The two things SpaceX must do for NASA to okay the first manned Dragon mission


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Link here.

First, they must successfully recover the Dragon capsule from the first unmanned test flight in November so that they can use it in a launch abort test to follow.

Second, they must demonstrate seven successful flights of the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Right now it appears that, though the schedule is very very tight, it is possible that SpaceX will be able to accomplish these tasks in time to do its manned flight in April 2019, as presently scheduled. At the moment SpaceX’s launch schedule calls for 11 Falcon 9 launches between now and April. Getting seven Block 5 launches should therefore be likely, though not certain, since some of those launches will probably not use the final full Block 5 configuration.

I notice that the article makes no mention of the massive paperwork that the GAO says must be done before a manned flight. No surprise. In the end the paperwork will not delay this mission, despite what the GAO and NASA’s bureaucracy says.

UPDATE: NASA has now withdrawn its objections to SpaceX’s fueling plans. This is also no surprise, as their objections to fueling the rocket while astronauts were on board were always bogus. The risks are essentially the same whether you fuel before boarding or after. Either way, there is a lot of very explosive fuel present. To say NASA’s way, fueling first, is the only way never made sense.

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9 comments

  • Anthony Domanico

    Bob, I have to disagree with you and all those that raised a concern over the way SpaceX is choosing to fuel the rocket. I don’t think the way NASA has traditionally done it and the way SpaceX is doing it are of equal risk. Consider if you are within close proximity of a fully fueled Atlas V the only way to get out of dodge should there be an explosion is a zip line. If there is an explosion on the Falcon 9 the crew is already strapped in and has partially redundant Super Draco thrusters to get you to safety. Personally, I would opt for the SpaceX system. Also, aircraft are fueled every day while people are close by. The only thing that’s unique to rockets is the oxidizer.

  • Anthony Domanico: Personally, I think you are right. With SpaceX’s system the crew boards the capsule before fueling, and is thus in a position to escape if something goes wrong. With NASA’s system, the boarding is done with an already fueled rocket, which to my mind is not very safe.

    Still, my main point remains the same, and is confirmed by your point: NASA’s concerns about SpaceX’s fueling approach were bogus.

  • pzatchok

    Want the old NASA way actually to fuel the rocket before the passengers got on but to also keep topping off the tanks during the wait?

    And if that was the way they did it then they are essentially the same since fuel and oxidizer is still being moved almost up to the actual launch.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico,
    Except for the Space Shuttle, I do not know what the thinking was when NASA chose to load their crews into a fueled rocket. For the Shuttle, the solid rockets were fueled at the manufacturer, so there was no option but to install the crew while the solid rockets were fueled. Historically, NASA loaded crews into fueled rockets. It seems that their analyses early in their existence deemed that fueling procedures were more dangerous to the crew on board than the danger of working around a fueled rocket.

    There is — or was — an opinion that fueling operations are hazardous, and that people should not be around a rocket during fueling. SpaceX showed that to be true in September of 2016 when a Falcon 9 suddenly exploded during fueling operations.

    There are three other pre-ignition pad explosions that are relevant. The Nedlin catastrophe in 1960, in which several technicians and engineers were working around a fueled (liquid fuel) rocket when the second stage unexpectedly ignited prematurely. My recollection is that the only survivors were on the other side of a bunker a few hundred meters away.

    In the 1980s, Soyuz T-10 was only seconds away from launch when a turbopump started up and overspun, causing a catastrophic failure and fire. The cosmonauts onboard survived, because the escape system whisked them away from the burning rocket — just before it exploded.

    In 2003, a solid rocket booster on a Brazilian rocket ignited prematurely while several technicians and engineers were working around the rocket. There were no survivors.

    I found a reference to two other pad explosions, but I am less familiar with these. This list is only for explosions in which there were fatalities, so the SpaceX pad explosion is not listed, and there may be other non-fatal pad explosions that I am not familiar with:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents#Fatalities_caused_by_rocket_explosions
    1966-12-14 … Launch escape system fired 27 minutes after an aborted launch causing a fire and subsequent explosion when pad workers had already returned to the launch pad.

    1980-03-18 … Explosion while fueling up a Vostok-2M rocket.

    With empirical evidence like that, I am a fan of crew escape systems and believe strongly in ground crews staying away from any fueled rocket. There just isn’t much time for a ground crew to get away from an exploding rocket.

  • Anthony Domanico

    The Nedelin Catastrophe is particularly disturbing to me as there were people shown running as they burned to their death. Let’s hope Commercial Crew has a better track record.

    I’m concerned just how risk averse NASA and our nation has become. Why have we become so scared of losing people and how do we fix this problem?

    What really irritates me is our astronauts are accomplished brilliant people that know the risks better than anyone yet they aren’t allowed to choose to take the risk. It’s a lack of freedom.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico asked: “Why have we become so scared of losing people and how do we fix this problem?

    I blame the Titanic. Although safety was becoming a concern before then, the book “A Night To Remember” points out that after the Titanic safety became a major concern, “lifeboats for everyone,” as well as before her the third class passengers always felt themselves beneath first class and after her everyone started feeling more equal.

    Eventually, trolleys, cars, and airplane safety became a big deal. OSHA was created to assure safety on the job. People became aware of the large number of injuries received in bathroom accidents. Wet floor signs came into style. And cetera.

    This problem cannot be “fixed,” but we can try to come to grips that even though we try our best we still lose lives to accidents. We continue to drive cars despite their “terrible” safety record, thus even after losing a family member to an auto accident, so long as the benefits outweigh the losses, we continue to take what we consider as acceptable risks.

    Drive safely, everyone.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Edward,

    Interesting. Maybe the problem is fixable. Consider the point you made about how after losing a family member to an automobile accident nobody switches to bikes and horses. That’s because we all know the value of cars. The way to fix the problem is choosing a mission worthy of potential loss of human life and educating the public on why it’s worthy and why the astronauts *choose* to go. Since war has been broadcast into our homes the public has less tolerance for it, but we tolerate it more than a Space Transportation System accident.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico,
    Having a worthy mission may not make us less scared of losing people, but it may help keep the mission from being cancelled after a fatal accident.

    Despite the public being generally in favor of going to the Moon, Apollo was cancelled early partly due to the near death experience of Apollo 13. The Space Shuttle was viewed very favorably, but that program was unable to survive a second fatal crew accident. The X-15 program was cancelled soon after its first fatal crew accident. Only Mercury and Gemini went their full planned lifespans, but neither had fatal crew accidents.

    Right now, I fear that suborbital space tourism would be greatly hampered by a fatal passenger accident.

    What do you propose as a space pursuit that the public could view as worthy of loss of more lives, and how would you convince the public that it is worthy?

    On the other hand, if Congress can keep from overregulating the space industry, then it would remain a choice by the company and the employee astronauts whether they view a mission as worthy of the risks — as is usually done in other industries now.

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