SpaceX Completes Seventh of Ten CCDev2 Goals

Dragon Seats
Astronauts Help SpaceX Evaluate Seating Aboard Dragon
Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has completed the seventh of ten goals associated with its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) round 2 contract with NASA, according to a NASA announcement. The crewed Dragon is designed to ferry humans to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the International Space Station (ISS), and return.

The accommodations for seven astronauts, engineers or scientists, were reviewed by veteran space shuttle astronauts and NASA engineers. Two two-day sessions were conducted recently, and NASA Commercial Spaceflight Director Philip McAlister stated that “I am very pleased with the progress SpaceX and our other commercial partners are making during the CCDev2 effort”.

The prototype crewed Dragon was outfitted with seats, lighting, environmental control and life support systems, conceptual displays and controls, cargo racks and other interior systems. Space shuttle veterans Rex Walheim, Tony Antonelli, Eric Boe and Tim Kopra conducted tests entering and exiting the Dragon capsule under normal and emergency conditions.

Other tests involved reach and visibility, and NASA engineers provided a lot of feedback on these critical interior systems based on their fifty years of human spaceflight experience.

The current phase 2 contract for CCDev (pdf), runs through 31 July 2012.

Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch
Stratolaunch
Image Credit: Stratolaunch Systems

Paul Alan, retired Microsoft billionaire, has teamed with Scaled Composites and SpaceX to propose creating the largest airplane ever built and launching Falcon rockets. The company is known as Stratolaunch Systems.

The six engine aircraft would derive from Boeing 747 aircraft parts and a specially designed airframe from Scaled Composites.

The rocket would be built by SpaceX, and derive from the Falcon 9, using either four or five Merlin engines.

The system is expected to deliver 6,100 kilograms to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

NASASpaceFlight covers the details here, and Space News discusses the proposal here.

Dragon Plans Renezvous with the International Space Station

Dragon at ISS
Artist Rendering of Dragon Preparing to Dock with the ISS
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced Friday that 7 February 2012 has been set as the preliminary target date for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to launch its Dragon cargo capsule on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission will launch the Dragon atop the Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft will approach the space station and fly by at a distance of about two miles. Dragon will demonstrate station keeping, testing sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous, and the ability to abort an approach if necessary.

Once these objectives have been met, the Dragon capsule will make its final approach and the station crew will grapple the vehicle with the station’s robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node.

The Dragon capsule will carry non-essential supplies and equipment and remain at the station for about two weeks. It will then detach and return to Earth where it will be recovered after splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. Dragon made a successful flight a year ago. If successful, the demonstration flight would prove SpaceX’s readiness to begin unmanned cargo deliveries to the station under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.

Voicing typical caution, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate stated that:

“There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success.”

Illustrating the size of the Dragon spacecraft, astronauts Cady Coleman and Mark Kelly examine the interior of the Dragon.

Dragon Cargo
Cady Coleman and Mark Kelly examine the interior of the Dragon Cargo Spacecraft
Image Credit: SpaceX

Below is a cutaway view of the arrangement of the cargo racks inside the Dragon capsule. Dragon is capable of delivering 6,000 kg (13,228 lbs) of payload up-mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and 3,000 kg (6,614 lbs) of payload down-mass upon the return to Earth. By comparison, the Russian Progress resupply vessels deliver about 2,700 kg of mass to LEO.

Dragon Cargo
Dragon Cargo Arrangement
Image Credit: SpaceX

Falcon Heavy

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced the final specifications for its Falcon Heavy rocket:

  • Mass to LEO (200 km, 28.5 deg): 53,000 kg (117,000 lb)
  • Overall Length: 69.2 m (227 ft)
  • Width (body): 3.6 m (12 ft) x 11.6 m (38 ft)
  • Width (fairing): 5.2 m (17 ft)
  • Mass on liftoff: 1,400,000 kg (3,100,000 lb)
  • Thrust on liftoff: 17 MN (3,800,000 lbf)

Falcon Heavy
Space X Falcon Heavy
Image Credit: Space X

Space X expects to launch its first Falcon Heavy by the end of 2012. This is 4 years before Congress has mandated NASA to deliver a new heavy lift rocket (2016), which NASA has indicated it is unable to do within the budget that Congress has granted. The politicians have violated the cardinal rule of project management: you have three variables – cost, time and quality. You are allowed to specify two and the project manager will tell you what the third one is.

Elon Musk has indicated that two Falcon Heavy rockets would be sufficient to mount a substantive Moon mission.

Even one Falcon Heavy could do so if the crew was small.

One might speculate about the size of the mission if propellant depots were available to refuel an empty spacecraft weighing 50,000 kg. The final all up weight of a fully fueled space craft could be in the neighborhood of 400,000 kg. That is far more than is needed for any mission beyond Earth orbit that is currently imagined, save for a full blown expedition to Mars.

This was the vision Werner Von Braun had for refueling in space, before America was sidetracked by the need to land a man on the Moon before the decade was out. He did not have the time to develop the refueling technology.

Rockets as big as the Saturn V and the (hopefully) canceled Ares V are not needed for manned exploration of the Solar System.