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SpaceX Developing Orbital Crew Capsule 122

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
iamlucky13 writes "Private aerospace firm SpaceX has revealed that it has secretly been working on a crew and cargo vehicle since late 2004. Development of the capsule, named Dragon, has so far been funded by SpaceX and its partners, which includes the Canadian company that built the robotic arm for the International Space Station. Dragon would be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 and dock at the ISS with assistance of the robotic arm. While SpaceX founder Elon Musk is prepared to complete development of the capsule with his own resources, SpaceX is seeking funding from NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which makes up to $500 million available through 2010 for private spacecraft development."
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SpaceX Developing Orbital Crew Capsule

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  • by OriginalSpaceMan (695146) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:20PM (#14862264)
    If they thought ahead they would have realized that it's much more efficient to put 2 robotic arms on IIS. One to catch the capsule and one to throw it back to Earth. Now IIS will have to take it's glove off before it can throw the capsule back down.
  • SkyRamp FFS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LordKazan (558383) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:23PM (#14862287) Homepage Journal
    All these "carrier plane" based ideas make me barf, but the "new" launch vehicle nasa is coming out with makes me want to barf even more.

    FFS Listen to what Von Braun said dammit

    Read: http://www.skyramp.org/ [skyramp.org]

    • Re:SkyRamp FFS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:54PM (#14862536) Homepage Journal
      I don't see any quotes from Von Braun. In fact, Von Braun thought the Saturn V was his baby for launches. Using accelerators to get up to speed in thick atmosphere is a very different idea that AFAIK, he never got behind.

      About the closest thing they have is on this page [skyramp.org] where they take Von Braun's consultation for a movie as serious evidence that he backed such a scheme. That's not exactly evidence.

      BTW, any site that uses Java Applets for each rollover button (something possible without Java) needs to be shot.
      • Re:SkyRamp FFS (Score:5, Informative)

        by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:22PM (#14862715) Homepage Journal
        Very true. If you want to attribute anything to Von Braun, attribute in-orbit assembly. His proposals for military installations on the Moon in the late 50s were elegant and advanced. He relied on what today we would call medium-lift launch vehicles and in-orbit assembly. At the time the army had a proven capability to fire off hundreds of these rockets a month and had shown they can man and supply outposts in much harsher conditions. The only thing lacking was a mandate. From an economical point of view medium-lift launch vehicles make a lot of sense. See The case for smaller launch vehicles in human space exploration by Grant Bonin, part 1 [thespacereview.com] and part 2 [thespacereview.com].
        • Re:SkyRamp FFS (Score:3, Interesting)

          by isomeme (177414)

          had shown they can man and supply outposts in much harsher conditions.

          And where, exactly, had the Army been maintaining outposts in conditions harsher than those of hard vaccum, 300K day/night temperature variation, unfiltered exposure to solar and cosmic radiation, and a nearly complete lack of extractable life-support volatiles in the soil?

          • The "harshness" of maintaining an outpost is all about the logistical difficulty of resupplying it.
            • Well, I'll also argue that maintaining a base on the Moon is logistically more difficult than anywhere you can name on Earth.

              My brother, an Army veteran, claims that Fort Benning, Georgia is far less hospitable than the surface of the Moon, by the way.
              • Well no offense man, but I'll take Von Braun's argument over yours any day of the week.
                • Well no offense man, but I'll take Von Braun's argument over yours any day of the week.

                  Do as you like; but note that I, unlike Von Braun, am not defending my argument in order to obtain billions of dollars in government funding for my pet projects.

          • New Jersy.
      • I don't see any quotes from Von Braun. In fact, Von Braun thought the Saturn V was his baby for launches.

        Actually von Braun thought the Saturn V was a mildly interesting side road - his real interest was in reuseable shuttlecraft. In fact, NASA has (by-and-large) been following von Braun's Shuttle-> Station-> Moon-> Mars plan since the day it changed it's name from NACA.

        Under NASA's original plan - Apollo was just a general purpose earth orbiter with a seperate (expendable) heavy lifter for carg

        • Actually von Braun thought the Saturn V was a mildly interesting side road - his real interest was in reuseable shuttlecraft.

          People keep repeating this, but it just isn't true. The Space Shuttle concept was an offshoot of the Dynasoar [wikipedia.org] which was an offshoot of the Silbervogel (Silverbird) [wikipedia.org]. The Sibervogel was Eugen Sänger's baby, not Von Braun's. Sanger died in Berlin, but his concepts were carried forward by the USAF (and later NASA) independent of Von Braun's work. Von Braun actually believed that the
          • Actually von Braun thought the Saturn V was a mildly interesting side road - his real interest was in reuseable shuttlecraft.

            People keep repeating this, but it just isn't true. The Space Shuttle concept was an offshoot of the Dynasoar which was an offshoot of the Silbervogel (Silverbird). The Sibervogel was Eugen Sänger's baby, not Von Braun's

            Right. That's why Von Braun wrote an entire *book*, as well as a series of articles for Collier's magazine, as well as movie for Disney... All pushing the S

    • SkyRamp?

      "Fling!" ... "I _love_ my astronauts!" *bang*
    • Re:SkyRamp FFS (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iamlucky13 (795185)
      I suppose cost is one of the big reasons a rocket sled hasn't been tried. A full scale ramp would be a major investment. If the sled is rocket driven, you still deal with burning lots of fuel, although reuse of components could be made simpler. If it's magnetic, you're dealing with developing new technology on a very large scale. I'm not sure if pneumatic or steam systems are even reasonably realistic at the velocities in question. Either way, you need a very long and straight ramp, which means a lot of rea
      • They have a pretty thorough analysis that addresses those points.
      • I suppose cost is one of the big reasons a rocket sled hasn't been tried. A full scale ramp would be a major investment.

        No, it hasn't been tried for one reason only; when you run the numbers - it doesn't work. The cost/LB turns out to be greater current expendables, and a much higher percentage of parasitic mass is required.

        If the sled is rocket driven, you still deal with burning lots of fuel,

        Rocket fuel is cheap. The total cost of the Shuttle's liquid and solid fuels is somewhere around 2 million d

    • There are a number of problems associated with building and using such a ramp. For such a track to work at such high speeds it would need to be absolutely flawless. The slightest bump or blockage on the track and you can say goodbye to your crew. At best you could make a short track somewhat like an aircraft carrier launch pad. But even then, the amount of mass you have to move and hence the forces involved would be enourmous.
    • Re:SkyRamp FFS (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Buran (150348)
      Actually, carrier-plane based systems are very successful. Take a look at the Pegasus booster and SpaceShipOne, for instance, and the rumored Blackstar program. Plus, with a manned aircraft launching from high altitude, the hard work of getting off the pad and through the lower atmosphere has already been done, and there's less to throw away -- the launcher simply returns to its launch site just like a normal aircraft does (and in fact the Pegasus has always used modified aircraft built for other purposes r
      • T-space is doing interesting work on air-launched rocketry using a lanyard to upright the rocket. Requires less ground infrastructure, and can be launched over water - making it unnecessary to make expensively safe launch pad facilities in populated areas.

        Safer too, supposedly. If the rocket screws up during light-up, the capsule would separate and parachute down. In contrast to blowing up on the pad.
        • Yep. They have yet to launch, though -- that's why I cited the two I did. I hope it works, though; it's a great idea. It also has the advantage Sea Launch does in that it can be taken to the equator, where it gets a larger kick from the earth's rotation.
        • Umm... We've had this thing called a "launch escape tower" ever since Mercury, and the Russians have something similar. (In fact, I think the Russians are the only ones to have actually used it in an actual abort.)

          The idea is that a little rocket is mounted on a small tower above the crew capsule. In the event of a booster failure (yes, even on the pad), the rocket fires and pulls the capsule safely away from the booster. Then, it can parachute down to safety.
          • Yeah, and the launch escape tower is a Hail Mary measure. Separating from an exploding rocket in mid-air is safer and more certain of survival.
            • Not having your rocket explode is even safer.

              Witness the lack of escape tower in a modern airliner. :)
              • And not having an escape mechanism can be more dangerous. Witness the lack of an ejection mechanism in the Space Shuttle.

                Of course an advantage of the escape tower approach is that it moves you far from the exploding rocket, probably a lot further than any other sort of mid-air separation. It also gives you a quick on-pad escape mechanism, if you are launching with a conventional rocket.
                • Re:SkyRamp FFS (Score:3, Insightful)

                  Ejecting at hypersonic speeds is *always* more dangerous than hoping your vehicle doesn't blow up. Your vehicle might not blow up. Unprotected exposure to hypersonic flow is generally contraindicated for humans.

                  On the other hand, the Shuttle lacks a good supersonic ejection capability. The crew escape mechanism works at subsonic speeds, but at supersonic it's a more risky maneuver. However, the mid-deck seats are *inside* the fuselage. Working a supersonic ejection capability in for mid-deck is probabl
      • Actually, carrier-plane based systems are very successful. Take a look at the Pegasus booster and SpaceShipOne, for instance,

        Pegasus, which costs two orders of magnitude over it's initial promise, and whose cost/LB to orbit is essentially the same as the overly expensive Atlas and Delta series (with a significantly worse safety record)... SpaceShipOne, which is a high performance aircraft, not an orbiter...

        Yeah. Those are really convincing arguments for the 'sucess' of air launch for LEO payloads

        and th

        • Pegasus, which costs two orders of magnitude over it's initial promise

          For something never tried before. Just like the space shuttle, which also had unexpected problems and costs. Nothing new ever comes in at the expected price. That comes with doing something new, and is part of the literal cost of trying new ideas. Lessons learned from first tries at things tend to be applied later on to more successful derivatives of the original idea.

          Sure, the hard work of getting off the pad and through the lower atmos
          • Pegasus, which costs two orders of magnitude over it's initial promise

            For something never tried before.

            You held it up as an example of sucess. No matter how hard you wave your hands - it wasn't.

            Sure, the hard work of getting off the pad and through the lower atmosphere has already been done, but the insanely freaking hard job of getting up to orbital velocity still remains to be done

            Yes, but it's also true that a significant portion of the fuel a vehicle carries is used for getting off the ground in

            • You held it up as an example of sucess. No matter how hard you wave your hands - it wasn't.

              Yes, it was. It worked, didn't it? It isn't as capable as some other systems (it's not that big) and it costs more than originally planned, but it launches satellites, doesn't it? That's a success in my book. And I'm going to wave my hands all over the place because I consider something that actually does what it's designed to do to be something that is a success. Now if it consistently explodes or crashes, that's a p
  • ... and you get performance at a tiny fraction of their price.
    • Here's your problem. You're trying to ADD the government to this project. /me erases the TNT
    • by LordKazan (558383) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:43PM (#14862450) Homepage Journal
      This isn't universally true, but it's far too true.

      Government can be efficient if people take them to task for not being, but people are apathetic about government waste so the government gets away with it.

      In NASA's case it's an oldguard groupthink problem from what i've been told by someone who used to work there.
      • by Jeff Molby (906283) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:25PM (#14862742)
        people are apathetic about government waste so the government gets away with it.


        That's true, but government's performance is also harder to judge than a publically listed company. Large parts of the budget are vague (or completely misleading) and i doubt there is much (if any) independent auditing.

        Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of the budget goes to items which are inherently non-profit, so how can you compare efficieny when you can't compare an expense to "what the market will bear"?
        • Walk through beaurocratic offices, and write down the prices of things nobody ever wanted, nobody's allowed to use, and someone higher up decided they needed anyway.

          For a secondary measurement, walk through beaurocratic offices and write down the discrepancy between the cost of what people got and the cost of what they need.

          There are a lot of departments where there's a lot of waste. My dad is working in a ten-person office that has two color coppiers that they aren't allowed to touch for fear that so
    • So we really should have private armies, then. And we should be voting for the best corporate tender for running the government.
    • ...then government can be of help. Without a Cold War race and massive government expenditures, I doubt we'd have gone to the moon or made a third to a half the technological discoveries involving computers and space. Your point holds given that many of the technologies we use to get into space could use innovation and commercialization, but in areas where cost is the main barrier to technology development government can prove useful.
      • Yes and No. What were the requiremets for our next Gen. human spaceflight vehicle after the Apollo program? I can tell you that something VERY much cheaper than the complex hunk of junk known as the Space Shutle could have fulfilled all the requirements. But NASA in it's infinite wisdom gave us an albatross around out necks for 30 years. Something so complex, expensive, dangerous, etc... that has eaten up huge mounds of cash that could have gone to true science instead.

        Private industry could not reall
    • Remember, SpaceX's grand accomplishment so far has been a static test firing of a very small vehicle. Two other attempts to launch have been scrubbed, one damaging the Falcon1 so badly during defueling that it required replacing an entire stage.

      The Falcon1 is still vapor, the 5 and 9 and this capsule are beyond vaporware. I *really* hope these guys succeed, but before commenting on the failure of the government remember that they haven't even gotten to where NASA was in 1960.

      • Falcon 1 isn't vapor - it's beta ;). Otherwise, you go straight from "vapor" to a full release. And the rocket only got damaged because of a faulty valve that they didn't make. Falcon 5 and 9 are still vaporware, of course.

        No, they're not doing everything NASA did in its past. I'll be one of the first here to defend NASA. But what SpaceX is doing is a serious and difficult task, and shouldn't be denigrated. Even if they have to outright double their launch prices, they'll still get plenty of business.
  • El Segundo? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:25PM (#14862304) Journal
    "Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is asking NASA to help fund the demonstration of a reusable space capsule the El Segundo, Calif.-based company has been developing in secret with its own funding for the past 18 months."

    Their own funding? Some guy from a Tribe Called Quest told me he left his wallet in El Segundo, I think I know what happened to the cash that was in it.

    Also, until we see figures on how much they've spent on development themselves, I bet it pales in comparison to what they ask for from NASA. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as long as any tech they develop enters public domain (I wish).
    • Re:El Segundo? (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)
      Also, until we see figures on how much they've spent on development themselves, I bet it pales in comparison to what they ask for from NASA.

      From the article:

      Musk declined to say how much he has spent on Dragon so far, but said it was only a small part of the $100 million he has invested in SpaceX to-date building the Falcon 1 and getting started on the larger and more powerful Falcon 9.

      Also, from what I understand, SpaceX isn't asking for one of the typical cost-plus contracts, but this is part of a competi
    • Musk supposedly has never said how much of his own cash he's invested in SpaceX, but the article, as well as other estimates, place it at around $100 million so far. No mention of other contributions. The article also mentions that they don't expect to receive all of the $500 million NASA grant, but are hoping for at least half.

      It's doubtful there is any stipulation that their technology become public domain. After all, don't Boeing and Lockheed get to keep all of theirs? I guess the grant could be consi
      • Re:El Segundo? (Score:5, Informative)

        by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:12PM (#14862655) Journal
        Musk supposedly has never said how much of his own cash he's invested in SpaceX, but the article, as well as other estimates, place it at around $100 million so far. No mention of other contributions.

        SpaceX is almost entirely self-funded by Elon Musk, with a few small investments by "friends and family." He has mentioned though that after the first Falcon I flight he'll be pursuing some outside funding to raise another $50 - $100 million for the development of things like the next-generation Merlin 2 engine (which would be the largest rocket engine in the world). If the company's launch products are successful, he plans on an eventual IPO in "three to four years."
      • The biggest benefit won't be any exact products or technologies they create.

        Building a rocket engine isn't as much science as plumbing. Doing it on the cheap especially.

        The biggest benefit is a cost point. Even if SpaceX fails long-term, if they can prove that it is possible to get the cost of launch way down, it becomes possible for other people to get funding to make a go at it.
  • its nice to see... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ganjadude (952775) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:30PM (#14862345) Homepage
    Eventhough some of the designs are flawed... it is still nice to see a sort of Spcae Race again, I am only 20 so i missed the first Space race, however i enjoy the prospects involved with the process, as well as the idea of making something that no one else has before. Remember the wright brothers, they had a few failing designs before the suceeded. Just because we are still in the early stages of development, flaws are to be expected, designs will crash and burn. But so what? isnt this what Space exploration is about?? learning and using what you have learned to further the learning??? I for one am thrilled that the spaceX foundation is doing great things, even if it isnt perfect. was the x1 perfect when chuck Yeagur broke the sound barrier??? NO. and neither will spaceX be perfect. Shit NASA still cant even get it right all the time.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:36PM (#14862388) Homepage Journal
    The prototype lacks a reaction control system for maneuvering in space and a heat shield that would prevent it from burning up upon re-entry, Musk said, but could otherwise be launched into space.

    LOL, that's brilliant. What does it have?

    "As part of a top secret project, we've already built a prototype flight crew capsule, including a thoroughly tested 30-man-day-life-support system, which is sitting on our factory floor right now," Musk told Space News. "It doesn't meet all the NASA requirements, so it will probably not see flight, but it has served as a valuable learning experience."

    So nothing. You have a tin can. Brilliant.

    Neither Dragon nor its Falcon 9 rocket is ready to roll out to the launch pad. But the Falcon 9 is in development for a 2007 debut..

    The Falcon I hasn't even got off the launch pad.

    Look, I love SpaceX. Elon Musk is trying to dig a big hole in the middle of the overweight aerospace industry and so far he's doing a good job of it. But this is nothing but vapourware. I hope NASA gives them a big chunk of that funding but frankly, it's a high risk proposition right now.

    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:48PM (#14862495) Journal
      Look, I love SpaceX. Elon Musk is trying to dig a big hole in the middle of the overweight aerospace industry and so far he's doing a good job of it. But this is nothing but vapourware. I hope NASA gives them a big chunk of that funding but frankly, it's a high risk proposition right now.

      Could you remind me what Boeing and Lockheed-Martin have produced so far with their contracts to build NASA's CEV? If I recall correctly, all they have so far are design documents and powerpoint slides.

      It seems to me SpaceX (which has a full-sized prototype with tested life support) is a good bit ahead of them, using just Elon Musk's out-of-pocket funding instead of NASA's.
      • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:59PM (#14862582) Homepage Journal
        full-sized prototype == big tin can.

        tested life support? He clearly says that the life support system used is not up to spec and will not fly.

        SpaceX needs to prototype this stuff before they can design a real system because they have no experience making spacecraft. Boeing and Lockheed-Martin can focus on gathering requirements and doing engineering, on paper, because they know what they are doing. The only reason NASA has to go with SpaceX is because they are likely to get a better deal, but they've gotta wear the risk.

        • by RocketGeek (566822) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:20PM (#14862710) Homepage
          > full-sized prototype == big tin can.

          No, it's a full sized prototype with all internal systems working. Your average tin can on a shelf in Walmart generally doesn't come fitted with seats and working controls, etc.

          > tested life support? He clearly says that the life
          > support system used is not up to spec and will not fly.

          No. Read the article again. It says the life support system has been thoroughly tested. It is just a case of the whole system does not meet the arbitrary pile of paperwork test required for NASA, and the reaction control system and heat shield are not fitted. Both clearly essential for a spaceflight (or one that returns to Earth), but the rest of the vehicle is functional.
          • It is just a case of the whole system does not meet the arbitrary pile of paperwork test required for NASA...
            "arbitrary pile of paperwork test"?

            I think you're taking your anti-NASA hyperbole a little far here. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to safely launch a person into space and bring them back again?

            Nevermind. You answered my question in your post.

            Arbitrary pile of paperwork, indeed.

            • > "arbitrary pile of paperwork test"?

              Yes, arbitrary in the sense that much of the paperwork is needless. Much of the space qual specs were developed before the major space agencies had launched manned vehicles / and / or were developed during the early years of manned spaceflight. There are many places where they could be relaxed with today's knowledge, and other places where they could be tightened up.

              > I think you're taking your anti-NASA hyperbole a little far here.

              Not anti NASA. Anti NASA
            • I believe I am highly but not uniquely qualified to answer this particular question. I spent the last month writing my company's NASA COTS proposal.

              The Service Requirements Document (NC3P-1000) was an entirely appropriate and comparatively svelte 23 pages (thank you for a reasonable sized SRD, C3PO). The Interface Requirements Document was a slightly chunkier 130 pages, which was basically a summary of the Applications docs listed below for ISS Visiting Vehicles.

              There were 49 "ISS Applications" specificat
        • SpaceX needs to prototype this stuff before they can design a real system because they have no experience making spacecraft. Boeing and Lockheed-Martin can focus on gathering requirements and doing engineering, on paper, because they know what they are doing. The only reason NASA has to go with SpaceX is because they are likely to get a better deal, but they've gotta wear the risk.

          Boeing and Lockheed-Martin know a lot less than you think. What manned space vehicles have they built in the last 30 years?

          • Whatever the differences in approaches, there is no contest between them. One of Boeing and Lockheed will get the $* billion CEV contract. SpaceX is working on a vehicle for ISS resupply, which is a separate, much less expensive ($500m), and better structured program.

            Not to nitpick, but Boeing and Lockheed are actually both on the list of vendors expressing interest for the COTS program. I have no idea if they ended up submitting a proposal, though.
            • Not to nitpick, but Boeing and Lockheed are actually both on the list of vendors expressing interest for the COTS program.

              Yes, good point.

            • The final printed copies of the proposals are due tomorrow at 2pm Houston time, though CD-ROMs were due last Friday; estimates by various surveys of the Vendors Expressing Interest list is that something like 25 proposals from prime contractors are expected. Many of those will probably not address all 4 capabilities NASA was inquiring about (A. Unpressurized cargo; B. Pressurized cargo; C. Pressurized cargo and return of equipment to Earth; D. ISS crew rotation).

              Presumably more press coverage will be out t
    • I would think that it's better to say that it clearly won't meet NASA specs, because given the way NASA has worked in the past, if you have hardware ready and they won't like it, the spec will be carefully constructed to exclude your existing hardware. :)

      Oh, and many many capsules have been launched sans heatshield on the first flight. Saves the trouble of a recovery crew and not accidentally landing on somebody or something.

      Of course, seeing the Dragon makes them doing the Falcon 9 instead of the Falcon 5
    • by J05H (5625)
      >LOL, that's brilliant. What does it have?

      Everything else: tested life support, avionics, the Service Module with main engine (Kestrel? SM is probably shortened version of their second stage), maybe a full cockpit and some kind of pressure vessel. From the quote, it sounds like it's flight-weight or very nearly. I half-agree on calling it vapourware: I'll give Dragon more credit when they start drop tests. The 30-man-day lifesupport test is no small cookies. They do have an impressive base of contractors
    • launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 and dock at the ISS with assistance of the robotic arm.

      It sounds like they're going to thumb a ride.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:36PM (#14862395) Journal
    Dang... I just saw this on slashdot a few minutes after I submitted it myself. For the curious, here's my version of the submission, which includes some different info and a link to a SpaceRef story which has more pictures of the capsule:

    SpaceX has revealed [space.com] that for the past few years they've been secretly developing the Dragon space capsule [spaceref.com], which will be the first privately-built manned orbital spacecraft. The company has already built a full-scale working prototype and thoroughly tested its life support system, with the capsule development using 'only a small part of the $100 million [CEO/founder Elon Musk] has invested in SpaceX to-date building the Falcon 1 [orbital rocket] and getting started on the larger and more powerful Falcon 9.' According to Musk, 'I feel very confident about being able to offer NASA an ISS-servicing capability by 2009 and am prepared to back that up with my own funding.' It's believed that Musk will also compete for crew/cargo delivery contracts to private space station modules built by Bigelow Aerospace [wikipedia.org].

    All in all, I'm very excited about this announcement. I'm sure SpaceX wishes that they could have gotten their Falcon I rocket off the ground before announcing the capsule, but the deadline for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems [nasa.gov] (COTS) program was a few days ago. The COTS program is the means by which NASA hopes to award competitive contracts to delivery crew and cargo to the International Space Station, in order to reduce reliance on the Russians and promote the development of private spaceflight. Since the capsule is a critical part of their COTS proposal, SpaceX pretty much had to let the secret out.
    • Sorry, I beat you to it. Actually, I saw the SpaceRef article only a few minutes after I made my submission. It's a little bit better write up, if only for the fact that it has pictures and doesn't have space.com's ponderous wealth of ads and background images. Interestingly enough, I found the SpaceRef article when, out of curiosity, I checked wikipedia to see if there was any prior mention of the capsule, since I remembered Musk suggesting a year or two ago that he was interested in manned space flight. I
      • Sorry, I beat you to it.

        No worries. ;)

        Instead, I found that someone had already added a section about the capsule this morning to the SpaceX entry [wikipedia.org]. Crazy nerds!

        Indeed! I noticed that too. I wonder if anyone's looked at the statistics of the time between when a news item is released and when it appears in a Wikipedia entry...
  • The only way we're going to advance space travel is for private competition to take over. How far ahead could we have been if the government hadn't been monopolizing space travel? The future is probably going to look more than Escape Velocity [ambrosiasw.com] than Star Trek...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The government DOES NOT monopolize space. It doesn't own it, for one thing.

      Where there is commercial gain in going to space, like satellite TV, corporations make use of it. Where there is no commercial gain in going to space, like manned space flight or blue-sky research, corporations don't do it, and it's left to government agencies to do the stuff which benefits humanity overall but doesn't make any money.

      If you want to understand these discussions get a clue about the differences between reality and holl
    • Well, I hope the actual future has better graphics...

      mcb
  • by ssummer (533461) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:41PM (#14862433)
    Scaled Composites has the "White Knight", SpaceX has the "Dragon", what's next? The "Grand Wizard" orbiting space station?
    • You missed the biggie, though, "Elon Musk."

      This is obviously just a big stealth marketing campaign for an upcoming computer game. The names aren't as silly as character names in a Gene Roddenberry show, but pretty close.

      Okay, so "Andromeda Ascendant" and "Pax Magellanic" were cool names, but those were ships. :)

      Dylan Hunt? Trance Gemini? C'mon.
    • Actually, another article said the capsule was originally referred to as "magic dragon," a reference to a certain Peter, Paul, and Mary song you might have heard. So the question is, are the engineers at SpaceX role-playing nerds or stoners?
      • So the question is, are the engineers at SpaceX role-playing nerds or stoners?

        Since they tend to internally refer to their new test stand and unannounced rocket as BFTS ("Big F*****g Test Stand") and BFR("Big F*****g Rocket"), I suspect a number of them are also video game nerds.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        *whoosh!* Grandparent was referring to the KKK [wikipedia.org].
  • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:42PM (#14862445) Homepage
    From the story (if you read it...):

    The Dragon capsule is the centerpiece of the proposal SpaceX submitted March 3 under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration program.

    An appropriate acronym, COTS, already used for "Commercial, Off The Shelf"...


    • Or, if you're an anime junkie, COTS can stand for "Crest of the Stars", which is funnily enough still a somewhat relevant name.
    • From the story (if you read it...):
      The Dragon capsule is the centerpiece of the proposal SpaceX submitted March 3 under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration program.
      An appropriate acronym, COTS, already used for "Commercial, Off The Shelf"...
      And closely related to a long-standing acronym in the space-enthusiasts community, CATS, for Cheap Access To Space.
  • by kclittle (625128) on Monday March 06, 2006 @06:48PM (#14862493)
    Could someone briefly explain why liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen are one of the preferred fuels for orbital rockets, at least for the first stage? I know the F-1 engine on the Saturn V used kerosene, but I never understood why; the J-2 engines on the second stage of the Saturn V used liquid hydrogen and LOX -- why the mix?

    • by cmowire (254489) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:05PM (#14862620) Homepage
      Kerosene is not the most efficent, in terms of mass, but it is rather efficent in terms of density. It's rather much like jet fuel, so there's already hardware to deal with it.

      Hydrogen is more efficent in terms of mass, but it's not very dense, so you need huge tanks to store it. Also, it's cold enough to give you nasty materials problems that you don't get with just LOX.

      So usually it makes more sense to use kerosene + LOX on the first stage because you are going to need a lot of fuel and you are going to have to push it through the atmosphere and stuff. Then once you are above the atmosphere and have ejected the first stage, the rest of the stages work better with hydrogen as the fuel.
      • It's rather much like jet fuel, so there's already hardware to deal with it.

        Isn't "jet fuel" a formulation of kerosene? Just askin'

        • by cmowire (254489) on Monday March 06, 2006 @08:00PM (#14862993) Homepage
          Okay, so I'm not a petrol engineer... but then when does that sort of thing stop any good slashdotter?

          RP-1 is a highly refined kerosine fraction.

          Jet-A / Jet-A1 is a slightly less refined kerosine fraction.

          K-1 Kerosine is yet another kerosine fraction. In some places, they skip out on K-1 and just sell Jet-A1 as kerosine for simplicity's sake.

          There are other jet fuels that take a "wider cut" and include some napatha and gasoline fractions.

          If you want, you can run turbines on all kinds of crazy stuff, although with modern catalytic oil processing, that's far less useful than it used to be.

          Diesel engines can be made to burn Jet-A or RP-1.

          Either way... the hardware to pump jet fuel/kerosine/etc. sorts of fluids is pretty well understood and easy to get ahold of. Not so for hydrogen.
      • Also, LOX/Hydrogen are cryogenic which means that they must be maintained at extremely cold temperatures. This necessitates all sorts of additional requirements such as more robust seals (Challenger) and insultating foam (Columbia) on the external tanks. Moreover, there is a huge logistics and support footprint for cryogenic fuels. They must be stored near the launch site and the spacecraft fueled immediately prior to launch and de-fueled if there is an abort. This further constrains flexibility of oper
      • by Coocha (114826)
        I filmed Mr. Musk's guest lecture at Virginia Tech, and I remember him mentioning that LOX+Kerosene is also very cheap compared to other rocket fuel combinations. Part of SpaceX's design/implementation strategy is minimizing costs in order to undercut Boeing/Lockheed's prices, so that's just another reason to use it.
    • by Jonathan_S (25407) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:11PM (#14862650)
      Could someone briefly explain why liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen are one of the preferred fuels for orbital rockets, at least for the first stage? I know the F-1 engine on the Saturn V used kerosene, but I never understood why; the J-2 engines on the second stage of the Saturn V used liquid hydrogen and LOX -- why the mix?
      Liquid kerosene / LOX is more efficient energy per volume, while liquid hydrogen / LOX is more efferent energy storage per mass.

      For 1st stage rockets that aren't going to burn for very long, the reduced tank volume possible with kerosene / LOX can be enough of a total weight savings to offset the lower ISP and greater mass of kerosene / LOX over hydrogen / LOX.

      On upper stages, where you are going to carry the fuel higher, and burn the engines longer, the mass efficiencies and higher ISP of hydrogen / LOX win out.

      Hence the Saturn V switched fuels as it went through its stages.
    • I can go down the street to get kerosene. Hyrdogen, not so much.

      It's similar to the reasons why cars are still primarily designed to burn gasoline instead of hydrogen.
  • It's an elaborate setup for a new perfume. Elon Musk...for men. It'll have Christy Turlington in the regular ad campaign.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why not apply Globalisation to NASA... eg:

    Let the funding go to suppliers in China, India, and other places
    where the $'s might go further than in the US (if only due to the
    difference in salaries & office space rentals).

    The nationality side:

    As it is overseas students from such countries are recruited to
    the US, required to become US citizens - even when that entails
    renoucing or at least losing their original nationalities (even
    Australia's Andy Thomas had to give up his Aussie citizenship -
    in order to beco
    • FUCK!

      If the world spent as much on space exploration as they did on their military (or their own corrupt politicians) and they cooperated as much as my *grade school aged children* (when avoiding chores), we'd have giant gold plated colonies on every sizeable chuck of rock in the solar system.

"It's curtains for you, Mighty Mouse! This gun is so futuristic that even *I* don't know how it works!" -- from Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

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