back to article SpaceX does what it HASN'T done before: Dragon in close ISS flyby

It's another moment of truth for upstart space startup SpaceX as once again the company attempts to do something that has only ever been accomplished to date by major government space agencies: docking one spacecraft to another in orbit and transferring cargo. Dragon spacecraft seen on flyby beneath ISS above the Pacific, solar …

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Go SpaceX

Feel like my parents must have watching the Lunar landings.

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Re: Go SpaceX

I thought exactly the same thing.

It's not quite the moon landings. But you've got to admit, it's pretty damn awesome.

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Happy

Re: Go SpaceX

I watched the lunar landings. This feels like it could have more long term significance TBH. (Though I was similarly optimistic back in '69 as I recall)

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Re: Go SpaceX

Yes, I had those same feelings. I reflect on them as I stand in front of the viewport of the Space Station, watching the universe spin gently around me, and I look forward to seeing the site in person when I travel to the moon next week for a long-awaited vacation. It's not quite the freedom of the solar system I thought we'd have when I was seven years old and reading everything I could get my hands on about space, but I salute the politicians, scientists and pioneering astronauts (and of course, cosmonauts) who kept the long-term vision and made it all possible when it would have been so easy to pander to factional politics and venal self-interest.

Time to pour another billion of taxpayer dollars into the failing, horizonless economy so those poor bankers can buy another yacht or whatever it is they do with other people's money.

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Re: Go SpaceX -- waste?

Space gives us mobile phones, SatNav etc etc.

Experiments in space can give us much more.

You not use a mobe?

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Headmaster

Re: Go SpaceX -- waste?

Space gives us SatNav. Cell towers give us mobile phones (unless yours is of the brick type from the likes of Iridium and other sat phone ilk).

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Re: Go SpaceX -- waste?

And those cell towers then rely on GPS and GPS time data for handovers..

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So .. friday they prove docking, by the end of next week the capsule will be back on terra-firma, so by, say, Wednesday after next I can go to space?

at last.....

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jai
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More like by Wednesday after next half of us will be running for our lives trying to stay alive and away from the ravening hoards of space-zombie-infected mutants that the rest of you have become.

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Pint

SpaceX may be a health hazard

All this drinking to their success may start to stress livers (and brain cells) in many places

Brilliant stuff. Takes me right back to my childhood memories of the Apollo program.

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Happy

This is all completely awesome. That is all.

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Linux

Strobe Lights....?

Is this another of Mr Musk's little secrets?

Is Dragon perchance equipped also with a means of playing/transmitting this haunting little 1977 tune in a vacuum....?

http://youtu.be/H4Kgzn3tDQU

What else is about to happen.......?

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Headmaster

Great but oversold?

It's a great achievement, no doubt, but I'd be cautious about saying a private company is docking a spacecraft. A more accurate version is that a private company is bringing a craft within close proximity, and the ISS/NASA/ESA etc is performing the dock via the robotic arm.

Pedantic I know - and in no way posted to detract from the enormous achievement they are making.

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Re: Great but oversold?

The biggest achievement of SpaceX is in doing what they've done at a low cost. That's the advantage of a private enterprise over a government programme. It's also the future of space development.

What we need now is to introduce a little competition into the game - hopefully without a patent-war. That will help turn the current "old technology" solutions into something better and innovative. That's really the only role governments should have in space development: to be the munificent customer.

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Anonymous Coward

"hopefully without a patent-war"

I await the arrival of the iRocket... and then it'll be lawyers at 20 paces...

(how big is a pace in space, by the way?)

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Re: Great but oversold?

"The biggest achievement of SpaceX is in doing what they've done at a low cost."

Wait until they get their spaceships into mass production.

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Re: Great but oversold?

Seems a bit beyond pedantic. Ignoring that (I believe) the use of the Canadarm to dock was made by NASA (given the control that they need to exhibit in order to be given the green light, there seems to be no technical reason Dragon couldn't do the dock), at what point is a (for all intents and purposes) docking arm small enough that it counts directly as docking?

If they got to within 10cm* and robotic arms pulled it the rest of the way, is that docking? What about 1m? How about 10m?

Not having a dig, it just seems like an arbitrary designation to make.

* Actually, I think APAS might be more than 10cm.

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jai
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Re: "hopefully without a patent-war"

(how big is a pace in space, by the way?)

It may be just one small pace for man, but a giant pace for mankind.....

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Anonymous Coward

Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Wow... what a miserable thought : (

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Holmes

Re: Great but oversold?

The docking/birthing port they are using doesn't allow for automated docking. The port door is opened from the inside of the station and is optimised for cargo delivery allowing for much larger items to be transferred through it compared to the docking module used by automated and manned spacecraft such as the Soyuz, Shuttle and ATV. The Japanese HTV cargo carrier works in the same way as Dragon and will be connected to the same birthing port sometime in July on its third delivery flight. The HTV does not however allow for any cargo to be returned to earth other than in the form of a thousand mile long burnt up debris trail with the odd bit that survives going to the bottom of the south Pacific.

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Flame

Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

As long as they burn up on re-entry, or have their life-support systems (do patent tro^H^H^Hlawyers have a life anyway?) mutually invalidated by patent violations, I fail to see the problem.

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Thumb Up

Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Actually, if Space-X can make enogh stacks and capsules, a Mercury orbit might be the best place to put them...

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Alien

Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Not if they're breathing vacuum...

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Happy

Re: "hopefully without a patent-war"

A "pace" in space is roughly spitting distance! (See posts on earlier Dragon articles!)

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Not really, if they were 'out there' with no space craft, or environment suit.

I can visualize LEO being populated with dozens of `suits` stranded in space; for the greater good of mankind.

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Re: Great but . .

It's only a deilvery truck.

Not long before it's painted brown and has 'UPS' on the side.

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Re: Great but oversold?

But when you haven't got taxpayers breathing down your neck about "wasting" their tax dollars you can just go ahead and do it. When you're the biggest single shareholder then you don't have to worry about other shareholders either.

And let's not forget that they are "standing on the shoulders of giants". Without all the (government) expenditure on Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle missions (plus numerous others) to do the basic research and then turn it into reality then Musk would have needed even deeper pockets.

None of which is to diminish in any way what he has accomplished. I am in awe of his vision and all that he has achieved. As a boy I grew up watching the space race, and I sat up late to watch the Apollo 11 landing. This impresses me every bit as much.

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Happy

Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

This could be a major breakthrough in propulsion technology, a mass driver using patent lawers as reaction mass.

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Boffin

Re: Great but oversold?

@Ian Yates - technically speaking if it involves an arm to capture a passive object, it's defined as "berthing".

The space shuttle "docked" with ISS as it guided itself onto the station. The supply modules, including this Space one, are berthed.

"beyond pedantry" it may be, but there's a recognised difference in definition - there's even a wiki about it.

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Re: Great but oversold?

When the commercial supply module leaves a card saying "we tried to deliver but you were out" before buggering off before you can answer the door.

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Good idea. You should patent it.

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Miserable thought? That depends on whether they have helmets.

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

In space, no-one can hear you beat the cr@p out of them.

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Happy

Re: Great but oversold?

"Wait until they get their spaceships into mass production."

Actually more a case of wait till their launcher is *reusable*.

Because the capsule (but not the trunk with the solar arrays sadly) already is.

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Re: Great but oversold?

actually what they are doing is 'berthing', not 'docking'. it is also quite a bit more difficult than docking, partly because of the position of the various ports on the ISS, and partly because they have to rendezvous with an empty point in space, instead of a nice hard space station that stops you in your tracks if you overdo it (there was some argument when the original COTS contracts were drawn up whether to require them to do this, since it is more difficult).

to 'dock' with the ISS, a spacecraft basically approaches the ISS along it's orbit. it has to match the orbit closely (complex), but once that is done, it is stable. then it is a case of forwards/backwards until it docks.

to 'berth' with the ISS, they have to approach from 'under' the ISS (between the ISS and earth). because they are 'below', they are in a different orbit than the ISS. that means that Dragon has to continually fire thrusters at precisely calculated levels as it approaches to keep it aligned with the ISS (imagine yourself balancing on a ball that is slowly getting bigger, and reaching up to change a lightbulb at the same time).

when it is in the precise spot 30 feet away from the station (still balancing using thrusters, remember) the ISS robot arm is positioned inches away from the spacecraft, then thrusters are cut and the robot arm grabs it before it 'falls' away. to complete the example, imagine someone kicks the ball out from under you, and you have to grab the lightbulb a split second later so you don't fall..

so, why did NASA want the commercial providers to berth, instead of dock? because these are cargo missions, and the berthing ports are much larger than the docking ports - so they can move big, bulky supplies to/from the ISS. there's also another benefit of the 'approach from below' to the berthing port: if Dragon (or Orbital's Antares) suddenly fails, just before berthing, it will simply fall away from the space station. if it were instead in the same orbit for docking, there's a pretty good chance the two would collide.

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Maybe this'll cheer you up:

Once they're up there, we can cut the com link, then leave'em there!

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Not at all. As long as they don't have ships, tethers or suits I'm happy.

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Alert

Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

Not so miserable if some technicians "forgot" to top off the oxygen tanks before flight!

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Devil

Re: Great but oversold?

"The biggest achievement of SpaceX is in doing what they've done at a low cost. That's the advantage of a private enterprise over a government programme. It's also the future of space development."

The only problem with that approach is that it starts with SpaceX and ends with Weyland-Yutani.

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

depends on whether they have spacesuits on or not, the idea would be quite appealing if it was sans suit

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Boffin

Re: How far is a pace in space?

The same as a pace on any planet under any gravity, as only one foot leaves the ground at a time.

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Re: Patent lawyers... IN SPAAACE!

We could leave them there to burn up in re-entry

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Big Brother

Back a bit.......Back a bit.....oops!

Call me a cynic, but with the potential loss of revenue to the manufacturers of the existing, disposable resupply capsules, I hope Mr Musk is logging every pip and whistle from external remote control units. One prang and they're out of the game.

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"made a close pass within 1.5 miles of the station"

Surely that's 2.4km?

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Happy

Re: "made a close pass within 1.5 miles of the station"

It's an American spacecraft, so we'll use appropriate units, thank you very much.

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Boffin

Re: "made a close pass within 1.5 miles of the station"

You didn't watch the launch, then. They were using the appropriate units throughout - metric.

This is the 21st century after all.

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Re: "made a close pass within 1.5 miles of the station"

" we'll use appropriate units "

Everyone wishes you would.

"It's an American spacecraft"

Well sort of. Although what's exciting about this is precisely that it isn't built and deployed by a national government organisation. It happens to be done by an American from the USA (albeit South African born) but he could in principle up sticks to somewhere else and work for whoever he chooses on whatever projects take his fancy and suit the commercial ends of the company.

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Re: Surely

I believe if it were being measured in metric units it would be 2.5km/1.55 miles.

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Coat

Re: Proper Units

What is this "miles" or "km" you speak of? Clearly what we have here is a pass distance of 262 double-decker bus lengths.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/page/reg-standards-converter.html#length

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Re: "made a close pass within 1.5 miles of the station"

An American spacecraft - but the *International* space station. And that's where they were watching from.

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