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back to article SpaceX Dragon eventually snared by ISS

In a development almost as significant as getting off the ground, the Dragon capsule hoisted atop SpaceX has reached the ISS in spite of the “glitches” (to use Elon Musk's expression) that had delayed it. The ISS's robotic arm was used to grab and secure the capsule at 0531 EST on 3 March, at which time according to Reuters the …

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I wonder

If all the nay and doomsayers ("Disaster for Space X", "massive setback" etc) posting on previous register stories on this are now thinking they wish they had waited a bit to see how it all panned out?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder

We are still waiting and worried, hopefully for no reason.

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Re: I wonder

"If all the nay and doomsayers ("Disaster for Space X", "massive setback" etc) posting on previous register stories on this are now thinking they wish they had waited a bit to see how it all panned out?"

In the context of their ambitions, this trip has definitely not been a good thing. Manned flight on that thing? At the moment, no way. They've not even begun to establish any credibility in that line at all; quite the opposite.

More troubling is that this seems to be a problem in preparing the vehicle - blocked helium lines. It didn't happen last time, it's happened this time. It doesn't cost that much money to be consistent, yet so far they've been inconsistent. That means they've not got a satisfactory build process being rigidly adhered to. That tells their customers that launching with them is, currently, a bit of a gamble; it mightn't be built or prepared properly, even if the basic design is OK. Now, in the light of that, go ask your insurance company about that premium reduction.

In the space business you can't rely on 'getting away with it', especially when it comes to manned flight. Ask NASA. Space X have got away with it this time, but really that's not doing anything to build up a good reputation.

Oh, and this trip isn't finished yet. It's not yet been recovered post splashdown in the ocean. Only then will they have got away with it.

I do wish them success. It's a relatively new team with clearly a lot to learn, and I hope they do. However unless they rigorously analyse all defects they may well get to a place where they're regularly launching and being successful, but it might be that they've no real knowledge as to why. Nothing desperately wrong with that, but it would make introducing upgrades really difficult. The true measure of a good engineering team is when they can punch out another design with minimal difficulty.

We'll soon know if they're going about it the right way; the defect rate should drop off rapidly. If not, they'll keep having these defects cropping up.

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Re: I wonder @bazza

Comparing to problems with Apollo - fatal fire, nearly fatal thruster malfunction, nearly fatal oxygen tank explosion, this is not so bad so far.

Come to think of it - Soyuz - fatal parachute malfunction, fatal pressurisation valve failure, near fatal pyro-bolt failure, not to say of a few unplanned ballistic returns putting a few unexpected extra Gs up the cosmonauts' backsides...

You cannot talk about engineering consistency at this stage. I'm pretty sure each new capsule they make is very different from the last one - has to be, as they are upgrading systems, fixing problems identified in previous launch(es) etc.

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Re: I wonder @bazza

@bazza. So negative!!! Why? So far the mission is a success. They've got some things to work out, but its all part and parcel. These things are complicated. No new rocket/capsule is ever right out of the box, or even after multiple flights.

And for all those saying it's not ready for manned flight. NO ITS NOT READY FOR MANNED FLIGHT. It never was intended to be ready. That's what these flights are for, almost as much as the delivery. TESTING, and getting READY for manned flight. Every time they find something not working as well as it should, it gets fixed. That's one less problem for when they DO carry passengers.

Sorry about the shouting, but sometimes people just don't get it.

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Stop

Re: I wonder

"They've not even begun to establish any credibility in that line at all; quite the opposite."

Quite the opposite: They had a problem. It was fixed. That actually establishes more credibility to my mind.

Look into it and have a look at how many NASA/NRO missions have totally failed before being too keen to write this project off. After all: It *is* rocket science.

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Re: I wonder

might be a line to use against your typical right winger... The government can put man on the moon; Private enterprise struggles to make it to orbit.

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Happy

Re: I wonder

"The government can put man on the moon; Private enterprise struggles to make it to orbit."

Ironically, it was Communism that indirectly put a man on the moon. You don't think America would have bothered otherwise, do you?

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@Vladimir: There's an important difference between Apollo or Soyuz and Space X

Apollo and Soyuz didn't have the experiences of Apollo and Soyuz as cautionary engineering examples from which they could learn.

Yes, it's still rocket science and more importantly rocket engineering. Maintaining thirty 9s of QA is damned hard work. I get that. The problem is, if we want to get off this rock, the people getting us off it have to meet those requirements.

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Re: I wonder

@baza

> Manned flight on that thing?

Pretty much every launch vehicle tested to date has self-immolated on the launch pad during or soon after launch, Saturn V being a notable exception (and given the mad rush to beat the USSR this fact amazes many in the industry). Many unmanned rocket flights of the Delta series _still_ fail on a platform which is getting quite old and well tested.

If you actually read any of the public NASA documentation it is amazing that any of these things work at all - every flight of any vehicle is effectively a test flight because there are simply not that many flights before you _have to start doing real work_ or it gets too expensive.

Manned space flight is, and probably always will be, a risk. Most astronauts are willing to take that risk, and they do so knowingly. Yes we should make it safer if we can, but if you wrap the whole programme in so much "health and safety" you will never actually get a rocket off the ground (either because you never reach your "safe" targets, or you make it so expensive it isn't commercially viable).

> It doesn't cost that much money to be consistent, yet so far they've been inconsistent.

Hmm, based on available evidence of every other rocket platform, it is both very hard and very expensive. Mechanical failure in a system with a few hundred K parts, massive stress loadings and vibration, as well as temperature ranges. At some point the cost outweighs the need to "just bloody launch the thing", and yes that includes manned space flight.

You can minimise risks, you can never eliminate them.

P

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Pint

Re: I wonder

These are really exciting times for space flight. NASA has finally shed itself of the nice looking but shockingly expensive, dangerous, out of date and worst-solution-for-just-about-every-job Space Shuttle which was so expensive it stopped any real manned spaceflight progress for 30 years. Now we have SpaceX developing their systems with a total spend to date of about $1 billion over 10 years. Compare this with NASA's 1965 peak budget of $40 billion per year at 2013 prices, (or $100 billion if kept at the same 5.3% of federal budget) and you see that SpaceX really are shaking things up, both unmanned and manned. Great stuff. I feel inspired for the first time in 4 decades.

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Re: I wonder

We need the Japanese in space... like the car and the motorbike we need the West to get it roughly right and then the Japanese to polish it up and make it super reliable.

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Flame

Re: I wonder Saturn boosters and STS never failed on the ground

It is worth noting, that despite it's problems in other areas, no Space Shuttle (STS) ever self immolated either!

Yes, it's dangerous work, this is why SpaceX are flying the Dragon uncrewed so many times before attempting a crew

(for the immolation of course!).

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Happy

Re: @Vladimir: There's an important difference between Apollo or Soyuz and Space X

"Apollo and Soyuz didn't have the experiences of Apollo and Soyuz as cautionary engineering examples from which they could learn."

Yup... they just had Nazis!

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Re: I wonder

NASA do not build any space vehicles. They buy them from Boeing, etc. Private globo corps all.

You may be in favour of a corporate state and believe they would make the launches run on time, however government by/for/of the people contract with private industry for hardware.

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GBE

Re: I wonder

> Look into it and have a look at how many NASA/NRO

> missions have totally failed before being too keen to

> write this project off. After all: It *is* rocket science.

No, rocket science is pretty simple (it's basically F = ma

combined with some freshman-level calculus). It's rocket

_engineering_ that's difficult.

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Happy

Re: It's rocket _engineering_ that's difficult.

But Rocket Surgery- that's a right swine...

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JLV
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Re: I wonder

>and then the Japanese to polish it up and make it super reliable

cf. Fukushima?

Good job, Dragon-team!

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Re: I wonder

@Psyx,

"Quite the opposite: They had a problem. It was fixed."

That's nuts. You wouldn't buy a car if the salesman says that it'll break down all the time, he doesn't know why, but hitting it with a hammer seems to fix it...

A problem occurred. They don't know why at this point in time. They managed to find a work around for this trip. If it happens again they might not be so lucky next time. What ever caused this problem is currently not fixed; they've not even had a chance to look at it yet. They will fix it, but until they start having regular flights without serious problems like this their credibility isn't so high.

I admire their tenacity (ie, Elon's big fat wallet) and ambition, but those alone do not make for a reliable rocket. You do actually have to get the design, build and prep right as well.

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Re: @Vladimir: There's an important difference between Apollo or Soyuz and Space X

both usa/cccp built theirs on stolen german research (rocket, nuclear and medical research among tons of other research). and the same people have the impudence to whine about copyright, patents, etc :|

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Re: I wonder

and then it will take chinese to make it cheap and unreliable :)

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Vic
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Re: I wonder

> They had a problem. It was fixed. That actually establishes more credibility to my mind.

Mine too. Problems *will* happen, but this was handled *almost*[1] perfectly. It doesn't matter all that much what the problem was - the fact that they were up-front about it is far more important.

Compare and contrast with what Mr. Musk did in the Tesla situation :-(

Vic.

[1] I wasn't watching the broadcast, but apparently they pulled the video as the failure was discovered. That's a shame...

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Happy

Re: I wonder

"Compare and contrast with what Mr. Musk did in the Tesla situation :-("

You mean doing a root cause analysis (checking the telemetry), repeating the experiment (asking others to perform the run), and said they'd install further charging points

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Vic
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Re: I wonder

> You mean doing a root cause analysis

No, I mean getting shouty and litigious.

It doesn't matter whether there is a problem with the Tesla or not - his approach to a perceived problem has diminished the brand.

With the Dragon, he took the opposite tack, and had the opposite effect.

Vic.

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Happy

Re: I wonder

"That's nuts. You wouldn't buy a car if the salesman says that it'll break down all the time, he doesn't know why, but hitting it with a hammer seems to fix it..."

No, but I'd buy an AK-47 that you *can* hit with a hammer and fix over a ray-gun that you can't.

[In reality I would (and do) buy cars that are perhaps less reliable and that I can fix myself with a hammer over something with a big plastic cover over the engine bay and more electronics than Maplins, but that's just me I guess!]

"A problem occurred. They don't know why at this point in time."

...because the thing is in space. So it's unfair to strictly demand answers now. They *will* look into it, and the device will be better engineered next time as a result.

"but until they start having regular flights without serious problems like this their credibility isn't so high."

Really? Just look at how many spacecraft fail to orbit. Look how many people NASA has managed to get killed over the years.

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Pint

Re: I wonder

"No, I mean getting shouty and litigious."

Well, you can't sue space.

"It doesn't matter whether there is a problem with the Tesla or not - his approach to a perceived problem has diminished the brand."

In your opinion. Whereas I think that stuffing it to a lying reporter was feckin' brilliant!

[Anyone else getting a feck-ton of internal server errors on here today?]

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Impressive recovery by Spacex

Given this capsule is going to be recovered hopefully they will find out the root cause of this and eliminate it from future flights.

Note that one of the key goals of this flight was to look at doing berthing in 1 day, rather than the current 3 day cycle (which would be much better for humans).

This will change ISS operations quite a lot provided it can operate reliably.

Thumbs up to all at Spacex and NASA for not making a drama out of a crisis and resolving the problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Impressive recovery by Spacex

A dramatic recovery in a crisis don't you think.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Impressive recovery by Spacex

"Given this capsule is going to be recovered hopefully they will find out the root cause of this and eliminate it from future flights."

Given that it didn't happen last time they might not be able to learn enough to understand why it's happened this time.

Obviously if they find identifiable debris that'd help, but that in itself would be embarrassing. They'd have to sharpen up their build procedures.

If something has broken it's either not built right, or the spec isn't good enough. Working out which it is could be tricky, unless they've got enough on board diagnostic instrumentation to prove the spec is good.

It'd be a brave pilot who'd get on that thing as it currently stands. No drama because it was unmanned. Now, if there'd been astronauts on board...

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Re: It's never embarrassing to fix a problem.

We all make mistakes. It's embarrassing not to learn from them. There's nothing embarrassing about fixing them.

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Re: It's never embarrassing to fix a problem.

" There's nothing embarrassing about fixing them."

Especially when it's the equivalent of giving it a whack with a lump hammer.

Something we can all appreciate.

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Re: It's never embarrassing to fix a problem.

Pah, Components! American components. Russian components.

All made in Taiwan!

Now *CLONK* THIS is how we *CLONK* FIX problems on *CLONK* RUSSIAN space station *CLONK* because I *CLONK* want to go home *CLONK* and I *CLONK* DON'T want to *CLONK* STAY here *CLONK* ANY MORE!

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Good news day.

Anything that makes going into space a positive thing is imo a "good thing", that coupled with a 5 second sound-bite on the radio news as I woke up of a girl born with HIV seemingly cured with standard medication, makes this a "good news day".

Let's hope it stays that way.

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Happy

"Mission controllers pressure-hammered the pipes to clear the problem."

I can see the problem, it's designed as a manned craft.

It's obviously designed so that, if anything goes wrong, you're supposed to get one of the lads inside to belt it repeatedly with a hammer until it works.

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Anonymous Coward

Maybe someone poured sugar down the pipes

Happens n the movies

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Launch date

I just like the fact that Dragon was launched on St David's Day

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Re: Launch date

Why's that? Was St David with St George when he slayed the Dragon or am I missing something?

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Re: Launch date

As he's their patron saint, the Welsh flag (as opposed to the flag of St David himself) might just give you a clue?

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Re: "or am I missing something?"

Have a shufty at the Welsh flag...

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Re: Launch date

"am I missing something?"

Yup.

A sodding great red dragon...

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Mushroom

Re: Sodding great red dragon

As a nation, we take pride in our subtlety and tact...

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Re: Launch date

Not just Wales -- St. George is on time-share

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... am I missing something?

@Jared

Yes as others have pointed out Wales has a bloody great red dragon on their national flag and St David is the Patron Saint of Wales.

Wales has always been linked to dragons since the dark ages (AD829 first recorded use). As for why? Well its nothing to do with St George and is believed to be connected to King Arthur and other Celtic leaders and their battle standards.

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Vic
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Re: ... am I missing something?

> Wales has always been linked to dragons since the dark ages

Still is.

Just take a shufty round Swansea on a Saturday nighjt...

Vic.

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Meh

Space exploration has always been a dangerous gambit. I think it's funny how many people are willing to jump on the negativity bandwagon when even NASA (or maybe especially NASA) has had their share of 'glitches' and even deaths. Why even this morning curiosity is having computer problems. You might say it's not fair to compare an over sized rover with a capsule capable of transporting humans. Yet both are examples of hardware not living up to the desired criticality of the systems design. In the absence of any details we can't really say where the fault lies. But at the end of the day it's about solutions when it comes to space programs.

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Even failures teach you something

I assume SpaceX won't be happy that their thrusters failed but they've still learned something from the experience - how to diagnose and fix the problem in situ and potentially how to prevent the problem occurring again. It's this sort of thing that it would be better to learn about now than in two years when they begin carrying human beings as well as cargo.

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3 hours docking

Overheard in the work canteen: "why does it take so long to dock? You can dock a cross-channel ferry in under 10 minutes and it's much bigger!"

When *everything* costs 10-100x more yet far more fragile than a cross channel ferry, is flying round in a much more hostile environment where "drag" does not exist, it pays to be *super careful*.

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Re: 3 hours docking

Especially when an example of what happens as the result of a pranged docking in space is very well known - just remind them about the Progress-Mir collision in 1997.

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Re: 3 hours docking

Tell em to recall the resupply ship crash aboard the Russian station a decade or so ago.

Best to take one's time and get it right.

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