Schedule for commercial manned flights solidifies


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Capitlism in space: It appears that the schedule for the first unmanned and manned test flights of the commercial capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing is getting more certain.

The latest SpaceX schedule calls for an uncrewed test flight in February 2018, followed by a crewed test flight in June 2018. Boeing’s schedule anticipates an uncrewed test flight in June 2018 and a crewed test flight in August 2018.

While this sounds encouraging, the story contradicts a Boeing report last week that suggested their first manned flight would be delayed into the fourth quarter of 2018. Both stories however pin the first unmanned demo flight for June 2018, which now seems to be a firm date.

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13 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Musk cancelling propulsive landing for the Dragon worries me. There goes the Red Dragon away. And it cannot be used for Lunar exploration either.

  • ken anthony

    I would expect something intermediate between Dragon and ITS.

    Dragon is very light (about 5 tons?) It doesn’t carry enough fuel to “land like a helicopter” with just a few seconds at full thrust.

    Unlike Dragon, ITS doesn’t have development opportunities on paid flights. A stretch Dragon, mostly with more fuel, could have. It would likely fly sooner as well.

  • Anthony Domanico

    LocalFluff,

    I share your concern regarding the recent Dragon development. It feels like SpaceX is being forced to cease doing exactly what it does best, push the envelope. I don’t understand why NASA wouldn’t let them do test landings during operational cargo flights. Seems like a low risk way to certify the technology. Soon when Dream Chaser is flying cargo NASA will have a way to down-mass critical science experiments and let SpaceX carry down the old underwear.

    ken anthony,

    I don’t understand what you mean by your statement referring to Dragon being unable to land like a helicopter. It was my understanding that the Super Draco engines are very throttleable allowing for more than a few seconds of thrust in a landing attempt. Maybe I misunderstood your comment.

  • LocalFluff

    Soyuz lands crew with a last second burn. A Dragon using the 8 (whereof 4 redundant) powerful rockets that are also certified for its launch escape system, sounds like an at least as safe design to me. More power is required to land a Dragon on the Moon without atmosphere to brake in. But if the Superdraco engines can burn long enough, it should just need larger fuel tanks somehow attached.

    Maybe Musk is already aiming for the next generation rocketry and is losing interest for Dragon and FH now that the profitable Falcon 9 seems to be reaching its final design soon?

  • Edward

    LocalFluff asked: “Maybe Musk is already aiming for the next generation rocketry and is losing interest for Dragon and FH now that the profitable Falcon 9 seems to be reaching its final design soon?

    Another post seems to back up this thought:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/news-from-spacex/
    From the second linked article: “‘There was a time when I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you’ve got a base heat shield and side mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars. But now I’m pretty confident that is not the right way.’ Musk added that his company has come up with a ‘far better’ approach to landing on Mars that will be incorporated into the next iteration of the company’s proposed Mars transportation hardware.

    Musk may be losing interest in the supersonic retropropulsion method in favor of this “far better approach.”

    Although I am disappointed that some amount of the effort into the Draco engines seems to have gone to waste (they will still be used for emergency escape during launch, but that does not require throttling of the engines), I would be pleased if the next generation of manned craft that is carried aloft on the Falcons turns out to be a lifting body design that lands horizontally on runways.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Edward,

    I would be very surprised if Mr. Musk goes with a lifting body approach. He criticized that technology at one of the talks he did about a year ago. I’m paraphrasing but he basically said that every vehicle is designed for the medium it travels in and so wings are dead mass in space and there are no runways on the moon or Mars. But then again, he did recently eat crow when he admitted that they would be abandoning the propulsive landing technique for Crew Dragon so they may be pivoting radically. As a side note, I know that was painful for Musk to publicly admit that given how badly he ragged on Boeing for their proposed landing strategy.

    The issue that just came to mind is that hypersonic retro propulsion is one of only a few EDl technologies that theoretically scales well for vehicles big enough to carry people and cargo to sustain them. I’m really curious to find out how his Mars architecture has evolved or if he may even be putting it on the back burner for the meantime in order to allocate resources to a moon base architecture.

    Edward, I know you like to have sources linked but I couldn’t remember which interview in which Musk criticized the lifting body approach, but if you’re interested I could probably find it tomorrow.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico,
    You wrote: “I would be very surprised if Mr. Musk goes with a lifting body approach. He criticized that technology at one of the talks he did about a year ago.

    I did not really mean that the Falcons would only launch SpaceX spacecraft and tried to phrase it so that other companies would be seen as launching on Falcon rather than Atlas. That confusion is my fault. You do not need to find the link to the source, but it may be interesting, if you are eager to find it.

    Wings on a spacecraft are generally unnecessary, but when that craft is a shuttle from the Earth’s surface to low Earth orbit (LEO) and back, then the extra weight may be comparable to the weight of an ablative heat shield, or otherwise be a cost savings.

    A spacecraft that remains only in space does not need wings, heat shields, landing gear, or streamlining. The weight savings can greatly increase fuel efficiency, so I anticipate a variety of manned and cargo spacecraft in the not-too-distant future, depending upon destination.

    I agree, Anthony Domanico, it will be very interesting when we find out what SpaceX’s better Mars landing method may be. There have been some fairly creative ideas, such as the one used for Curiosity.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Edward,

    To be clear I wasn’t agreeing with Mr. Musk. I was just citing his stance on the topic. I agree with you. I think there will be a lot of “taxis” going from the Earth’s surface to LEO and back down and a winged vehicle offers a lower g reentry. This could be a valuable capability for delicate science experiments, older people, and the injured.

    Anyways, I found an abbreviated version of the interview that contains the relevant part I mentioned previously. In the video description is a link to the full interview.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sjTCu6UhnJs

    I think Musk sees things through the lense of going to Mars and since there are no runways on Mars then a lifting body vehicle that requires a landing strip is pointless. I believe the value of a LEO economy can’t be overstated. What do you think?

  • Edward

    It sounded like Musk was thinking of wings being useless on interplanetary spacecraft, which they are. From his Mars speech last September, he seems to be thinking of all spacecraft as being launched from the surface of the Earth rather than being purely in-space craft. His proposed Mars spacecraft would launch from the Earth, fly to and land on Mars, then return to the surface of the Earth in order to launch more colonists.

    My thoughts are that there will be several economies, and several types of ships that service those economies.

    United Launch Alliance has a vision that seems reasonable, including spacecraft that never land back on Earth:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxftPmpt7aA (7-minutes, “CisLunar 1000)

  • Anthony Domanico

    I’m familiar with, and a huge fan of, the CisLunar 1000. My biggest concern with their plan is whether they will be a competitive viable business until they can debut ACES. It seems they are going to be at the mercy of the DoD and whether they are in a charitable mood once Blue Origin’s New Glen and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy are certified to do military sats.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico wrote: “It seems they are going to be at the mercy of the DoD and whether they are in a charitable mood once Blue Origin’s New Glen and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy are certified to do military sats.

    If ULA cannot adapt to the new launch environment, then ACES and their CisLunar 1000 idea may be their alternate plan that keeps them in business.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Edward,

    An interesting theory and it’s one I’ve wondered about myself. I even wondered if they may contract with SpaceX to throw the ACES upper stage but I don’t know if the necessary adaptor mods would be prohibitively difficult. But another weakness in the CisLunar 1000 is, it seems to me, that it requires significant infrastructure and an equally significant market, both of which are currently absent. Hopefully this is a case of “Build it and they will come.” I would love to see a symbiotic business relationship between ULA and Planetary Resources and/or Deep Space Industries. The latter two could provide the propellants to ACES and perhaps another company (Orbital ATK (IIRC they have indicated they plan to get into the fuel depot game)) could provide the fuel depot service. Edward, do you reckon ULA can use ACES competitively without the aforementioned infrastructure?

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico asked: “Edward, do you reckon ULA can use ACES competitively without the aforementioned infrastructure?

    A space tug may be able to be profitable without the relatively inexpensive lunar-mined propellants. Since it is very expensive to lift material, such as propellants, from the surface of the Earth, getting them from the Moon should be much less expensive, if they are needed in the quantities I expect will eventually be used. However, Lockheed Martin had proposed a space tug, Jupiter, to do similar activities as ACES, especially for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services II contract, taking cargoes launched from Earth to the ISS from about 2019 to 2024 or so, so Lockheed Martin clearly believes that it can be efficient and profitable to use an ACES-like tug without the use of lunar propellants.

    ULA’s CisLunar 1000 video also did not require lunar propellants in order to “mine” spent satellites in orbit or to transport various items around CisLunar space. The video says that costs will be reduced once water from the Moon is used for propellants, and that should help increase the number of activities that are performed in space.

    I think that this is one of the major differences between commercial companies doing the exploration and use of space over the governments doing so. Governments have more money to do it, now, but in a few years commercial companies will be spending more than the governments do on space.

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