back to article Deton-8. Blastobox-3. Demo-1... One of these is the name of a SpaceX crew capsule test now due to launch in March

NASA this week set a date for the launch of the much-delayed Demo-1 – the first test flight of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule that will, fingers crossed, eventually ferry humans to the International Space Station. This comes as fears grow over the preparedness of the agency’s commercial partners for getting astronauts to the ISS. In …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reliable or not?

    I don't quite understand why it is that NASA (and Russia, of course) have spent many years testing and pretty much perfecting their space vehicles (although tragic accidents, as we all know, have unfortunately happened) and yet these rising upstarts claim to have things ready, willing and able in very short order without the benefit of all that experience. All sounds pretty risky to me, with shades of running before they can walk!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Reliable or not?

      Because the "years of testing" for many of these systems (shuttle/Saturn V) consist of hope and prayer and then defining any fault that didn't actually kill you last time as "non-critical"

      It's a little like running across the road drunk and blindfolded 10 times and getting away with it - so that is obviously the safe way to do it, while using a crossing is untried.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Reliable or not?

        'Because the "years of testing" for many of these systems (shuttle/Saturn V) consist of hope and prayer and then defining any fault that didn't actually kill you last time as "non-critical" '

        That's how they operated the Space Shuttle for sure - at least until the second fatal disaster. But in the case of the Saturn V/Apollo combination, all the serious problems which turned up were taken seriously. It's why the early launches exhibited severe pogo oscillations from the first stage, but the later ones didn't, to take one example.

        For some reason, in between the Apollo era and the Space Shuttle era, NASA management lost the plot somewhat.

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Reliable or not?

          That's how they operated the Space Shuttle for sure - at least until the second fatal disaster. But in the case of the Saturn V/Apollo combination, all the serious problems which turned up were taken seriously. It's why the early launches exhibited severe pogo oscillations from the first stage, but the later ones didn't, to take one example.

          Lest we forget that Apollo 1 killed its crew without even leaving the launchpad.

          Early problems (and more recent problems) were and are taken seriously, just as problems with early iterations with Falcon 9 were taken seriously, which have led to the incredibly reliable Block 5 iteration. As of last night, F9 has hit forty consecutive successful flights (49 if you don't count the pad fire and go back to F9's solitary flight failure).

          And people talk about SpaceX like they're a wing-and-a-prayer bunch of cowboys.

          The different between Crew Dragon and the Shuttle of course being that Dragon (unlike the Shuttle) can separate itself from an exploding rocket stack rapidly. And also (unlike the shuttle) is integrated at the top of the stack with nothing above it (i.e. no risk of falling debris damaging say, the heat shield). It's an inherently safer design over a horizontally-integrated launch stack.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reliable or not?

      "[...] yet these rising upstarts claim to have things ready, willing and able in very short order without the benefit of all that experience. All sounds pretty risky to me, with shades of running before they can walk!"

      Of course it's risky: space travel isn't safe in the usual sense of the word. But the "upstarts" aren't all that upstarty really, and they're being scrutinised by some pretty serious scrutineers.

      The article refers to this report:

      https://oiir.hq.nasa.gov/asap/documents/2018_ASAP_Report-TAGGED.pdf

      Take a look - it's a summary of what's clearly some very detailed engineering evaluation and serious professional engineering nit-picking based on NASA's long experience.

      Various players are fingered as being not quite up to scratch: SpaceX, Boeing (Orion), and the ESA (Orion's service module). SpaceX has been sending stuff into orbit for quite a while now. Both the ESA and Boeing are long-established players in space.

      And don't forget, everything has to start somewhere. Early space exploration was done without anyone have much track record - aside from von Braun's lot. NASA didn't lose any astronauts in flight until the first Space Shuttle disaster, which happened despite a great deal of space flight experience accumulated to that date. It's more about the competence of your engineering quality management than anything else.

    3. eldakka Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Reliable or not?

      these rising upstarts claim to have things ready, willing and able in very short order without the benefit of all that experience.

      But they do have the benefit of all that experience.

      What? You think that the people who gained that experience over the last 50-years all died without passing on that knowledge? I mean, I know writing reports, technical documentation, manuals, results of investigations, authoring new textbooks, and passing on training is not a thing, right?

      I guess the educational institutions training engineers, scientists, aerospace engineers, never incorporated any of the lessons learnt during those 50-years into their coursework? They must only use the same textbooks that the engineers trained in the 40's and 50's were trained on? I mean, they are making it all up from scratch aren't they?

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Demo-1

    To be followed up by Demo-1.bak, demo-2test, Copy of Demo-1, etc

  3. TechnicalBen Silver badge
    Unhappy

    What a let down.

    You got my hopes up with "Blast box 3"! But I guess as this is mainly for NASA at this stage, you don't want to upstage the customer with silly names. :)

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: What a let down.

      The customer gets to name the flight.

      But SpaceX get to name the vessel. I assume Dragons have names, anyway?

      1. OssianScotland Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: What a let down.

        Mnementh and Ramoth spring rapidly to mind...

        ...coat, please.... yes, the one with the copy of "The Atlas of Pern" in the pocket... thank you....

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Considering how well NASA done with putting people in space recently, or indeed doing much original rocket research at all, I'd say they should STFU and get back in their rocking chairs. Tell me how many new engines NASA has qualified in the past 30 years.

    OTOH, I'm going to have to be up at 2:30am to watch the fireworks, sigh.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "OTOH, I'm going to have to be up at 2:30am to watch the fireworks, sigh."

      There's this new service on t'internet called "YouTube" where you can watch these things pretty much whenever you feel like it :-)

  5. Tempest8008

    I don't get it...

    The Dragon Capsule has proven itself in cargo delivery to the ISS repeatedly. It also separates, makes its way down through the atmosphere and splashes down intact when sent back with experiment results/trash. So that part works. The one launch failure in-flight, the Dragon capsule survived but due to a software oversight didn't pop its parachutes. This oversight has been fixed.

    The Space-X boosters work to get the Dragon Capsule into orbit. One failure on the pad, one in flight out of 68 launches so far.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Falcon_9_and_Falcon_Heavy_launches#Launch_outcomes

    That failure on the pad was during a static fire test, and changes to that procedure means the payloads are no longer going to be on-board during those kinds of tests...so no astronaut danger there.

    I understand 100% that NASA wants to make things as safe as possible. I think SpaceX and Boeing and all of the private firms reaching for space feel the same way and are working flat out to achieve the most safety they can.

    But at some point you have to decide you've done all you can and light the touch paper.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: I don't get it...

      The pad failure was during propellant load, which is done the same way whether it's for launch or fire test.

      It was really just luck that it performed a RUD before a static fire engine test rather than before launch, as the sequence is exactly the same either way right up until the decision "let go/don't".

      Given NASA's prior history with "things getting too cold and breaking", they're right to look into that very closely.

      That said, is it safer to get the crew strapped into the abort-capable podule before the volatile mix is pumped in underneath, or to fill 'er up and then have the crew and support team walk across a bridge while the fully-fueled potential fireball seethes below?

      I personally think SpaceX' approach is safer overall.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019