

There both are androgynous and non-androgynous connector designs.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacecraft_docking_and_berthing_mechanism

The androgynous designs let you dock with anything using the same connector. You don't have to match male-female. That means you can meet up with another shuttlecraft and dock with it - but in that case you both need shock absorbers so that you can be sure that at least one of you has them.

Both sides having them also means that each party only has to absorb half the force, which means smaller lighter longer lasting shock absorbers.

Re:Impressive (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913559)

These will be replaced each and every time. If these fails, the damage to the node could, and likely would, be extensive.

Re:Impressive (5, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#38906705)

Canadarm! Canadarm! One word!

Lovely post, thank you for the info, but just gotta correct the name because "Canadarm" is an awesome name for an awesome piece of equipment.

Side note to anyone from DARPA listening: When you build your first orbital weapon, please call it the "Americannon". You don't have to give me anything for the name! It's yours! A Distinguished Service award or somesuch would be nice though...

Re:Impressive (4, Interesting)

EdZ (755139) | about 2 years ago | (#38907491)

Best thing about the Canadarm: the manipulator is attached with a series of frangible nuts ('explosive bolts' to the rest of us), so in the event of an uncontrolled swing while holding an object the manipulator can be jettisoned to prevent it crashing into the station.

Yes, the ISS can rocket-punch.

Re:Impressive (3, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#38908411)

On this first mission they will only "berth" with ISS, rather than docking. (They'll fly up close enough so that the ISS manipulator arm can grapple the Dragon capsule and haul it in.) If that goes well, they'll be allowed to actually dock with ISS on the next flight.

I had understood that they were planning on carrying some ISS consumables up this flight, on the assumption that they'll succeed.

If they do succeed, they've delivered their first cargo to ISS. If they fail, nothing really important lost (the cost of the consumables is peanuts next to the cost of the launch).

They are also, as I understand it, planning on delivering a couple small satellites to orbit on the same launch....

Re:Repressive (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38905783)

The British Royals keep trying to persuade the American people how a bigger government is bad, so a smaller government which would be incapable of regulating those evil corporations is good. And to privatize all aspects of governing to the NeoCons, so tax dollars are funneled to these Royal family controlled companies. Go Tea Party, Go NeoCons, Go British Royals, Go Patriots, Go Romney, Go Over-Lords, Go Lords, tax the shit out of those stupid peasants.

Re:Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38907143)

Disintegrating totem poles. Just what Manned Space Flight doesn't need.

Re:Impressive (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#38907603)

Seems like several times a year now we are hearing about SpaceX successes - and few if any failures.

That's because most of things you hear about are things like this engine test that would simply be swept under the rug if they didn't go right. I.E. minor 'successes' spun for PR value. When it comes to real successes, like their launch record, the situation isn't nearly so pretty.

It will be able to launch cargo to the space station at about 1/10th the cost (around $50 million as opposed to nearly $500 million) as the space shuttle.

It'll also only lift a little under a quarter of the mass the Shuttle can. It also cannot deliver external cargo (I.E. cargo for the station exterior) any larger than a small suitcase. It can't reboost the station like the Shuttle can. It can't provide free water to the station like Shuttle can. It can't deliver modules. It can't deliver crew at the same time as it delivers cargo, which increases your total program risk because now you need five Dragon launches to (incompletely) replace one Shuttle flight. etc... etc...
 
Or, to put it in the terms of Slashdot's favorite form of analogy - the Dragon is a subcompact. The Shuttle is a full sized pickup truck. Nobody sober and in full possession of their senses would confuse a subcompact and a pickup truck.
 
Lose the goddamn Wal-Mart mentality, there's more to consider than just cost.

Re:Impressive (2)

Outlander Engine (827947) | about 2 years ago | (#38908937)

You are not making a fair comparison. The dragon capsule is for delivering goods. For delivering "modules" you would use something else.

VEHICLE - PAYLOAD TO LEO
Falcon Heavy - 53,000 kg
Space Shuttle - 24,400 kg
Falcon 9 - 10,450 kg

http://www.spacex.com/falcon_heavy.php [spacex.com]

In short, it's a more than adequate replacement. To use your car analogy, the Space Shuttle was an El Camino (with flames) kept long past its prime, and the SpaceX offerings are more like the rental flatbed trucks from the local U-Haul.

Re:Impressive (4, Informative)

manoweb (1993306) | about 2 years ago | (#38909047)

Only two words: Falcon Heavy. It's being assembled and will hopefully launch by the end of the year. Twice the payload of the Shuttle.

Hope it's Not Vaporware (0)

sanman2 (928866) | more than 2 years ago | (#38911381)

I'm glad Elon Musk is such an inventive individual, but I'm worried that new promises come flying out of his mouth faster than he delivers on existing commitments. Sometimes it seems like he has ADHD.

It seems like it would be more credible if he were to slow down on the new promises, and give his organization time to fufill existing commitments.

Re:Hope it's Not Vaporware (2)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913195)

You mean like when he had yet to get Falcon 1 reliable, yet to even build Falcon 9 and he was talking about building Dragon? I scolded him similarly when he first announced dragon for just what you said, but i was wrong.
He did deliver on those promises, now he's planning the next phase and talking about it. Would you prefer he kept things secret?
As an example in the branch of engineering I work (ASIC design) it can easily take 4 years from "hey this is a cool idea, let's draw it on the whiteboard" to it being in a product I can buy in a shop. SpaceX are doing proper mechanical engineering and safety critical stuff to which takes a lot longer; yet they are delivering in about 6 years from "hey this is a cool idea" to selling it to customers. Personally I'm impressed with how fast they are doing it and so far they have yet to fail to deliver the product, they've been a bit behind schedule sure but they have delivered (but with modern NASA involved, a bit behind is early) .

Re:Impressive (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38912581)

now you need five Dragon launches to (incompletely) replace one Shuttle flight. etc... etc.

Well, at 1/10th the price, that still sounds like it's half the cost.

Close to home (5, Interesting)

Moheeheeko (1682914) | about 2 years ago | (#38905069)

My dad works at the airforce base where they are going to try to launch and land this thing, apparently the goal is to land it right back onto the launch pad it started from, or at least thats what they guys on base are saying.

Re:Close to home (4, Informative)

Moheeheeko (1682914) | about 2 years ago | (#38905159)

Specificly this launch pad

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandenberg_AFB_Space_Launch_Complex_4 [wikipedia.org]

Re:Close to home (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 2 years ago | (#38905471)

I think they're planning to do the launch of the Falcon Heavy [wikipedia.org] from Vandenberg sometime in 2013. I'm not sure if this has anything specifically to do with their plans for reusability, though I'm sure they'd like all their rockets to be reusable eventually.

Re:Close to home (1)

Moheeheeko (1682914) | about 2 years ago | (#38905751)

Either way, im just stoked at the chance of having a front row seat for this launch, though would probably be more awesome to see it land as its supposed to.

Re:Close to home (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913633)

My understanding is that they will not be trying a powered landing on the first launch. The reason is that the super dracos are not built into the capsules yet. HOWEVER, assuming that it was, that would mean that dragon was ready for human launches, though it might require multiple tests and launches.
The reason is that SpaceX has everything else ready for the conversion of dragon to human launch: controls and software, seats, and ELCSS.
My understanding is that LIDS is also ready to go.

Propulsive landings... (5, Interesting)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#38905079)

Summary misses the point... yes, they need a launch-abort system to meet NASA's human-rating specs, but the real goal of the SuperDraco engines is to enable propulsive landings with pinpoint accuracy. They claim that a Dragon capsule so-equipped will be able to land on "any surface" in the solar system.

Re:Propulsive landings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38905495)

Even surfaces the engines might melt? Liquid surfaces?

Re:Propulsive landings... (1)

mykepredko (40154) | about 2 years ago | (#38905505)

I know this is facetious, but a statement like the claim "that a Dragon capsule so-equipped will be able to land on "any surface" in the solar system" leads me to wonder about Jupiter and the other gas giants.

Probably a more important capability would be to not only be able to land on any surface in the solar system but to also take off and return to orbit. Has there been any talk about this?

myke

Re:Propulsive landings... (2)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#38905911)

I'd say it's more of an exaggeration than a "facetious" comment. I'm just quoting from SpaceX's PR propaganda... that's why I put the phrase in quotes. Obviously it depends on the conditions, but in theory they have enough delta-V to land on any "hospitable" surface... eg: Mars. (I've seen some scenarios where they use strap-on tanks to increase fuel/payload capacity.)

In any case, it's a pretty cool hack to use side-mount thrusters for launch-abort instead of a tower system (like Apollo). Not only does it allow for propulsive landings, it also lets you abort at any time during the boost phase, not just up the the "tower-jettison" point... making the Dragon capsule the safest ever flown. (in theory...)

Re:Propulsive landings... (2)

mykepredko (40154) | about 2 years ago | (#38906041)

Agreed - although I would call it a design feature (and not a "hack").

I haven't read much on the Dragon, does this mean that the proposed return process is:
1. Re-entry using traditional heat shields,
2. Braking parachutes to reduce speed from supersonic to a few kmhs,
3. SuperDracos for soft touchdown?

I can see that would minimize the damage to the spacecraft significantly compared to a water/ground landing and allow it to be reused much more cheaply and quickly.

myke

Re:Propulsive landings... (3, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#38906379)

Likely.

Recall that the Soyuz [russianspaceweb.com] capsules use essentially the same approach although the 'soft landing engines' are quite a bit less sophisticated than the Super Dracos.

An interesting aside, the Falcon / SuperDraco system could be repurposed to a general non manned lander for Mars, Venus and the other smaller planets. Might make for some 'economies of scale' to have a basic platform that worked.

Re:Propulsive landings... (1)

BZWingZero (1119881) | about 2 years ago | (#38906449)

Its steps one and three. The SuperDracos are to eliminate step two. At least per the video they released a few months back.

SpaceX Reusability [spacex.com]

Re:Propulsive landings... (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#38906587)

But for e.g. Mars, the atmosphere is so thin step 1 will contribute very little delta-V. Are they claiming they can brake from orbital speed to 0?

(SpaceX can be frustratingly vague about such things)

Re:Propulsive landings... (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#38906529)

AFAIK, their plan does not involve parachutes. They use heat shields to reach terminal velocity, then rockets to land from there. (Parachutes are just a backup system in case the rockets fail.)

Re:Propulsive landings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38906531)

In any case, it's a pretty cool hack to use side-mount thrusters for launch-abort instead of a tower system (like Apollo). Not only does it allow for propulsive landings, it also lets you abort at any time during the boost phase, not just up the the "tower-jettison" point... making the Dragon capsule the safest ever flown. (in theory...)

Kind of a spurious comparison---Apollo also could abort at anytime during its boost phase...the tower was jettisoned at the point where, due to thrust levels, atmospheric density, and altitude, the SPS engine could be used for aborts. Similar for Soyuz (as evidenced by Soyuz 18A). Similarly Gemini's retros provided coverage over the altitude above which the ejection seats weren't viable and the design for Orion calls for jettisoning the LAS once the SM aborts can be used.

Historically providing abort coverage over the boost phase was the goal. Now we can argue on the surviability of those aborts, or whether the abort system introduces other system complexities that contribute to Loss of Crew or Loss of Mission. E.G. not jettisoning the tower gets rid of one event for which failure becomes LOM/LOC, but it doesn't add to the abort envelope per say....and of course you have to look at the overall LOM/LOC to decide if the tower jettison is driving things or not.

Re:Propulsive landings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38906811)

The alternate to the Launch About System (LAS) for the Orion capsule was the Max Launch Abort System (MLAS). It was successfully tested at Wallops Flight Facility and had the side-mount engines as opposed to the tower system.

Re:Propulsive landings... (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#38905639)

Any surface or any solid surface? The surface of the moon is a fair bit different than the surface of most of the Earth (water) or the sun, if you can consider it to have a surface.

Re:Propulsive landings... (1)

hey! (33014) | about 2 years ago | (#38907015)

They claim that a Dragon capsule so-equipped will be able to land on "any surface" in the solar system.

In *theory*, sure. But if they tried to land on Mars, the intelligence arm of Mars' Planetary Defense Agency would arrange for the capsule to have one of their trademark "mysterious accidents".

Re:Propulsive landings... (2)

T.E.D. (34228) | about 2 years ago | (#38907967)

Awesome! Land it on the surface of the Sun.

Re:Propulsive landings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38912123)

They claim that a Dragon capsule so-equipped will be able to land on "any surface" in the solar system.

Classic marketing claims.They never will say "slowly land".

Amazing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38905197)

This is like watching Civil War re-enactments by the society for modern anachronisms. Isn't the Space Age as dead as a 19th century coal locomotive? Would anyone get excited if a "private" company was building a large coal-fired boiler and saying "wow, one day we'll be able to do what we did in the past! Glory days!"

Re:Amazing (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#38905529)

Is that you, Hipster Cat?

If the only locomotives in the past were built by huge government programs, cost way too much to operate, and primarily carried just a few select government employees then, yeah, it would be interesting.

It's not the technology (althogh Space X *is* advancing that even if you are unable to recognize it) being reworked here so much as the business case.

If you're so bored, go get an appropriate degree and help advance things.

Re:Amazing (2)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#38906729)

Is SpaceX really advancing the technology? I've gotten the impression that much of what they've done is pick up NASA research and bring it to fruition. That plus they've applied more modern management practices to bring something to market quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. None of that is to denigrate them at all, simply making space access more affordable is a tremendous achievement.

But "cheap" and developing new technologies from scratch don't generally mix well. Once they're established and have a regular revenue stream, I certainly do hope we'll see some new technology development. But that development will probably always be a mix between cost and capability, as opposed to "biggest, fastest, farthest, regardless of the cst."

Re:Amazing (4, Insightful)

tsotha (720379) | about 2 years ago | (#38908171)

But cost is what's keeping more ambitious plans on the drawing board. As Heinlein said, once you're in LEO you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system. We've known how to get to LEO for 60 years now, but we don't do it very often because it costs so damn much. If SpaceX can actually get the cost per kg as low as they plan, it's going to have more effect on human spaceflight than anything we've done since Apollo.

Re:Amazing (1)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#38909957)

I didn't say that cost wasn't important - for now even of primary importance. I agree with you completely on that. I was just taking mild exception to the "technology development" comment in the post I responded to. Right now the space technology we need most is low cost.

Personally, I'd declare a tax holiday on any space-based manufacturing, mining, etc. We're not getting any tax revenue from it today, and it's so dogonned expensive that we're not moving any Earth-based manufacturing up there, unless there are very good reasons for it. I doubt there's much besides automated jewelry making that could be pushed into orbit that could otherwise be done on Earth, and even that seems sketchy to me. (I'm thinking of small, expensive things where weight is less impediment.)

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38910807)

Heinlein was a SCI-FI AUTHOR. He was paid to write down DAYDREAMS. Poorly, at that. He wasn't a physicist, engineer or technician. Who cares what he wrote? It was infantile nonsense then, it's still juvenille now.

Re:Amazing (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#38911069)

Heinlein was a graduate of the naval academy and went on to be a radar technician, so he would have had plenty of engineering. In any event, the quote stands on its own: Whatever his qualifications, he was absolutely right.

Re:Amazing (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913237)

Define advancing technology.
I hate to use a /. car analogy, so let's use a motorbike one instead: When BMW release a new bike that has >190HP vs the competition's approx 185HP is that advancing the technology? When Honda manage to release a bike that is $100 cheaper than the competition because they've managed to improve their manufacturing through better tools and materials tech is that not advancing technology?
It sounds like you'd claim that today's internal combustion engine is no better than the ones being built in 1905, which is not just wrong but comical.

Re:Amazing (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913693)

I'm separating incremental advancements, which SpaceX is doing, as well as Honda and BMW, from leapfrog enhancements. SpaceX is certainly using some leapfrog enhancements, such as their fabrication techniques for the main tanks, but they didn't do the initial development.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with incremental advancements, and improving the practice of existing technology. It's all admirable. I sit on a patent review board where I work. Every inventor is in love with his own ideas, me included. They all consider "good engineering" to be an insult to their inventions. But to call something "good engineering" isn't an insult, it should be a complement. I've heard of places where patent practices are different, and sometimes "good engineering" is set aside in favor using a locally patented solution that may not be as good for the specific application.

Yes, SpaceX is advancing technology. I guess its an issue of calibration, because by some measure everything in space transportation is "advanced technology." But their advances are primarily in the area of total project cost reduction. It's not like they've come up with a new high-thrust ion engine or something.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38906769)

"business case"??? That's why they needed 75M$ from NASA? There is no compelling business case for private space. It's already handled by a few corporations who deal with reality. The delusion that somehow, there's this huge demand to float around in orbit is nuts. This is a hobby project by a few narcissists with lots of money, and nostalgia.

Re:Amazing (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#38908599)

So sit in your basement and fume. Who cares? Meanwhile others will shoot for orbit.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38909771)

Wow! "shoot for orbit!" How grandiose! How important! Did you make a sign of the rocket when you said that?

Re:Amazing (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#38910299)

There is no compelling business case for private space. It's already handled by a few corporations who deal with reality.

LOL, yeah, the existing launch companies are "dealing with reality", but the company that's going to come along and eat their lunch with significantly lower launch costs is delusional.

I doubt you'll see fewer satellites launched once launch costs go down.

And like it or not, NASA wants rockets to go to the ISS with people in them and that's just reality. They'll probably have uses for rockets like the ones SpaceX is building (manned or not) after the ISS program ends, and this is also reality.

I don't think it's SpaceX that's delusional.

Re:Amazing (5, Interesting)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#38905579)

You'd be amazed to learn, then, that there coal-fired boilers have improved quite a bit over the last century, in terms of thermal efficiency (the percentage of heat extracted at high temperature), combustion efficiency (the less CO out the stack, the better), cost of operation (autofeed systems, diagnostics), and durability.

Now, since SpaceX is the only company that has ever made space launches so cheap, I'd hardly call it a "modern anachronism". It has never been done that affordably, ever. They are the first ones who apparently grok how to run an integrated aerospace manufacturing and launch business to control costs and schedules.

Re:Amazing (1)

KeensMustard (655606) | about 2 years ago | (#38906771)

Perhaps what the GP was referring to was the cargo that is, the Dragon capsule is designed to carry cargo to the ISS, which only requires cargo becuase it has humans in it, or to take the humans themselves to the ISS and bring some back.

In other words, it is not Space X that is part of the steam age of space travel, but the cargo they carry to remain profitable, that is, humans. Human oriented space travel is the anachronism.

I'm not at all dismissing what Space X has achieved, it is amazing and quite encouraging to see what can be done by focusing on fit for purpose, rather than increasing the profits of middle men defence contractors. As a stack then, Space X is an achievement. I sincerely hope then, they carry it forward into a delivery system for 'flight age' cargo - robotic and other unmanned probes destined for other planetary bodies.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38910207)

Side topic: How does increased combustion efficiency reduce CO2? Wouldn't it just reduce PM and other waste at the expense of converting more to CO2?

Re:Amazing (2)

kuldan (986242) | about 2 years ago | (#38905711)

Well, if that Coal-Fired Burner is producing Power at 1/10th the price everyone else (producing it using Nuclear, or whatever they have), I would damn well be impressed. Of course we've been to the Moon already, shot stuff to Orbit a quadrillion times over.. but if we can do it again, affordable this time.. Take for example travel.. sure we could do London - New York in a single trip 50,100, 200 Years ago.. only difference is, 2hundred years ago, it took 2 weeks, cost a fortune, and was not very safe. 100 Years ago, it took four days, still cost a fortune, was safer, but still. Today it takes roughly eight hours, and I can actually pay for a return ticket with two weeks of my pay - if I wanted to, I could do that trip easily every two months and possibly survive every one of them. SpaceX is currently not doing something new - they are trying to build and improve upon what has been done in the past - namely getting stuff and people from A (Earth) to B (LEO, GEO, GSO), and at the same time build the foundation for much more ambitious missions. Like it says in the Article - if the SuperDraco system works as intended, you have a pinpoint-accurate lander that can touch down and - depending refuelling and the gravity of the body - launch again on it's own, without any expendable stages. also, Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy are only stepping stones on the way to something bigger - Falcon X, XX, XX Heavy are all on the drawing boards already. And with that much lifting power - and that at more or less affordable prices - building a structure in orbit for manufacturing larger crafts which in turn can be serviced, piloted, and left/rejoined with one and the same capsule: Dragon. As soon as you have a cheap means of getting stuff up there, you can really start looking at persistence - NASA is planning for developing "Space Tug" Systems, that can take stuff in LEO, and shuffle it to higher orbits, even GSO at little to no extra cost, since it is in all possibility a system based on VASIMR and solar power.. and if you actually have a means of getting fuel, repair crews and the crafts themselves up at a cost that actually makes making them reusable and not "one-shots" feasible, you suddenly have a complete infrastructure up there, actually gaining manufacturing capabilities after a few years of building.. Imagine if you have a Launcher like Falcon X/XX, a standardised Flottila of Crafts like Dragon..and the means to actually build ships in space instead of just one-shots that you partially drop piece by piece on your way and then throw away. Want to go to the Moon? Build a ship, fuel it, fly it, do your mission, return it, refuel it, refly it.. Of course this is all more or less science fiction right now, but it all is technically doable - the only things blocking us from actually doing them with what we have now is cost and effort, since most stuff for spaceflight is designed from the ground up for each specific mission - if you start having a reliable, high-volume and cost efficient base to bring stuff up, a lot of other stuff will follow.. and SpaceX is doing it's babysteps right now of course - hell, that Company is only a few years old and already on the edge of being the first gig that launches a 21st century man-rated Space Transportation System - hell it is a capsule, it looks retro, apollo did it, yadda yadda. But with thar Argument take your Ford Model T and your Ford Fusion 2012.. they both still look like cars no? Somewhere along the way we figured out that "four wheels and an enclosed capsule for the people inside" is a more or less optimal form for a car, so we stuck with it. I want my Spaceplanes as much as everyone else (REL, go on with Skylon, quickly!) - but for now SpaceX is doing a darn good job at what they do. I've seen their plans for powered ascent for 1st/2nd Level rocket stages - and I'm highly sceptical it will ever work. But oh boy, if they would make it work, that would be one of the sweetest feats I've ever seen launched from a Launchpad..

Re:Amazing (with formatting) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38911327)

would it kill you to use a p tag ? My eyes are bleeding!
Well, if that Coal-Fired Burner is producing Power at 1/10th the price everyone else (producing it using Nuclear, or whatever they have), I would damn well be impressed. Of course we've been to the Moon already, shot stuff to Orbit a quadrillion times over.. but if we can do it again, affordable this time..

Take for example travel.. sure we could do London - New York in a single trip 50,100, 200 Years ago.. only difference is, 2hundred years ago, it took 2 weeks, cost a fortune, and was not very safe. 100 Years ago, it took four days, still cost a fortune, was safer, but still. Today it takes roughly eight hours, and I can actually pay for a return ticket with two weeks of my pay - if I wanted to, I could do that trip easily every two months and possibly survive every one of them.

SpaceX is currently not doing something new - they are trying to build and improve upon what has been done in the past - namely getting stuff and people from A (Earth) to B (LEO, GEO, GSO), and at the same time build the foundation for much more ambitious missions. Like it says in the Article - if the SuperDraco system works as intended, you have a pinpoint-accurate lander that can touch down and - depending refuelling and the gravity of the body - launch again on it's own, without any expendable stages. also, Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy are only stepping stones on the way to something bigger - Falcon X, XX, XX Heavy are all on the drawing boards already. And with that much lifting power - and that at more or less affordable prices - building a structure in orbit for manufacturing larger crafts which in turn can be serviced, piloted, and left/rejoined with one and the same capsule: Dragon.

As soon as you have a cheap means of getting stuff up there, you can really start looking at persistence - NASA is planning for developing "Space Tug" Systems, that can take stuff in LEO, and shuffle it to higher orbits, even GSO at little to no extra cost, since it is in all possibility a system based on VASIMR and solar power.. and if you actually have a means of getting fuel, repair crews and the crafts themselves up at a cost that actually makes making them reusable and not "one-shots" feasible, you suddenly have a complete infrastructure up there, actually gaining manufacturing capabilities after a few years of building.. Imagine if you have a Launcher like Falcon X/XX, a standardised Flottila of Crafts like Dragon..and the means to actually build ships in space instead of just one-shots that you partially drop piece by piece on your way and then throw away. Want to go to the Moon? Build a ship, fuel it, fly it, do your mission, return it, refuel it, refly it..

Of course this is all more or less science fiction right now, but it all is technically doable - the only things blocking us from actually doing them with what we have now is cost and effort, since most stuff for spaceflight is designed from the ground up for each specific mission - if you start having a reliable, high-volume and cost efficient base to bring stuff up, a lot of other stuff will follow.. and SpaceX is doing it's babysteps right now of course - hell, that Company is only a few years old and already on the edge of being the first gig that launches a 21st century man-rated Space Transportation System - hell it is a capsule, it looks retro, apollo did it, yadda yadda. But with thar Argument take your Ford Model T and your Ford Fusion 2012.. they both still look like cars no? Somewhere along the way we figured out that "four wheels and an enclosed capsule for the people inside" is a more or less optimal form for a car, so we stuck with it. I want my Spaceplanes as much as everyone else (REL, go on with Skylon, quickly!) - but for now SpaceX is doing a darn good job at what they do. I've seen their plans for powered ascent for 1st/2nd Level rocket stages - and I'm highly sceptical it will ever work. But oh boy, if they would make it work, that would be one of the sweetest feats I've ever seen launched from a Launchpad..

Re:Amazing (2)

roystgnr (4015) | about 2 years ago | (#38905823)

Isn't the Space Age as dead as a 19th century coal locomotive?

Coal locomotives are dead because they were supplanted by much better designs. Space Age rockets are dead because they weren't. Huge difference.

Would anyone get excited if a "private" company was building a large coal-fired boiler and saying "wow, one day we'll be able to do what we did in the past! Glory days!"

If a private company unveiled a locomotive engine whose performance-to-price ratio was an order of magnitude better than the current state of the art , everyone would be rightly excited.

Almost everyone would be excited, I mean; there's never been a shortage of idiots. I'm sure there were 19th century equivalents of this AC, demanding to know why everyone was getting so excited about putting a two-millenia-old technology like an aeolipile on wheels.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38907467)

The difference is that those ACs would have seen progress measured in years, with early 20th century technology, and with immediate benefits and results, for everyone. This space junk is just pathetic. Does anyone get excited about cheap private access to the bottom of the ocean? No? Because it makes no sense. Neither does tossing Kraft Dinner into the air for 10 million$ instead of a 100 million$. WHooooooooooo cares....

"If a private company unveiled a locomotive engine whose performance-to-price ratio was an order of magnitude better than the current state of the art , everyone would be rightly excited."

Of course, because trains are useful.

"I'm sure there were 19th century equivalents of this AC, demanding to know why everyone was getting so excited"

There are TONS of examples from the early 20th century about ideas that DIDN'T make sense. People laughed at those too, you know. That's what I'm doing here.

it's loud (1)

WillgasM (1646719) | about 2 years ago | (#38905385)

I'm pretty sure I heard them testing the SuperDracos last night. It was loud enough to make me stop what I was doing and stare blankly in the general direction of McGregor, but not loud enough to rattle windows and set off car alarms like the falcons.

Re:it's loud (1)

Karrde45 (772180) | about 2 years ago | (#38905961)

SuperDraco is in the 10-20 thousand pound range. You likely heard a Merlin engine (100k+)

Names... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 2 years ago | (#38905403)

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I'm not impressed by names like SuperDraco which sound like somebody I'd find on Twitter expounding upon their amazing Pokemon collection.

Can we go back to decent rocket names? Something like A-1 or Z-2?

Re:Names... (1)

WillgasM (1646719) | about 2 years ago | (#38905437)

Fuddy-duddy

Re:Names... (0)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#38905557)

You're a fuddy-duddy.

Re:Names... (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 2 years ago | (#38905685)

Boooooo! Which is more likely to get public interest?

AB-745 - or thunderdemon? C-11 - or firedragon.

I'm sorry- but I want my manned mission to mars to be on something memorable like the thrustdoomfireballcruncher not the X-23. Now if the "Pikachu, I choose you" mission takes man to Titan, then I'll be disappointed. "Pikachu of Doom" rocket might be more acceptible.

Re:Names... (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 2 years ago | (#38906107)

How about Little Joe, Redstone, Thor, Juno, Minotaur, Pegasus, Taurus, Vanguard, or Ariane?

Re:Names... (1)

rmccoy (318169) | more than 2 years ago | (#38913683)

"'You name the satellites after gods?' he asked.
Shah shuffled uncomfortably but Sirsikar beamed at Baedecker. 'Of course!' Recruited while Mercury flew, trained during Gemini, blooded in Apollo, Baedecker turned his eyes back to the steel symmetry of the huge antenna.
'So did we,' he said."

--Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

Re:Names... (2)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 2 years ago | (#38906249)

Yes, meaningless letters and numbers are way cooler. My mistake. If I have a daughter, I'll name her ZX-32, not something stupid like Jennifer or Lizzy.

Re:Names... (4, Funny)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 2 years ago | (#38906397)

Oh don't be stupid. ZX-32 is a boys name, she'll be teased.

Re:Names... (2)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#38906657)

I grew up in Akron, Ohio, where one of the local heros was Art Arfons. He raced jet cars on the Bonnieville Salt Flats, and several times held the world land speed record. He may have eventually raced jets, but his earlier cars used aircraft piston engines.

He named is daughter "Allison" after an aircraft engine maker that he liked, and presumably because he thought it an acceptable girls name. I believe she goes by the name "Dusty", but have no idea if was because she didn't like "Allison", or some other reason. (Yep, just checked that on wikipedia.)

Re:Names... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#38906891)

Can we go back to decent rocket names?

You mean like Saturn, Mercury, Atlas, and Titan? I agree we need more awesome names like that.

I personally really like the names of the Falcon rockets with the Kestrel and Merlin engines -- two types of falcon, you see.

How does Draco not fit in?

And when you make something that's like the thing with the cool name, but way above it, "Super" is often applied.

When Boeing made a new long-range bomber to follow on the B-17 Flying Fortress, they called it the Superfortress. Super [wikipedia.org] actually seems a pretty popular adjective to apply to aircraft.

Re:Names... (1)

HiggsBison (678319) | more than 2 years ago | (#38910451)

And when you make something that's like the thing with the cool name, but way above it, "Super" is often applied.

Meh. I'll wait for the SuperDuperDraco.

Re:Names... (2)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#38910809)

Dude! SuperDuperDraco is a looooong way off. Duper technology isn't even out of university research labs yet!

Real life and renders collide (4, Interesting)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#38905433)

It's really interesting that if you look at the arguably real shot [gizmag.com] of the test firing, it seems to look almost like a rendering from a game! It probably means that fire/smoke rendering in games is getting good, or perhaps nature is just recently slacking in presenting itself to us :)

Re:Real life and renders collide (3, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#38906487)

The physics of shock diamonds [vt.edu] is well understood. If you can model the physics, you can show it on a computer screen. Turns out it's fairly easy and doesn't require a lot of computer horsepower.

Re:Real life and renders collide (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38910085)

The reason that photo looks like a game screenshot is because of how terrible the compression artifacts are. Especially look at the top edge of the flame right after it exits the engine and you can see them well.

Re:Real life and renders collide (1)

Vorghagen (1154761) | more than 2 years ago | (#38910537)

Reminds me of the video of a methane engine being tested. Same "shock diamonds" evident in the thrust.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dumolLDfWw4 [youtube.com]

Shock diamonds (1, Offtopic)

DCFusor (1763438) | about 2 years ago | (#38906151)

Did anyone notice more than usual? Wow. Maybe I should have tried for the more expensive Tesla instead of my more versatile Volt. Chevy makes great cars, but ain't doing much for my "want space" jones.

SpaceX/Tesla are bullshit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38908155)

Given the proven false claims Tesla made about the range of their over priced golf carts, I have zero trust in any unaudited (and that's all it has been) claims of low cost of any SpaceX products.

Alohamora! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38908855)

No way you can win now Harry! Best hide, because SuperDraco is out to get you!
*grin*

Sucks? (1)

Bensam123 (1340765) | more than 2 years ago | (#38910705)

Anyone else see this as bad? I mean I'm all for space innovation, but the further other companies get into ultra expensive areas the less likely we'll ever see competition or good prices. SpaceX will turn into a monopoly that will have no competition. Not only that, but our government will no longer be able to take over such a role as is with ISPs in the US. People will argue it's socialism, that it'll put people out of jobs, and it's un-american like. Essentially this is giving birth to a corporation that we will never be able to dispute.

Of course what they have is an amazingly good price, but our space program is essentially crippled. It has been for quite a long time funding wise. When you jerry-rig everything to work it intrinsically becomes very expensive to keep it up, that's why you don't hodge podge everything. NASA doesn't have the funds to do real R&D anymore or do anything other then the hodge podge mess. All they can do is dream up ideas they can never reach as congress will inevitably give them some sort of goal they can't reach, but they have to follow instead on what little funding they have.

SpaceX IS a company, their primary goal is to turn a profit. Do not believe they're riding up there on their white horse while horns play in the background signaling a new age for man kind.

Re:Sucks? (1)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38911369)

SpaceX is doing everything they are doing for a tiny fraction of the money NASA squanders. In particular NASA spent billions on Ares 1, it was a horrible design, they wasted years on it, they managed one faked suborbital launch before the program was wisely killed.

SpaceX isn't NASA's problem, NASA's hopeless bureaucracy is their problem. SpaceX is just a long overdue solution, to get America innovating in space exploration again after 30 years of disturbing decay caused by NASA's stagnant bureaucracy and the deeply confused agendas of a series of Presidents and congressmen in funding and defunding it.

SpaceX and Elon Musk's goals aren't to create a monopoly or milk this for profit. He started SpaceX because he personally wanted to send payloads to Mars and all of the existing launchers were too expensive and or they sucked. He is trying to make LEO launches profitable so he has a sustainable business model to fund his future projects. His primary goal is to send people to Mars to live.

Bottomline is you completely don't understand what SpaceX is all about. They may not succeed in what the are doing but at the moment they are probably America's last best shot at regaining and retaining supremecy in space exploration.

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