Famous upstart startup rocket company SpaceX, bankrolled and helmed by renowned internet nerdwealth hecamillionaire Elon Musk, has once again sent its goalposts racing ahead of its rapidly-advancing corporate reality. The Dragon capsule with 'Draco' rockets in action. Credit: SpaceX A proper Dragon can breathe fire as well as …
10/10 for optimism
> successfully flown to orbit and back once in a test flight ... this puts SpaceX on its own at roughly the same level of space punch as the 19 allied nations of the ESA.
Minus several million for an accurate comparison.
Still, I suppose he did say "roughly". Which gives me hope that the Perl script I wrote this morning will one day attain sentience.
@ Pete 2
SpaceX has launched a capsule which has orbited and then successfully re-entered.
ESA hasn't achieved that yet.
While SpaceX may not have the range of activities that ESA pursues, I'd say they're rather ahead in the achievements needed to actually send a man into space and then return him to Earth.
RE-entered? No ... but try this for size
OK so ESA hasn't sent something up and had it come back down. But that's such a narrow definition of success that it's pretty close to meaningless.
What ESA *has* achieved is to land a probe on Titan, buzzed a few asteroids and bothered the occasional comet which I personally think is a dam' site more impressive, and not just for the distance, Maybe when SpaceX does get a soft landing on (say) The Moon, then they'll have something to start measuring up to the BIG boys with.
"SpaceX has launched a capsule which has orbited and then successfully re-entered."
A *very* careful use of language.
while ESA has not carried out a re-entry from *orbit* it has recovered the ARD capsule from the 2nd Ariane qualification flight in 1998. Intact and unharmed (and partly covered with *reusable* rather than simply ablative tiles).
I'd guess that while it was dropped off at *below* orbital speed it reached an altitude of 830Km. I'd guess if it didn't re-enter from there *at* orbital speed it was pretty close.
NASA used a similar technique in their FIRE test launches to simulate re-entry from *lunar* entry speeds (roughly root2 bigger) with the addition IIRC of a 3rd stage on an atlas with the nozzle pointed *up* to give it a bit more speed.
what SpaceX HAS achieved...
...is to put a Dragon craft into orbit and bring it back -- and as Heinlein(?) said, "once you're in Earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere". It also looks like they're well on the way to perfecting their manned version, from what I'm hearing/reading -- though I'm sure the first "live" payload will be a test animal, likely a dog. Any bets that some wiseass will name it "Gromit"?
"lunar" re-entry speed tests?
As I recall, one of the big rationales for the proposed Lunar Gemini flights that were to follow the Earth orbital Gemini flights was to test heat shielding at re-entry speeds approximating that of a returning lunar mission. Needless to say, the Apollo people felt threatened at the time, and the whole Lunar Gemini proposal was smothered in the crib; all that remained of that proposed series was the Gemini 11 mission, which set an orbital altitude record (at the time) of 1374.1km using the docked Agena boost stage.
"though I'm sure the first "live" payload will be a test animal, likely a dog. Any bets that some wiseass will name it "Gromit"?"
Test animals are a part of the contents of the ISS, which (all being well) Spacex will have been supplying under COTS for some time before they fit a Dragon with the escape system. The standard Dragon has life support as standard.
IIRC they are mostly rats and mice.
"Any bets that some wiseass will name it "Gromit"?
I'd guess Mickey and Minnie.
In his talk before the NPC on the Spacex website Musk states the standard ablative coating on Dragon was sized to handle a re-entry from Mars.
TPS testing for lunar re-entry was IIRC the subject of the FIRE series of tests around 1967-1968 using an Atlas with (in the later ones) a 3rd stage attached pointing down to get extra entry velocity.
I'm not quite sure what your point about the lunar Gemini missions is.
I'd love to know if that altitude record has ever been beaten. I don't mean by the Apollos, I mean in stable Earth orbit.
...that it looks like a Star Wars escape pod
But we can't land humans in it then!
If there are life signs, the Empire will shoot it down.
doesnt el-reg have a vehicle capable of landing on other planets?
and its made from paper to boot (you lot missed out on publicity/advertising there, foolish)
all it needs is a means of getting there
stick a paper plane on a rocket - fire it at mars and voila, hell you can do it with a bouncy ball
just cause something 'can' land somewhere doesnt necessarily mean its a good idea or serves any real purpose beyond publicity
"this puts SpaceX on its own at roughly the same level of space punch as the 19 allied nations of the ESA"
It is true that ESA have never to my knowledge carried a large cheese into space and returned it safetly to earth. It is also true that ESA have achieved quite a number of things that SpaceX have not yet attempted. To say they are on equal footing in the present tense is, how can I put this, utter bollocks.
But then everything that comes out of America is superriffically perfect to Lewis.
Elon has announced he intends to retire on Mars. Makes sense to get on and build the systems needed to do it.
If Mr. Musk is trying to be a real-life version of Del Harriman (The Man Who Sold the Moon, Robert Heinlein), he's so far doing a brilliant job of it. I only hope that he manages a longer stay at his ultimate goal (whilst still breathing) than his fictional counterpart did.
I just hope that Musk's eventual Martian grave is bit more than R.L. Stevenson's poignant poem scrawled on a shipping container tag and pinned to the ground with a knife...
Its nice to see that there are people out there that not only talk big but build big. And why can't they make money off sending people off to the Moon or Mars.
Elon Musk = Cave Johnson?
Hey, there's Science to do!
Never mind volunteers to go to Mars on a one way trip, I can think of a few I'd like to "volunteer"...
Grenade: that's the cheaper option.
He didn't exactly say you can land it on Mars. It's just able to do the final landing. The Martian atmosphere is dramatically thinner so your terminal velocity is much higher; if you use a lander designed for Earth, you'll hit the ground far too fast. Dragon has propulsive landing but the delta-v might need to be boosted a large bit to do a Mars landing.
You can try this in a simulator like Orbiter Sim. Landing the Shuttle on Mars, for example, doesn't work because the speed you need to get any lift is radically high; you can't slow down enough to land and retain any lift or control at the same time.
"The Martian atmosphere is dramatically thinner so your terminal velocity is much higher;"
Have you have factored in Martian gravity is roughly 1/3 that of Earth?
Re: Not Mars
The capsule might already have the required margin. Remember, these rockets are also used to get the hell out of Dodge in any accident, so they will exceed requirements for simply a soft landing by a very large margin.
Yessir, but the atmosphere is about 1/100th the density.
The difference is large enough to require substantially different aerodynamics. A vehicle designed for flight on Earth, for example, can't get sufficient lift, and the drag (relevant here) is substantially lower than 1/3.
You might be right.
"Remember, these rockets are also used to get the hell out of Dodge in any accident, so they will exceed requirements for simply a soft landing by a very large margin."
Wrong tense. At present the Draco thrusters on the Dragon capsule are for attitude control and *small* velocity changes on orbit only. Dragon is not crew rated so as of right now a pad accident would mean loss of capsule.
The $75m NASA payment is to *upgrade* them to act as an escape system. Musk has stated this should be complete 36 months after cash award with 6 months of that being a float for unexpected stuff turning up.
Getting the capsule away from an explosion requires way less propulsion than getting a craft down on the ground. So having it rated for accident escape won't mean it's capable of a soft surface landing on Mars, by a large margin.
"Yessir, but the atmosphere is about 1/100th the density."
I'd forgotten just *how* thin the Mars atmosphere is.
Re-read the article though and you realize it makes *no* mention of Dragons ability to make the entry, just that *if* it could the system they have got funding for will allow precision landing (yards, rather than fractions of a nautical mile).
Mars has a thin atmosphere, unlike the moon. Look at all of the back-of-the-envelope calculations on the web for freefall speeds on Mars. Parachutes will still be apparently quite effective. Taking out the parachutes and putting in extra rockets might be good if the drag can bring it down to subsonic speeds in the atmosphere.
Capsules use most of their lift in very thin air - it's just this will be closest to the ground. I'm a guy with physics degrees, not aeronautics - but I live next to one of the most famous facilities on earth, so naturally I have an interest...
But does he have a white cat, that's what we all really want to know?
"Presumably he's thinking of Dragons setting down on Mars, being refuelled..."
Or he's been talking to Buzz Aldrin (pictured at a SpaceX bash on their website) and believes that there should be no return option for the first colonists - Aldrin's stated view is that “They need to go there more with the psychology of knowing that you are a pioneering settler and you don’t look forward to go back home again after a couple a years”"
Exciting times, an amazing bargain but not unexpected.
I'd thought he was waiting for the COTS2 and possibly 3 flights (several 100 million $) before they could start this. $70m is a snip for this task. Testing it with a real Dragon capsule launch will cost a bit more of course. You'd pretty much have to dedicate a full f9 launch to do it.
After all how does a rocket with no nose fly? Badly.
BTW anyone who saw his 1 hr talk before the National Press Club on the Spacex website might have known quite a bit of this. Not the landing *on* another planet but that the Dragon heat shield is spec'd for re-entry velocities up *to* a return from Mars to Earth. This may be easier than it sounds.
Once you've decided to have the TPS handle a re-entry from *lunar* orbit Mars may not be *that* much heavier. Note also the PicaX (Spacex's tweaked version of the NASA Ames Pica ablator) is 50-60% lighter than the Apollo Avcoat stuff (and they probably followed Max Fagets advice to only put it on where it's *necessary* not all over as the *very* conservative Apollo CM builders did)
The thrusters are *way* trickier. Here's some perspective.
Opening up Sutton 4th Ed (pg 18) shows the Apollo CM had 12 NTO/MMH each putting out 93lb, obviously in opposing pairs to stop any motion you'd started. Good for 230 secs (not sure if that's total across *all* thrusters or each).
OTOH the escape system main solid put out 147000Lb (for 8 sec) with steering by a 2 nozzle pitch control rocket (1 nozzle oversize, 1 undersize to steer the CM away from the exploding Saturn with *no* moving parts) putting out 2400Lb for 0.5sec. A 3rd one ejects the tower once its not needed. That puts out 31500Lb for 1 sec.
If *half* the 12 attitude thrusters could run for 230sec and point in a useful direction their total impulse (thrust x burn time) would *still* be < 1/9 the required impulse put out by the 2 solids which fire in an emergency.
Obviously Dragon is not Apollo but if the scale of response times, and hence forces needed are *roughly* similar you're looking at a system with normal mode at 1 and emergency mode at 10 units of thrust.
I'm aware of 3 precedents for this.
The Stentor engine driving the Blue Steel stand off missile had 2 separate chambers with a 4:1 thrust ratio, presumably driven by the same turbo machinery pumping Kerosene/Hydrogen Peroxide.
The old faithful RL10 (pumped LO2/LH2) has been throttled *down* to c 2% of main thrust
Perhaps more relevant the Lance missile achieved 10:1 thrust levels by using an ablatively cooled chamber-within-chamber design (both running at launch) using UDMH/IRFA forced out of their tanks by pistons driven by a solid propellant gas generator with sustainer throttling and steering by pulsed UDMH injection. chamber pressure was 950psi.
Bottom line. *Currently* wide throttling range *is* possible for pumped design or ones with high chamber pressures. Most thrusters are pressure fed with propellants and gas in seperate tanks (EG 5000psi for He, 200psi for the propellants leading to a 150psi chamber)
In the thruster world the state of the art *seems* to be the Boeing Canoga Park (AKA Rocketdyne) "Multi Use Thruster" throttling from 500-1100 Lb thrust using (allegedly) a 500psi chamber pressure to deliver a very small thruster with a claimed T/W of 290 but using the nearly unknown "Mixed-oxides-of-Nitrogen"
It's also likely to be a bit over the cutoff point that John whitehead at LLNL worked out for using reciprocating positive displacement pumps (although they do start and stop really well and would be fine at the attitude control level of thrust). Likewise Steve Harrington's team who confine the high pressure to their pump and a specific high pressure tank.
I hope Spacex don't chicken out and go with a solid solution, which they'd probably have to buy in. If they stick to a top mounted dual (triple if you include terminal maneuvers) use design this will move the state of the art *significantly* forward.
It wasn't *that* bad a joke.
To make my PoV clear.
This is great news.
It will be *very* difficult to implement. So far only systems which operate as *primary* propulsion have demonstrated this level of throttling, and its *down* to 10% (5% in the case of the vertical launched solid fueled missile with its throat mounted pintle throttle, that the Reg has covered in the past) not up to 1000% of normal thrust. A more typical range for this size of thruster is -50%/+15%. Dragon does not seem to *have* a primary propulsion system like the Apollo SM (the big nozzle at the back).
Spacex's propulsion team have demonstrated they are *highly* competent at both the design and implementation of engine and thruster systems. I believe they are fully up to this challenge and may have done some informal preparatory work already.
I think people will be unprepared for the solution they ultimately design and execute.
Going on the animations that Spacex has released it *would* operate in 3 modes. Normal (attitude and small delta v corrections), emergency separation and precision terminal landing IE releasing the parachutes and canceling the last few hundred meters of altitude and 10s of metres of velocity with a final blast.
If Spacex cannot deliver this (Let me repeat I *fully* expect them to deliver it) the only US organisation I am aware of with experience in this field is ATK (or Aerojet as they were known in Apollo) and I *strongly* doubt they could deliver this for that kind of money. This is just an observation that *very* few US organisations have *any* experience in this highly specialised field.
I wish them every success with the programme and hope they will be ready for Oct 1st 2013 but will be *very* surprised if they don't make April 2014.
Chop chop then. If you can do it, do it. Mars is only 18 months away, so what's stopping you? Looking forward to the first tweet from Mars. All privately funded of course.
Would be even better if the technology had been entirely privately funded, rather than "standing on the shoulders of giants", with the giants being the giant piles of cash spent by the Western and Eastern Bloc governments throughout the Hot and Cold Wars developing the basic under-pinnings of this private-sector-poster-child technology.
So much easier to do stuff on the cheap if you build it on someone else's IP without paying the full costs.
"with the giants being the giant piles of cash spent by the Western and Eastern Bloc governments throughout the Hot and Cold Wars developing the basic under-pinnings of this private-sector-poster-child technology."
Before you complain about the *shocking* waste of money factor in the following.
The origins of this technology were *entirely* military. Specifically the desire to drop an H bomb on a target on the other side of the world ASAP and without *any* possibility of interception.
*Everything* else was a side benefit of those efforts.
Part of NASA's *job* is to make available to US industry the results of most of its research. It's pretty good at allowing others to look at its research. Sort of casting your bread on the waters to get it back a thousand fold.
NASA has *never* seriously pursued the idea that *cheaper* launch could mean *more*, despite having bank rolled *lots* of research in various technologies.
At least one of the core technologies Spacex uses (the radial inflow turbines driving Merlin propellant pumps) has *never* been seriously investigated in the US for rocket propulsion.
(although Russian systems seem to use it a fair bit). It could have been, but it never has been investigated.
BTW NASA does license various products and technologies, along with co-development deals to improve things first developed inside NASA. The Spacex ablative coating is a tweaked version of something initially developed by NASA Ames after a gap of several decades as *no* US company had upgraded the products they offered in this area.
"So much easier to do stuff on the cheap if you build it on someone else's IP without paying the full costs."
It's part of NASA's remit to make its research available.
What would you prefer they do?
Private -> Government -> Private
Sure, NASA, the Air Force, and the Russians all made huge strides...but where did THEY start from? Umm, the work done for decades by private rockateers, such as Robert Goddard, Hermann Oberth, and Werner von Braun (yes, von Braun went on to work for the military, but he started in rockets before that as a private citizen). The point is, neither governments nor private enterprise can claim NOT to have re-used the work of others - that is the way of scientific progress...
So, in your world, everyone should should invent everything from scratch (and presumably discover the physical principles behind the inventions as well) in order for you to recognise their achievement ?
get on with it!
>The only thing that's for sure here is that based on the story so far it would
>be unwise to totally discount what Musk and SpaceX say - no matter how
>far-fetched it may seem
Doesn't seem far fetched to me. For God's sake, from Gagarin to Apollo's landing was barely 9 years, with vacuum tube technologies and no microprocessors.
We have had 50 years of "research" in LEO about the effects on humans of being in space,, 50 years of building launchers. We don't need to wait any longer. Lets bloody get on with it before we run out of anything we can use for fuel!
I would go so far as to say that from an Engineering perspective,
we are far closer to putting a man or woman on Mars than we are to having an effective electric-only car.
A Nissan Leaf effectively covers my daily/weekly/monthly travel requirements. The once-yearly journey is by aircraft, and so no car is required.
@Robert E A Harvey
"We don't need to wait any longer. Lets bloody get on with it before we run out of anything we can use for fuel!"
Because it's the bucks that make the Buck Rogers.
@Rober E A Harvey
". For God's sake, from Gagarin to Apollo's landing was barely 9 years,"
You might like to review your history.
Gagarin orbits the Earth 1956
NASA formed 1958
Apollo lands on the Moon 1969
9 years would be 1965. which would be about the time of Gemini.
@ john smith 19
You might want to review your history too - Gagarin Flew in 1961. That's why there was all that guff last week about it being the 50th aniversary of his flght. You're probably thinking of Sputnik, although that was in 1957.
"You might want to review your history too - Gagarin Flew in 1961. "
I stand corrected.
However NASA's formation in 1958 was partly (mostly?) triggered by the orbiting of Sputnik 1 in 1956. It started looking at ways to respond to this event *very* shortly afterward.
11 years from *no* successful launches to 2 men on the moon is still *very* impressive.
It's amazing what you can do *provided* money is *literally* no object.
I would maintain that Apollo's biggest legacy is that it *could* be done and the engineering data needed to tell future developers what you have to be able to *do* to repeat it.
*How* you meet those requirements determines if you can do it at an Apollo price tag or *considerably* cheaper.
2063: Zefram Cochrane invents warp drive.
Just wait, lads.
Millionaire has a spaceship that can land on Mars?
That's nothing - I have a brick in my garden that can land on Mars just as effectively. In fact, I think I have it here in my pocket.....
I should have thought that El Reg readers -
not least those who read Mr Page's articles - would be familiar with the concept of «vapourware». Perhaps Mr Page could join Mr Musk on the(presumably nuclear-powered) voyage to Sol 4 ? I'd certainly raise a toast to that....
Mars Here We Come
Well it's Elon Musk to the rescue again one of the few people breathing life into the man space program that been dormant all these years and maybe Mars voyage go Must onward to Mars may you succeed in your dreams.
"one of the few people breathing life into the man space program that been dormant all these years"
Sadly the US manned space programme has *not* been dormant.
Both Shuttle and ISS are major *parts* of it.
They've been fantastically expensive (Big Aerospace made a packet of cash on *every* re-design of what is now called ISS *before* a single piece of metal was cut).
Musk is *not* running a space programme. He wants to sell his companies products to other people so they can run *theirs* in a much more economical way.
When launch costs drop 10x (which is what he claims 4 flights a year of Falcon 9 Heavy will give) missions that look stupidly expensive *start* to become affordable.
*Provided* NASA (and the key Senators of Alabama and Florida, whose behaviour would disgrace a badly behaved 6 year old) get used to the idea that NASA should *not* design launch vehicles any more and when they do issue RFP's stop writing them so the only design they will accept is already *in* the proposals (IE "what" it has to do, not "how" it has to do it).
I can't believe I missed the Rep Senator for Utah.
Home state of Thikol, the maker of the Shuttle SRBs and just about the worst location to set up a factory to produce a *large* solid fueled booster rocket *unless* you plan to launch on site.
His rabid support for the SLS and "Libety" concepts has been especially unimpressive.
No suggestion of a reasoned debate here.
More the Mayor in Robocop (without a request for a car that has really sh***y gas mileage).
A full blown pacifier ejection event in progress.
The Augustine commission noted that to carry out the Shrubs plan to return to the moon would take a *real* increase in the NASA budget (excluding inflation) of 50%. Their message to the Senate and the Congress was If you want to do this give them the *real* money necessary to do it or stop forcing them to look at it and keep working on it.
American readers might like to contact their relevant representatives (particularly their Congress people) and ask them why they are forcing NASA to continue to develop Ares (roughly 75% of the original budget) when they were asked *not* to by the president.
It looks like Nevada with a red gel over the lens.
Does Mars even exist?
The articles does not say what people *think* it says.
The press release on which it's based states the next version of the Dragon capsule will support a rocket assisted landing, which allows corrections *after* the parachutes (which are currently normal *round* ones for triple redundancy and which can be steered, but not to the extent a parafoil can be) are jettisoned.
While still limited this architecture has more flexibility than the Shuttle (it's not the *vehicle*. It's the 1600m pancake flat *runway* you need first. And of course all the other parts you'd need to get *back* to orbit).
In fact the release makes *no* mention of weather Dragons Picax TPS *could* survive an entry into say the Mars atmosphere. Although it can survive Earth entry from a Mars return. Just that once *implemented* the upgraded systems will allow *precision* landing. mUsk has described this as being like a helicopter landing pad.
BTW Draon parachutes are *not* stored at the top like Apollo (according to pictures in Dwayne Day's article in Spaceflight). They are stored roughly above the heat shield with the ropes running down the side of the capsule in channels which are blown off as part of the landing.
This keeps the top end clear for the fairly large diameter ISS docking port.
It also puts a big storage space just above the heat shield. Ideal *if* you wanted to replace the parachutes with some sort of rocket engine to land on something like the moon (or Phobos or Deimos perhaps). Something with a huge extensible nozzle that punches through the base (like the Stephne Baxter Mars vehicle modeled on the Chrysler SERVE design) Alternatively this *might* supply enough propellant storage space to fly the mission by fueling the thrusters while keeping the capsule heat shield end down.
Spacex has noted the *huge* cost savings to be had by making vehicles out of *slightly* different parts with *lots* of commonality. Continuing this chain of thought would have them stay with a Dragon capsule for landings but discarding it and moving to *another* Dragon for Earth landing.
Just a thought.
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